Today, I got to host my final Dramatic Dialogue of the summer season at The Hangar Theatre. As manager of Community Engagement, it is a hat I wear proudly, and am always in awe of ways I can use my art for community discourse.
Dramatic Dialogue is one of The Hangar theatre's free summer programs. Most who attended had not seen the show. Some don't know the nature of what we discuss. But there is a curious nature to audience goers: the wanting to know more. Dramatic Dialogue is a fantastic way for this to happen.
Previously, I hosted a film critic, B movie aficionado, and puppeteer to be our guest speaker for "Little Shop of Horrors". Today, we had a very different tone, as we had a resident psychologist from Cayuga Medical Center discuss suicide, alcoholism, and depression, as themed topics for our last play of our summer season: "Other Desert Cities."
For me, the true power of theater was held in the fact that one of the overwhelming statements in the play, as well as my guest speaker's knowledge, is that suicide is a very taboo topic. People do not like to think that it happens. People who have had it affect them often do not know how to cope, so ignore it and put on the bravado that everything is alright.
But in this time, because of a topic brought about by theater, it WAS talked about. For one small moment in time, a serious discussion was held about the nature of what brings about suicide, the tragic facts of it, and resources in Ithaca alone to help cope: either for people grieving from the loss of this act by someone they love, or help for many people who have tried to take their own life.
And the catalyst for this moment of healing through discussion: theatre. A play. One that many theatres who are focused on box office revenue would NEVER pick for a summer finale. But the fact that this play was chosen, and this topic was discussed openly today, prove to me the power of the art I am blessed to have a career in, and reiterate to myself that I have found my artistic home in The Hangar Theatre: a place that looks at all sides, angles, options, and opportunities.
One man who came to our dialogue stated that our very real discussion made him excited to see this play. Another wanted to know more about the suicide rates here in Ithaca, for we have an unfortunate amount due to the temptation of our beautiful, but also fatal gorges.
In this moment in time, strangers met and discussed. In the room of a theater during performance, complete strangers will go through their individual catharsis, and often plays will be discussed and dissected with members of the audience's clan, or the friends and family they have seen the show with.
But Dramatic Dialogues ups the notch more. By having a facilitated discussion with a local expert in the field the play of choice is covering, these strangers have the time and opportunity to discuss topics they normally would not, with people they may never meet again.
All for healing, all for discussion, all for upmost artistic impact, with no worry about a bottom line. How lucky am I to do this?
The Ithaca City School District, responsible for the 8 total elementary schools I have had the honor of working in via The Hangar Theatre's Project 4 Artists in the Schools program, is facing a budget crisis. No surprise there.
On their list of things to cut is Arts and Music programs. Again, no surprise there. (To be fair, there is a long list of programs that are at risk of being cut/restructured/deleted.)
In my passions against this, I decided to write my very first letter to the editor. The format of stating my opinions in 200 words or less proved difficult, as my own passions in combination with the overwhelming data of the NEED for children to grow up in a high arts environment cannot be appropriately conveyed in this small word allotment.
The request from others to read both versions made me think that I should make them available.
The symmetry of Ithaca's problem also parallels that of the nation, that I decided to make the letters open and available to anyone who feels the need to opine on the topic.
All I ask is that if you use these letters, you
a) do it with kindness
b) Locate your own town's statistics on poverty, available through the US Census Bureau
c) Never give up the fight to keep arts available for all.