Louisville’s Commonwealth Theatre Center has won a grant to build intercultural understanding through arts experiences.
According to a release, the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art’s Building Bridges program funds projects that will “strengthen bonds between U.S. communities of Muslims and their neighbors.”
Fifteen organizations across the country, including CTC, were awarded grants.
CTC will receive $225,000 for a three-year immersive performing arts project exploring the experiences of regional Muslim and non-Muslim youth.
“We decided to build upon some already-existing relationships to increase representation of Muslim characters in stories in the arts, especially theater for young audiences,” said CTC Associate Artistic Director Hallie Dizdarevic.
Dizdarevic said when staff first heard about this grant, they tried to remember a Louisville production of a children’s show featuring Muslim characters (or one that was written by a local Muslim playwright). They couldn’t think of one. They also couldn’t think of many theater artists or directors from that background.
“And we know that when children don’t see characters or stories that represent them, they may not feel welcome in that space,” she said. “We went, ‘Well, maybe if we were telling stories from a Muslim perspective featuring characters from that background, perhaps we would eventually have more theater artists from that culture.”
According to Alison Huff, CTC’s managing director, the grant will provide the company an opportunity to to expand their Connecting Cultures program, a theater education residency.
Initially developed in 2013, Connecting Cultures uses theater-based activities to create dialogue and common understanding among different groups of youth; the first year, participants included ESL students from Newcomer Academy at Shawnee, students from west Louisville, and acting students from Walden Theatre’s after-school Conservatory program.
From those activities, students composed and performed dramatic works.
This version of Connecting Cultures will be a little different; CTC will be partnering with a number of community partners, and a professional playwright will use participating student’s experiences to write an original play.
And it won’t just be about Muslim and non-Muslim students in dialogue
“We were really wanting to make sure that we didn’t create some kind of false binary ‘us versus them’ narrative,” Huff said.
Instead, CTC is bringing in perspectives from other organizations — including Louisville Youth Group and the Jewish Community Center — in order to broaden the conversation. The main topic of the culminating performance will be about marginalization and the feeling of being “othered.”
“It’s a way to make sure we are telling intersectional stories,” Huff said.