The Power of Theater: Inspiring Civic Engagement with Anne Mason

Discover the power of theater to ignite dialogue and inspire change! In this episode of Winds of Change, hosted by Emy DiGrappa, you'll get to hear from Anne Mason, the producing artistic director of Relative Theatrics in Laramie, Wyoming. Anne and Emy dive into the power of theater as a platform for dialogue and civic engagement. They discuss how Relative Theatrics uses thought-provoking plays to stimulate deep reflection and spark conversations about societal issues. Anne shares the success of their program, Read, Rant, Relate, which brings people together to read and discuss plays, even during the pandemic. They also explore the importance of accessibility in the arts and the ability of virtual platforms to connect individuals during times of social isolation. Throughout the conversation, Anne's passion for theater as a catalyst for personal and collective growth shines through. If you're a theater enthusiast or a community activist looking for ways to engage with societal issues, this episode is a must-listen. Get ready to be inspired and learn how theater can create positive change in our world. With a mission to present thought-provoking theater that examines the joining qualities of the human race, Anne and her team at Relative Theatrics strive to create a community gathering place where ideas can be exchanged about society, culture, and the power of creativity. Relative Theatrics is a Wyoming Humanities Grant Recipient!

#TheaterForChange, #CivicEngagement, #InclusionInTheArts, #BreakingBarriers #CommunityEngagement, #RelativeTheatrics, #WyomingHumanities, WindsOfChange

About Anne Mason and Relative Theatrics:

Founded by Laramie native Anne Mason, Relative Theatrics has been bringing live theatre to Southeast Wyoming since the summer of 2013. After gaining academic and professional experience nationwide, Anne returned to Wyoming with a goal to bring a fresh theatrical experience to the Laramie community. They strive to create an intimate black-box setting that puts the audience into the world of the play. With the hope that all good storytelling causes a reaction in the audience, each Relative Theatrics performance is followed by a chat-back session with the cast and director, giving the community an opportunity to start a dialogue about their experiences and reactions to the play.  

Artistic Accessibility and Inclusivity

Art must be accessible and inclusive to reflect the full spectrum of human experience. As shown by the work of Anne Mason and Relative Theatrics, unique approaches such as the Read, Rant, Relate program can remove barriers and open up the world of theater to a broader audience. Inclusivity not only enriches the art form but also strengthens the social fabric, fostering personal growth, and stimulating conversations around societal issues.

  •  Visit the website of Relative Theatrics to learn more about their thought-provoking theater productions and upcoming events. 
  •  Connect with local nonprofits to learn about ways you can get involved and make a difference in your community. 
  •  Explore the Grant Opportunities provided by Wyoming Humanities 

 

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00:00:01
             

Welcome to Winds of Change. I am your host, Emy DiGrappa. Winds of Change is centered on the people, places, history and stories of Wyoming. We talk about identity, community, land, and the winds of change and what it means to thrive in our state. How does someone identify with wide open spaces and big personalities in small towns?         

00:00:23
             

Listen to folks from across our state share their connection to Wyoming and home? Brought to you by Wyoming Humanities Council.         

00:00:52
             

All right, I'm super excited. Today we are talking to Anne Mason. She is the producing artistic director in Laramie, Wyoming for Relative Theatrics welcome, Anne. Hi, Emy. Thank you so much for having me.         

00:01:08
             

I'm really excited to be here and to be chatting with you about theater and the arts as a catalyst for dialogue and civic engagement and community building. Well, I love that you put all that together so beautifully. Thank you. Yeah. And the dialogue and the civic engagement and how the arts really stimulate that conversation.         

00:01:33
             

And so let's just talk about some of the programs that you do that you think because your tagline is risky, relevant, real, which I love. So, you want people to start thinking right? You want them to take chances, but you want it to be like what is meaningful to absolutely so relative theatrics. Mission is to present thought-provoking theater that examines the joining qualities of the human race and taking artistic risk. We provide a community gathering place where thoughts can be exchanged about society, culture and the power of creativity.         

00:02:13
             

And the goal with all of this programming, besides the inherent love and passion that the artists have in telling these stories, in the art form of theater, in this sort of collective storytelling and gathering with one another to explore what it means to be human in an exciting and entertaining and thought-provoking manner. It's that this is also a really wonderful opportunity for us to reach out and bring others in so that the theater is not this sort of insular little silo where we're all just sort of making fun things with the people that look at the world the same way that we do or think the same way that we do and reinforce our worldviews, but that challenge us to witness the perspectives of other worldviews, of other individuals, of people from different backgrounds and to be able to have this gracious understanding of differing ideas and mindsets but also to be able to use that practice to recognize, acknowledge and celebrate the shared qualities of humanity of the things that we all as human beings on this planet experience simply through the act of being human.         

