Festival starts conversation, encourages action

By Miranda Manier

Harriet Tubman descends from heaven to provide guidance using a long-form poem. A black man uses a hip-hop song to describe his experiences in a white man’s world. A woman tells the story of a black family in 1980’s suburbia.

These were all featured performances in Collaboraction Theatre’s Encounter series, the inaugural mixed-media festival that promotes racial healing. 

The festival was presented Jan. 9–20, at the theater company’s Flat Iron Building performance space at 1579 N. Milwaukee Ave., but select performances will start touring park district locations Feb. 3, said Artistic Director Anthony Moseley.

The tour will begin with a show at Theater on the Lake, 2401 N. Lake Shore Drive, and will then proceed to parks in Englewood, Austin and Hermosa through February, according to Moseley.

Collaboraction’s 22nd season is dedicated to the “realities of racism,” and Moseley said the Encounter series is an opportunity to delve deeper into those issues. The series curates submissions from artists in different media and backgrounds, and then brings their creations into their own neighborhoods and communities, he added.

“We’re really looking to take work about racial healing and hope to neighborhoods that aren’t getting that kind of work,” Moseley said. “We know that 200 years of systemic racism  has caused a lot of inequity. We’re looking for areas that have those symptoms of inequity, and we’re trying to bring the fear out of those communities and produce [art] with and for them.”

The Encounter festival featured solo performances, staged readings and storytelling events. Its “Collection” presentations were based on one of three themes—identity, history and resistance—and were composed of five or six vignettes followed by a dialogue with the audience.

These dialogues are the most exciting part of the series to Diana Quinones Rivera, whose short film on her experiences as a Puerto Rican woman in the South Side appeared in the Identity section of the festival. 

Community engagement is a part of Collaboraction’s programming, particularly in after-school youth programs that take place both at Collaboraction’s theater and at Kelvyn Park in Hermosa. Teenage participants from these programs are included in the Encounter series, according to Director of  Youth Programming Luis Crespo. They make up the Peacemaker’s Ensemble, and perform a show written by the students about perserverance. 

 “The work is a catalyst for the conversation and the conversation is the thing we’re really after because conversation is a step closer to action,” Moseley said. “We want to use our work to spread knowledge, but also to activate empathy for other people. Once we’ve combined empathy and knowledge, we’re just a step away from action.” 

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