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‘Function of art in a dysfunctional world’

  • Haitian-American poet and playwright Jean Dany Joachim’s “Your Voice, Poet” will be staged in a Silverthorne Theater Company this weekend at Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield. SUBMITTED PHOTO



Recorder Staff
Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Does the voice of the poet echo the cry heard from the streets? A special community arts project hopes to listen for an answer at a free performance by New York’s Medicine Show Theater Ensemble on Sunday, at 3 p.m., at Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center.

Haitian-American poet and playwright Jean Dany Joachim’s “Your Voice, Poet” will be staged in a Silverthorne Theater Company production that asks, “What good are words in a world that will not listen?”

The 45-minute play, which consists of three monologues, was the winner of Silverthorne’s second Playwrights of Color competition for works by non-white playwrights.

Joachim, who immigrated to this country, teaches at Bunker Hill Community College and was Cambridge’s “Poet Populist” from 2009 to 2011. He wrote “Your Voice, Poet” in 2010 to express insight into the world of the dispossessed.

“All of us are the poets, the artists and spectators,” according to Joachim, who calls his play, “a call not only to poets, but also to all who can hear.”

“The poet is heard through his or her art, but all who can see and have the avenue to speak must do so. The play is … a call to our collective responsibilities,” said Joachim.

Silverthorne Artistic Director Lucinda Kidder says she chose the work from eight or nine works submitted in the competition because the setting could have been Haiti or Greenfield — “anyplace where there are a lot of impoverished, unheard voices. It’s universal and speaks to everybody: How do people get their voices heard?”

It will be presented as three monologues about corruption and the need for art to fully know and express all of the harshest conditions of our society — the thorns, as well as the silver.

The performance by Medicine Show, which presented the play in workshop form last year and will present it again in New York this week, is directed by David Elyha.

Sunday’s performance in Greenfield, followed by a performance Monday in Springfield, “will be free-form in a lot of ways,” Kidder says — as a theatrical spoken-word piece presented to what’s hoped to be an unusually broad cross-section of the community.

With the support of a $2,275 Massachusetts Humanities Foundation Open Discussion grant, Silverthorne will present the play for free, making a concerted effort to reach an audience that rarely attends theater or other arts and cultural events. Kidder says she plans to distribute free passes at the Stone Soup Cafe’s Thanksgiving Day feast, as well as the RECOVER Project, local senior centers, the Literacy Project, Community Action and through local housing authorities and other locations.

“Most of the time, people who come to something like this already know theater, they think about theater; they’re arts consumers,” Kidder says. “I really wanted to do an end run around everything to get people into this.”

With help from the grant, which encourages community discussion, she says, “We’ll mix up the audience and form small discussion groups,” trying to involve people with an interest or a background in the arts, as well as people whose voices are seldom heard.

“I hope people will come in to experience the show, and God knows whether they’ll be willing to talk about it,” Kidder said.

In a fourth-floor space with 150 seats, Kidder says, “If we could get 50, that would be fabulous. The main thing is to just get some folks in who may never have thought about the arts.” The bottom line, she adds, is to consider the “function of art in a dysfunctional world … I don’t think we’re going to come up with any conclusions, but the point is to get the discussion going. How can we grow the audience to embrace the whole community and whatever issues people feel are not being discussed?”

Kidder, whose first Playwrights of Color competition drew an astonishing 425 scripts from around the world, and who plans in the months ahead to present “White, Black and Blue” and “The Road to Mecca” about “the warehousing of older people,” describes her own learning episode as she worked on her fine arts master’s degree at the beginning of this century.

Working on a project to present plays by women from Islamic cultures, she and New World Theater creator Roberta Uno drew more than 50 plays from around the world, several of which she helped present with the Immigrant Theater Company in New York in the months just after the Sept. 11, 2001 tragedy.

“What I learned from that is that I had not known what those voices were. What and who are we talking about here? We have to stop and listen.”

Visit: www.silverthornetheater.org for more information about the performance.