00:03:47
             

Well, let's just go on that, because the act of being human, that's tricky. I don't know if you can act at that, but maybe you can. Well, I do always say when I'm working with actors, whether they are trained or absolutely green, I very much emphasize that acting is not being acting is doing. I think we don't have to work to be human. We all are human.         

00:04:17
             

But it is our actions that change things and the way that we respond to different circumstances, especially high stakes or high stressful circumstances. And that's really what drama allows for an examination of various individuals in very high stakes, life or death, total world changing situations and to see what choices they make that impact change with relative theatrics. When we present these contemporary plays, they're also born of the current age. And so the playwrights that we are, whose words and stories and worlds that we are bringing to life, those ideas are born in the present day and in the present moment. So inherently they do speak to societal issues or topics that are relevant to the right now.         

00:05:22
             

And so it allows us to, I think, take a look at the world that we're living in and start to have some deep reflection and introspection of what are the beautiful truths of this world, what are the things that we can celebrate and uplift? What are the really hard and challenging or ugly truths of this world, things that we might need to reckon with and ultimately, what do we want the world to be? So not only holding a mirror, but being able to sort of collectively envision action going forward to create a better world. What are some of the programs that you've done that you've felt like hit all those marks one and made an impact on your community and were really successful? Absolutely.         

00:06:20
             

We produce about four full productions every year and we have had some humanities funding for those productions, particularly for not the creation of the art itself, but the discussions that follow. So we follow many, many of our performances with facilitated discussions, with audience members, with artists, with the playwrights, so that individuals can engage in a play, in witnessing a play or creating or telling the story of a play, but that then the experience goes deeper than that. And we are all able to connect together and talk about what was stirred up from that experience. And we also connect local nonprofits to our performances and our productions as well, so that we have this idea that folks can come to the theater, be moved by a story, have a dialogue about it, and want to do something about it, want to make a change or get involved and have that impact in their own sphere of influence. And then we are able to say, well, here are some resources, here's this wonderful nonprofit right in your backyard and here are the ways that you can help them.         

00:07:34
             

Or here are some questions for you to think about. Or here are some ways for you to get involved so that we can take this experience of going to the theater and transform it into civic engagement and the healthy development of a society of civilization. So those are our sort of primary productions and those are ticketed events. And we work on sort of having tiered ticketing pick your price options so that we can still value the work and the artists and the creators while maintaining a level of accessibility so that the theater is available to all rather than just the elite few. But then we also have free programming.         

00:08:22
             

And this is where Humanities has helped us so much. One of my favorite programs that we do at Relative Theatrics, and it's something that we've done, I think for about seven years now. We're in our 10th year of operation. But this program is called Read Rant Relate Igniting Conversation through Theater. And it is essentially like a book club, but with scripts.         

00:08:48
             

And what I started to notice when asking people about if they read scripts, a lot of people shied away from it because it's not necessarily a skill that is or a reading format that is taught in school. And so a lot of people weren't really sure. I don't know how to read a play or how to envision all of these different voices of the dialogue, of the different characters in the play. What we have done with Read, Rant Relate, we hire actors to read the play out loud. They each play a role and they read the roles.         

00:09:31
             

So you get to experience the full play. And then after that, we have a Humanities scholar lead a discussion about the play, about its relevance to our world today, about how it maybe sits differently. Or one might speculate that it sits differently in the context of Wyoming versus the nation or the world or even how it might resonate differently in a community like Laramie in comparison to, say, Riverton or Gillette or another area, even within the state, but really all about using the story as a catalyst for dialogue and an opportunity to enhance an understanding of dramatic literature, to expose more people to plays or to reading plays or to maybe dabbling in acting. It's been a really great sort of little trick for me when people are like, oh, I'm kind of interested in performing, but I don't know if I have the time or if I could memorize and I don't really have any training.         

00:10:48
             

I can be like, oh, well, let me tell you, we have this great program called Read Rant, Relate where you just have to go to one rehearsal and then read the play aloud in front of people and talk about it. Do you want to do it? And so many people are really excited by that. So it's a really awesome way to get more individuals involved and in taking their own artistic risks and experiencing the personal growth that comes out of that as well. So that's a really awesome program that I'm just so excited about and continually excited about and really grateful for the support from Wyoming Humanities Council over the last seven years.         

00:11:29
             

That we've been running it. Wow. It's been that long. I know, it's crazy. Wow.         

