Home Programs Paf Spotlight June 2013 Spotlight: Elgin Community College + American Place Theatre

June 2013 Spotlight: Elgin Community College + American Place Theatre

Elgin Community College in Elgin, IL presented American Place Theatre in September 2012.

This Arts Midwest Touring Fund—supported engagement featured a public performance and residency activities over five days.

The Visual and Performing Arts Center at Elgin Community College provides residents of Chicago’s Fox Valley with a refreshingly different arts experience than can be found in the city or other regional arts centers. Their CenterStage lineup avoids tired reruns in favor of fresh, artistically relevant acts. The Arts Center pairs amenities, including gourmet dinners and a wine bar, with performances of the highest caliber. They aim to inspire, engage, and spark creative energy. Their primary focus is to present music and theater touring artists that represent diverse genres. Past artists presented includes: Red Baraat, Victor Wooten, Leo Kotke, Zili Misik, Rosanne Cash, Nellie McKay, Cinematic Titanic, Gaelic Storm, Naturally 7, and Under the Streetlamp.

Literature to Life, The American Place Theatre’s performance-based literacy program, presents professionally-staged, verbatim adaptations of significant American literary works. The Theatre, having received over 30 Obies and 16 Audelcos, is critically acclaimed as a birthing place for artistic endeavors at the crossroad of literature and live performance for 50 years. Their performance includes a purposeful, thoughtful, and highly interactive discussion with the audience. “The Things They Carried” was adapted for the stage in 2004, and was developed and premiered at Playhouse Square in Cleveland in collaboration with the author, Tim O’Brien. The play brings five of the short stories from the book to life, including, “The Rainy River”, and “The Man I Killed”. With original cello music as underscoring, the audience witnesses to the complex issues of war and the universal struggle of the soldier.

The Visual and Performing Arts Center at Elgin Community College conducted performances, discussions, and workshops for students, veterans, and members of the public. The Veterans Arts Project, an exhibition featuring collected stories, poems, photographs, and paintings by area veterans from wars dating back from World War II, was tied into The American Place Theatre’s residency. The exhibition culminated with local veterans sharing their stories of “the things they carried” during their military service which was then followed by a performance by The American Place Theatre. It was clear from comments from veterans and their families that this was a powerful community affirmation of their service.

All participants at performances were part of a random military draft and were either drafted or not drafted based on the color of a hidden dot placed on their chair. People expressed a powerful range of emotions at each and every performance. One young woman expressed the tragedy of seeing her favorite teacher get drafted, and how he could no longer change others’ lives the way he had changed hers. Those not drafted expressed relief and then a deep sadness at the loss of others. A veteran attending the final performance said this about the production, “You nailed it. That was exactly how it was. I was right back in Vietnam.” Another woman, attending a workshop at the library wept openly about her divorce from her husband who served in Vietnam. Her grief was palpable as she said, “All those boys coming back needed our help. I tried but I just couldn’t love my husband enough.”

The Arts Center used an assessment tool to measure both the efficacy of this performance and interactive discussion format and what participants learned during these activities. The results were very gratifying with 96% said the format of the program was outstanding or good; 85% said the performance made them want to read the book; 82% said they learned more about the Vietnam War; 93% said they could empathize more with veterans of military service; 91% said they could empathize more with the people of Vietnam; and 85% said they could apply information learned here to other parts of their lives.

“This was a great experience; it gave me even more respect for those who serve, knowing what goes through the mind of this man. I’m going to read the book, it sparked my interest a lot more to learn and understand this war better. I was pleasantly surprised how drawn in I was to the scene. Job well done!” — Attendee

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This engagement was a Star Project that deepened participation with a community residency.