CORNERSTONE_AUG

Cornerstone Theater company is preparing for this fall’s production of SEED: A Weird Act of Faith, the second play in The Hunger Cycle, a six-year series of world premiere plays about hunger, justice and food equity issues. The process of rallying interested community participants is well underway, including the auditioning of local community members for roles in the play.

ArtPlace spoke with Raquel Gutierrez, Manager of Community Partnerships for Cornerstone Theater Company, about the latest in Cornerstone’s process of community engagement for SEED and Cornerstone’s expectations for viable change through the exciting collaboration between community and art.

ARTPLACE: What do you have to do really (really) well to achieve success with your initiative?

GUTIÉRREZ: We have to be our most authentic selves to achieve our initiative. You see, only a small number of us here at Cornerstone Theater Company actually live in South Los Angeles. We hardly, personally, experience food scarcity and little access to the freshest produce our great state of California offers each week. We all have farmers markets we love to frequent, exchange recipes and boast about baking experiments we do over the weekend when we’re away from the office. We reap the benefits of living so close to our produce and are so grateful for the men, women (and sometimes youth) that engage in the backbreaking work of picking the fruits and vegetables that end up on our dinner tables.

We’ve all known different kinds of hunger—in our relationships, spiritual lives and careers. But we don’t know the stigma of living in a food desert. We do know, however, that we need to be in service to those that want to present a different scenario, an alternative to the food desert motif that has circulated in our national discourse around food accessibility. We have to create the conditions that allow for our own transformation as artists and organizers at the hands of community members.

The lot of us comes in to these communities as strangers. We’ve learned over the years to come inside a community with palms stretched open and to resist the impulse to close them into fists with assumptions. As a theater company, we know how to throwdown—we make a high quality theatrical product. But the process is always about what the community is interested in talking about and how they take us, artists and theater-makers, under their wing to show us who they are.

ARTPLACE: How do you expect the community to change as a result?

GUTIÉRREZ: Having an art-making experience with a team of professional artists often lends itself to being a time for transformation. Creating art is often a moment of meditation and for taking inventory of one’s life. Some of our community members of productions past have often used their experience with Cornerstone as an opportunity to ask themselves if they are truly pursuing a path of happiness and satisfaction. Making art in a community-based context is anchored in healing the wounds that galvanized a community to come together in the first place. With our current community partners, we aim to facilitate their membership base to ask questions and inspire them to live the answers first on-stage and then in real life.

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