It’s not what you think.
I’m not the kind of person who goes chasing after movie stars. Heck – I’m in Los Angeles, and I haven’t even gone out of my way at ALL to spot famous people (well, ok, I was kind of hoping I might see someone when I went to the Hollywood Farmer’s Market, but I would have gone there anyway!). So this may sound a bit silly to the un-initiated, but today – while visiting the Cornerstone Theater Company – I think I experienced quite possibly the closest thing I get to starstruck.
You have to understand a few things in order to get an inkling of what I was feeling when I walked up to this graffiti-tagged office door in the middle of the Arts District.
First of all, Cornerstone is one of the longest-running and most well-known community-based theater companies in the country. When I started investigating this kind of work early in college, they were one of the first names I came across and I quickly became fascinated with their work. I spent hours poring over the pages of their website, reading about their history and current projects. The names quickly became familiar to me, and I dreamt about working with them some day. When I did my senior project, a research investigation of the history and practices of community-based theater, it was really an excuse to learn more about this company and others like it.
Cornerstone is a company that really pulls at my heart-strings – in many ways it’s like the City Year of theater. It was started, like City Year, by a group of young idealists with an interest in service. They wanted to bring theater to communities that didn’t have access to the arts. It was an experiment to see if it would work. They spent their first five years traveling around to rural communities, initially creating productions of well-known plays. Soon, however, they ran into a community that wasn’t interested in Hamlet, or Our Town: “What’s in it for us?” the community members asked. “What does this have to do with US? We can’t relate to this.” So these young idealists stopped, and listened. They heard the voice of the community, listened to their stories… and decided to re-write A Midsummer Night’s Dream, using the stories of that town. The community was empowered, and it was a huge success.
After a while they decided it was time to put down roots, and the company relocated to Los Angeles to build a home there. They have continued to create new works with and about communities all over the city and across the state. For many years now, they have worked in cycles, focusing on a particular theme and exploring that theme with the various communities they work with. They are in the process of starting their next cycle, in which they will focus on hunger and food issues. They will be partnering with organizations across the city such as Homeboy Industries and food banks. At the end of each cycle, they do a “bridge show,” bringing together all the communities they have worked with to create a culminating piece. In this way, they allow communities to explore their own stories, as well as providing a space for different communities to interact and learn from one another.
The Cornerstone Theater Company has been building community and producing innovative theater for 25 years. Needless to say, they have sort of grown to rock star status in my eyes.
Cornerstone, you rock my world.