WAM Theatre and BRIDGE Announce Innovative Community Engagement Programming For PIPELINE

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WAM Theatre and BRIDGE have announced a series of innovative community engagement programs surrounding their collaboration on PIPELINE by Dominique Morisseau and directed by Dawn M. Simmons. The production will play from October 24 - November 9 at Shakespeare and Company's Bernstein Theatre in Lenox. PIPELINE was recently announced by American Theatre Magazine as one of the ten most produced plays this season.

PIPELINE is the third partnership between WAM and BRIDGE. WAM and BRIDGE first collaborated in 2013 on WAM's production of EMILIE, connecting as two women-run organizations focused on activism and engaging BRIDGE's Youth Leaders and Women To Women Group in pre- and post- play discussions as well as trips to the show. They then produced FACING OUR TRUTH, along with Berkshire based artist and educator Jamuna Yvette Sirker, in 2016 in commemoration of the 5th anniversary of the murder of Trayvon Martin, to address violence and the negative impact of racism on us all. And now, this year, they are partnering on PIPELINE, unpacking the bias in education that leads to the data-proven, systematically-designed engagement of Black families in the justice system-especially when a young Black male is involved.

"BRIDGE is thrilled to collaborate with WAM Theatre again, this time on Dominique Morisseau's brilliant play which is advancing a much-needed national conversation on the crisis of the Black family in the U.S." said BRIDGE Founding Director and CEO Gwendolyn VanSant.

The WAM/BRIDGE programming, funded in part by the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation and the Brabson Foundation, includes:

  • A series of in-school workshops engaging the entire 8th Grade at Nessacus Regional Middle School in Dalton, co-created and taught by BRIDGE Educator Stephanie Wright and WAM Associate Artistic Director Talya Kingston.

  • A PIPELINE Community Development workshop co-created and led by Gwendolyn VanSant and Lia Russell-Self that utilizes themes and characters from the play to engage people in ways they take action to shift their personal responsibility to community change. This workshop will be presented at local community gatherings, the district-wide professional development days for teachers, and at MCLA.

  • A pre-show workshop for school and community groups to welcome them to the theatre and introduce them to the themes of the play, co-led by BRIDGE Educator JV Hampton-VanSant and WAM Associate Producing Director Lia Russell-Self.

  • Post-show discussions facilitated by members of BRIDGE, including Gwendolyn VanSant with local subject matter experts, production team, beneficiaries and speakers such as Dr. Tracey Benson, author of Unconscious Bias in Schools who will speak after the November 7th performance.

  • A free study guide available to download from the WAM and BRIDGE websites, designed by Talya Kingston and Gwendolyn VanSant and distributed hard copies free of charge to all school and college students attending the production. At the time of this press release, over 300 Berkshire County students will see the production.

  • An important component of the partnership is the welcoming and introduction for the artists and production teams to create a sense of engagement and place while they are here in the Berkshires . Gwendolyn VanSant and JV Hampton- VanSant participated in auditions and attended rehearsals and the PIPELINE beneficiaries, Harmony Homestead and Women of Color Color Giving Circle, along with BRIDGE Towards Racial Justice activists and allies will provide additional meals and meetings to support the guest artists while they are in the Berkshires performing this play.

"Through the arts, we look forward to creating more local opportunities and access for authentic discussion around the stark ethnic disparities that exist for Black families as we identify solutions through activism for all educators, parents and students," Gwendolyn VanSant explained. "PIPELINE helps us enter these conversations with courage."

In the play, Nya, an inner-city public high school teacher is committed to her students, and desperate to give her only son opportunities her students will never have. When a controversial incident in his upstate private school threatens to get him expelled, Nya must confront his rage and her own choices as a parent. PIPELINE is Dominique Morisseau's beautiful and deeply moving story of a mother's fight to give her son a future without turning her back on the community that made him who he is.

"Through the story of one young Black student's success and challenges, we share the experience of a Black family facing long-standing cultural and systemic barriers." explains VanSant, "The school to prison 'pipeline' affects not only the poor; the constant pressure and trauma of racism can touch any family at any moment."

IN-SCHOOL WORKSHOPS:

The in-school workshop series will provide the 8th grade students of Nessacus Regional Middle School with two classes prior to coming to the performance and one afterwards. These classes will introduce the students to concepts of racial bias, micro and macro aggressions, and stereotyping. Discussion and creative drama techniques will provide them with strategies to embrace individual responsibility and to facilitate community change.

COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT WORKSHOPS

PIPELINE Community Development workshops will be presented in multiple professional development and public events across Berkshire County. This project had its debut at BRIDGE's Race Amity Day on the Green in Lee this past June and will be presented at up-coming district-wide teacher professional development days to extend the themes and power of PIPELINE out of the theatre.

PRE-SHOW WORKSHOP

The pre-show workshop at the theatre, co-led by Lia Russell-Self and JV Hampton-VanSant will engage students personally with the themes of the play, as well as the technical side of theatre. "Often, in the theatre, we are eager to take on shows that are asking smart questions, but then we leave our audiences alone with their personal responses to the questions raised," Russell-Self explained. "In this outreach model, we are asking our audience to immediately engage with the themes of the show through devised theatre and social justice practices. It's important to have these stories live communally beyond the theatre in order to engender civic dialogue around the tough questions PIPELINE raises."

POST-SHOW CONVERSATION SERIES

Every performance will be followed by a post show discussion. Curated by Gwendolyn VanSant and facilitated by members of BRIDGE, the post show conversations will range from speaking with the artists involved in the production to speakers such as Brian House and Andrea Harrington from the Berkshire District Attorney's office to Dr. Tracey Benson, author of Unconscious Bias in Schools who will speak after the November 7th performance. Local subject matter experts, production team, beneficiaries and other speakers will participate.

BENEFICIARY SELECTION PROCESS

In keeping with its double philanthropic mission, WAM Theatre will be donating a portion of the box office proceeds from PIPELINE to its 18th and 19th beneficiaries - the Harmony Homestead & Wholeness Center and the Women of Color Giving Circle. As part of the partnership with BRIDGE, a member of the BRIDGE team, Stephanie Wright, joined the WAM Beneficiary Committee in the process for selecting these two beneficiaries. To date the company has donated more than $65,700 to 17 local and global organizations taking action for women and girls in areas such as girls education, teen pregnancy prevention, sexual trafficking awareness, midwife training and more.

Additionally, PIPELINE is a co-production with The Nora Theatre Company at Central Square Theatre in Cambridge, MA, where the play will be performed from March 5-29, 2020.

For more information on WAM Theatre and PIPELINE, visit: wamtheatre.com/pipeline/

For more information on BRIDGE, visit: www.multiculturalbridge.org/



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