00:11:36
             

We did it during the pandemic too. It actually was really great. Not great. It was easy to transition, read, rant, relate to a virtual sphere because it was just play reading. And so we were able to do zoom readings where the plays were being read online, and then we would have these conversations over zoom.         

00:11:57
             

And so while it wasn't the same as being in person, there is that magical alchemy of sharing the energy and air and breath with others. It was a program that we were able to continue throughout the pandemic, and that was able to provide a lot of connection when so many individuals were feeling so isolated. Oh, that is so wonderful. I love hearing that even during the pandemic, you carried on because a lot of performing arts organizations did not, and that was really sad. But good for you.         

00:12:35
             

Good for figuring that out.         

00:12:40
             

Just to. Kind of take it a step further, because I love hearing that when people say, I want to try this out, and you're like, sure, come to a rehearsal and read a script. That's a cool way to break people in if you're afraid to get up on stage in front of people. Absolutely. I even got my mom to do one of these readings, and for anyone that knows my mom, she is absolutely so shy.         

00:13:05
             

Total, terrible stage fright. But she had attended enough of them. And really, I mean, she loves going to the theater, and she participates in the conversations. And I think once I was able to really assuage her, like, you don't have to memorize, this is a great role for you. You're basically just playing yourself and reading these words out loud.         

00:13:27
             

I was shocked that she did it, but I feel like it said something. If you can get even the most performance averse individual to get involved in this way, it's super accessible, and it's a really lovely way to enhance involvement. So, Anne, name a few of the scripts that you've read and discussed. Oh, sure. Well, so the one that my mom was a part of is a play called The Children by Lucy Kirkwood.         

00:13:58
             

And one thing that I really enjoyed about the children, well, based on the title, you would think that it is about the youth, but it's not at all. It is about three older individuals that either are already retired or heading into retirement, but who worked at a nuclear plant in the UK. And this takes place in a sort of future world. But there had been a tsunami and like, a nuclear explosion and they were exposed to all of this radiation and are sort of dealing with the after effects of this harnessing of energy gone wrong and talking about what? Effects that has on the land and on the future, on the artifacts that are being passed down now that have also been exposed to radiation and what that means for the children to come.         

00:15:07
             

And I think it was a really wonderful way to start having this conversation about accountability and responsibility when it comes to energy, but in a way that is distanced enough from Wyoming and even from the United States or from the present moment, right? This was a futuristic play in a fictional community in the UK. And so it provided enough sort of distance for speculation to really then take a look at practices that are occurring here and now and in our state and know what are we doing well? What do we want to avoid from the future? What are the things that we keep and what are the things that we change all through the lens of this play.         

00:16:03
             

And that was also we did that sort of right before the pandemic as well. I think it sticks out of my mind also because it's one of the strong readings that occurred right before we had to shut down into isolation. So that contrast of just being amongst other people was really wonderful. We also recently this last November for Revamp relate. Did the play called the Thanksgiving play by Larissa FastHorse?         

00:16:36
             

And some folks who are familiar with Wyoming Humanities Council programming or with Off Square Theater in Jackson, they might be familiar with this play. It's by Larissa FastHorse. It also is currently receiving its Broadway premiere right now in New York. But it's a play about four very well intentioned white theater artists who want to tell an inclusively Native story about Thanksgiving without actually building any of those relationships or doing the research or bringing in the Native community to be a part of the process. And so it really looks a lot at these questions of diversity, inclusion, equity, accessibility, and the ways in which it has maybe been gone about in a less effective mAnner than it could.         

00:17:36
             

And it's a satire and it honestly pokes a lot of fun at the theater community and theater industry. So I know for me, I just get a kick out of reading it from that sort of inside perspective. But humor is a really wonderful way to address problems that we so that was a great play and also it was special to me because Larissa FastHorse wrote this play, The Thanksgiving play, as a response to her play What Would Crazy Horse Do? Which is a much more challenging play about an seemingly unlikely partnership between a fictional Native American tribe and the underground Ku Klux Klan and the two seeking a partnership in the pursuit of advancing blood purity. It's a really challenging play.         

00:18:30
             

It's an incredibly brilliant play, so well written and rightfully so. Larissa has stated that The Two is a four person play and that the two Native American actors or characters must be played by indigenous actors, which is not at all a far fetched thing to ask, let alone expect. I mean, I don't even think it needs to be spoken. And yet Larissa found that that was the case and that many well funded theater companies around the country were shying away from this, whether they were shying away from the content or from the extra work to find native actors in their community. So Relative Theatrics is actually the first company to have produced that play.         

