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Stories that Need to Be Told

Through the support of Community Arts Partnership’s GAP grant, Ithaca’s Civic Ensemble, a local theatre company, delivered The Loneliness Project, a play coupled with a series of workshops that illuminate some of the adversity the LGBTQ+ community experiences. The Loneliness Project does well in fulfilling the expectations of a GAP grant, which is provided on behalf of New York State Council of the Arts (NYSCA) and awarded to artistic organizations pursuing high caliber projects that reach a wide audience. Additionally, the work aligns well with Civic Ensemble’s mission statement: “To create theatre that explores and explodes the social, political, and cultural issues of our time. We bring audiences of different races, classes, and experiences together in a public forum on the American experiment.” The series will be occurring from March 19th to April 19th due to efforts of the project’s core artistic team: Caitlin Kane, Al Evangelista, Reed Motz, and Kelli Simpkins.

Caitlin Kane, the artistic producer, gave further insight on the nuances of the project, as it has many moving parts, and a history grounded in thorough research and continuous revising. She described how the origins were initially shaped by their research of Chicago’s LGBTQ+ population done in 2012 where it was confirmed that loneliness was a salient issue. With this information, she says, “We knew we were interested in this concept of loneliness, and youth and seniors are involved – what do we do with that?”

From there, they dove deeper by interviewing more youth, seniors, and others who work with these communities, and the first script of The Loneliness Project was crafted and delivered in Chicago. While the play was well received, it still was not complete in the team’s eyes. The story they were hoping to tell had not quite emerged yet, as Kane reported: “Did we eventually figure out who we wanted to really deal with, or where we were headed? I think that’s an ongoing question until we figure out what the play is really going to be because we’re sort of in a moment of change.” With The Loneliness Project coming to Ithaca, which starts with workshops and will culminate in an updated play, Kane sees this as an informative opportunity that will offer an exchange of insights for both the Ithaca community and the play itself.

The workshops are invested in incorporating the intergenerational component of the research, bringing together the older and younger populations for story circles, a technique often used by Civic Ensemble. Kane explains that the story circle “holds spaces for people to tell stories about personal experiences and really listen to one another before they discuss it.” It may be that each person who is a part of the circle is given roughly 3 minutes to share a memory relevant to the same prompt; the process becomes the entry point for meaningful conversation. Essentially, she says, “The workshops are about having the conversations that the play is trying to have and having those conversations before the play even happens.”

Past workshops in Chicago have also utilized content from interviews and had people work through different scenes by emphasizing different aspects of performance, such as the use of light and sound, movement, or even the absence of language. Kane discusses how this methodology is “grounded in this concept of writing performance on your feet and starting from all the theatrical elements instead of focusing on only the written word.” This holistic focus aims to construct a memorable performance, as these other elements are often what people inevitably remember over the script itself. Kane further explains that it is “about flipping that hierarchy and thinking: how do we do those things altogether?  And can that help us create more theatrically robust plays that are exciting to be a part of and to watch?”

The preparation for the actual production will be happening on Cornell’s campus, which will include four student and approximately six community actors. Kane says, “We’ve made so much progress on the backs of all these people we’re leaving behind. Sure, there is this visual change happening in the world, but there are all of these people left behind, who have often times fought hardest.” The aim is to shed light on certain narratives that are at times excluded from conversations about the adversity faced by the LGBTQ+ community. Even by setting the story in Chicago adds a different layer to the piece. Kane foresees that “there might be some disconnects” because of this geographic difference; however, she believes “there’s enough that people can connect with that it will be meaningful. And there’s value in hearing different versions of this story than what people are familiar with.”

The Loneliness Project will be creating space for conversation in Ithaca’s community in compelling ways. “It’s exciting for us,” Kane says, “Civic hasn’t done a lot of LGBTQ+ work, so I think they’re excited to be connecting with those populations, which are so present here. Part of it is that it is such a LGBTQ+ friendly town, but it’s not a place where there are a lot of gatherings. So, we’re creating that space for a while.” The plays and workshops in tandem lend themselves to entertaining important, intergenerational dialogue, gaining new understanding throughout the process. With the support of this Community Arts Partnership’s GAP grant, The Loneliness Project can wholeheartedly invest in this ongoing discovery of stories in need of being told. Who knows what might be uncovered in this phase of The Loneliness Project as it makes its way to Ithaca!