WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — An Uptown theater group is back with its fifth interactive play created in collaboration with community members — and this year it's putting the focus on gentrification.
The nonprofit People’s Theatre Project works with residents to help them create and perform unique theater pieces for its Uptown Action project, with previous topics covering domestic violence, abusive landlords and bullying.
For this year’s show, the group is tackling the effects of gentrification on New York City communities.
The performance, called "Pardon Our Appearance," consists of two short, bilingual plays based on the 12 actors' experiences of living in a changing neighborhood.
People’s Theatre Project employs the "Theater of the Oppressed" model, which is used worldwide to help communities solve problems. To prepare for their roles, the performers spent weeks using theater exercises to explore real-life situations in which they had felt powerless to effect change.
“It’s surprising how all of us connect to this issue so personally and passionately, and how quickly we formed connections with one another — as performers, yes, but also as allies,” said Lyana Fernandez, a community actor in the program, in a statement.
Each play is followed by a community brainstorming session in which audience members are invited to come to the stage to act out possible solutions to the problems presented in the play. Program director Mino Lora said the actors do prepare for the audience participation part of the show, but that it’s impossible to anticipate everyone’s reaction.
“The most challenging audience interventions are when children join the scene,” Lora said. “Their lack of inhibitions allow them to come up with some really out-of-the-box solutions that could actually be effective in the real world.”
Lora co-founded People’s Theater Project in 2009 with fellow Washington Heights resident Bob Braswell, with the goal of making theater more accessible to the Uptown community. In addition to the Uptown Action program, the nonprofit runs community programs for kids and teens, partnering with four local schools to engage students in the collaborative theater-making process.
The show will take place at the Alianza Dominicana Cultural Center on Nov. 21 and 22. Both shows begin at 7:30 p.m. Admission is pay-what-you-can.