New Hampshire Theatre Project has been making theatre with communities for over thirty years, and now in the wake of the Covid-19 Global Pandemic we are returning to our applied theatre roots to create a new work for the stage. Applied Theatre, as defined by Phillip Taylor in his book of the same name, “springs from the desire to change or transform human behavior through the medium of theatre.” NHTP uses the process of theatre to raise awareness, build connections, and inspire community change. For We Don’t Know What This Is Yet, NHTP artists, under the direction of Resident Artist CJ Lewis, are gathering accounts from individuals, holding space for community dialogue, and reflecting on the new normal in which the world finds itself.
Even in its early stages, there is a powerful value at the core of We Don’t Know What This Is Yet. “In uncertainty we can find beauty,” explains Artistic Director Catherine Stewart. As with other works created by the company such as Dreaming Again, which explored the experience of immigrants coming to New Hampshire, or Neighborhoods, which recorded the history of Portsmouth’s North End and the gentrification of the city over many decades, We Don’t Know What This Is Yet is a work grounded in the traditions of docudrama. “We are currently gathering accounts, stories, and experiences from the community,” says Project Director CJ Lewis. “We’re doing this in a really thoughtful way, that aims to help individuals explore hidden feelings, moments of tension, or experiences that they might not be able to articulate just yet. It’s hard to know what to expect when the working title is as open as it is but we’re hoping people trust us enough to leap into the unknown,” adds Stewart.
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The project team recognizes that the front line of this public health crisis are the healthcare and other essential workers who face the threat of Covd-19 every day. “But we’ve been asking ourselves, what do theatre makers do in the time of a pandemic?” says Stewart. “I like to think of us as Second Responders. Artists look at the world, we gather information and then we interpret it. We tease it apart and we ask difficult questions, we look for bias and unique perspectives. Then we turn those findings into work - pieces of art, music, literature and in our case, theatre.”
Currently NHTP is recruiting “community correspondents” in order to reach a diverse network of individuals to participate. “2020 has become The Year of Change,” says Executive Director Genevieve Aichele. “It’s not just about the pandemic, we’re all struggling with economic and education changes, the newly energized push for racial justice, even state’s rights are being called into question.” Exactly what We Don’t Know What This is Yet will become, the company doesn’t know yet. “It’s in the title, right?” laughs Stewart. “We have to trust the creative process.”
Right now, NHTP is gathering stories from around the community, reaching out to collaborations with other organizations like the Portsmouth Public Library, The Music Hall and the Black Heritage Trail, and beginning to look at what those stories might ultimately become. Some of the work will end up being presented on a virtual platform, but once the theatre can fully open again, these stories will find their way to NHTP’s stage when the community who played a vital role in making this new play can come together and share in its magic.
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