00:19:19
             

We produced it back in 2017, and it was an incredible, massive learning experience for me as the producer and one of the most challenging things that I've ever produced. And it's my proudest production from the last ten years and really facilitated so much personal and collective growth. So then to sort of be able to also bring to life this play that pokes fun at kind of the hardship, the challenges of this experience that relative theatrics incurred years prior is just kind of sentimental and fun and also comforting as well as humor as a wonderful antidote as well. But that was a great play that we did as a part of Read Rant Relate as well. And we partnered with the Native Wyoming Humanities Council and Cultural Center here on campus at the University of Wyoming.         

00:20:28
             

And so they were a part of the discussion. Reynette Tendor, their director, facilitated our conversation, the humanities scholar discussion afterwards, which I think is just one of the that was possible because some of the alterations or amendments that have occurred to some of the grant stipulation about humanities scholars through Wyoming Humanities Council. And I think it's really wonderful because while Reynette doesn't have, I guess, what might be considered an official humanities degree, she has a master's, she works in academia, and she has lived experience. So she has all of the qualifications to lead that discussion and to lead a very rich discussion. And so those alterations that allowed us to really enhance that inclusivity and accessibility and diversity were really fantastic.         

00:21:24
             

And I'm so grateful for that. Gosh, that is amazing to hear about because I did see the Thanksgiving play at the center for the Arts in Jackson, and it was so wonderful and thought provoking and satirical and funny, but yet serious. I don't know, it's making fun of a lot of things in our society, which it is. Larissa does not like. She doesn't pull any punches.         

00:21:54
             

She goes hard. And it's something that I really appreciate about Larissa FastHorse and all of her work. And I'm really grateful that this play is on Broadway, which I just think it's kind of baffling in some ways to think that it's 2023 and she's the first indigenous female writer on Broadway. Wow, that's amazing, right? It's amazing.         

00:22:22
             

Yeah. What is, I think, sometimes sits a little hard with me just in sort of the greater picture of the American theater industry and the sort of Western theater in general, is that this play, while it's wonderful that it. Is on Broadway and that Larissa FastHorse, this Lakota Sue playwright is having her work premiered on The Great White Way that it is a cast of four white actors. There aren't indigenous actors in this play, which is what it's making fun of. That is like at the heart of the satire there.         

00:23:09
             

But I do think it really sheds a light on, sure, how far we've come, but definitely how very much farther we need to go.         

00:23:22
             

Did you get a good crowd for that? Oh, yeah, we had an excellent turnout. It was wonderful. We did it at the art museum. The University of Wyoming art museum.         

00:23:31
             

And we've done a lot of our Read, Rant, Relate plays there or programming there, which has been awesome because we would take the content of the play and pair it with one of the exhibits as well. And so folks could come to the museum a little bit early and see this exhibit centered around a certain theme and then witness a play that also explored that theme and then be a part of a discussion that sort of wrapped it all together, which is wonderful. We also have done the Read, Rant, Relate programming in other places in the community. Earlier this year, we did the play Fade by Tanya Sriracho, which is about a young woman, a young Latina woman who gets her first gig in television writing in Hollywood. And she is brought on as the writer for this TV show, as the quote unquote diversity hire and feels all of this responsibility to be the female voice in the room, the Latina voice in the room, to be her own authentic voice in the room.         

00:24:41
             

Like just feeling all of these pressures to fit so many expectations in a world where she is the other in just all of these spheres. And just a really excellent play that explores representation and diversity. And we did that at the Lincoln Community Center here in Laramie, which is on the west side, right on the other side of the train tracks in this neighborhood that is much more Latinx populated. And so being able to also just get outside of the theater and into the community more for these opportunities, for these programs, for these conversations and entertainment that really has a cause, has a purpose, has a mission at hand. No, I love that.         

00:25:35
             

It's been so great talking to you, Anne. You have such passion, and I hear it in your voice. And thank you. Of course, everything you do, you do with your whole heart. And so we are always excited to support relative theatrics and the work that you do.         

00:25:54
             

Well. Thank. Has. It would not have been possible whatsoever without the support from Wyoming Humanities Council in a granting sense from that financial standpoint, but also just the community support, the moral support, the mission support, the word of mouth, all of it. And just so grateful for the team that y'all have at Wyoming Humanities Council and the great work that you do to enhance the cultural economy in all spheres across the state.         

00:26:30
             

Thank you.         

00:26:36
             

Thank you for listening. I'm executive producer Emy DiGrappa. Winds of change is brought to you by Wyoming Humanities Council, our co hosts and all the people who generously share their stories and their time. For more information, go to thinky.org, subscribe and never miss a show.