Voices of Community packs a robust lineup of events

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PUTNEY - Sandglass Theater's Voices of Community series has always been good medicine, but this year it's being delivered in a powerful, more concentrated dose.

From Nov. 13 through 20, the Putney-based puppet and theater company will be hosting a slate of events that includes performances, workshops, panel discussions, conversations, meals, school outreach events, a dance party and more, all under the banner of Voices of Community: Art, Food, Shelter, Justice.

Since 2005, Sandglass' Voices of Community series has brought theater artists to the area for performances and community connection around issues of race, gender and disability. Those performances were often spread out over a few months. This year, Sandglass has packed a robust lineup into one week, aiming for impact.

"We decided if we really want the series to be noticed we have to pull it together in a concentration of one week," said Eric Bass, Sandglass Theater co-founder and co-producer with Shoshana Bass and Michael Hanish of Voices of Community. "In a nutshell, Voices of Community started in 2005 as something that Sandglass was doing essentially to address issues of racism in our predominately white community. Over time, the demographics of the community have changed and our interest in the issues has changed."

What hasn't changed is Sandglass' interest in performance and outreach around issues of race, class and social justice. What's new this year are some of the issues being looked at and the extent of the outreach programs.

"The artists that we're presenting in the Voices of Community week of performances, workshops and dialogues are addressing issues of moral injury and shelter and food and water," said Bass. "We can't address any of these issues without acknowledging that inequality seeks out anyone that can be marginalized because of race, class, income level, disability, age or emotional distress that may be caused by war experiences."

Headlining the festival are three performances by artists with unique gifts for enlightening and entertaining. On Thursday and Friday, Nov. 17 and 18, at 8 p.m., Anu Nadav will present "Capers," a one-woman show hailed as a stirring blend of theater, documentation and activism. "Capers" tells the stories of families who demonstrated against the government-funded demolition of their Washington, D.C., housing project. Tickets are $18, $16 for students and seniors, and the performance takes place at Putney's Next Stage, which is a presenting partner of Voices of Community.

On Saturday, Nov. 19, at 7 p.m., and Sunday, Nov. 20, at 2 p.m., at Next Stage, Voices of Community presents "Speed Killed My Cousin," a stunning new play by Linda Parris-Bailey, rooted in the story of an African American female combat soldier and her struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder upon her return home from Iraq. Tickets are $18, $16 for students and seniors and there are free tickets for veterans.

"The subject of her piece is moral injury, which is different from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It has to do with mental anxiety for people doing something against their values," said Bass.

On Thursday, Nov. 17, at 9 and 11 a.m., at the Latchis Theatre in Brattleboro, school groups will be treated to Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater's "Are You Thirsty?", a dynamic exploration of the myriad questions contained in a cup of water - one of our most precious and necessary shared resources. Tickets are $6, $8 for adults not attending with a school group.

"All these artists have strong feelings and points of view about their subjects, but ultimately, they're all interested in community dialogue rather than propaganda," said Bass.

And that certainly feeds into another important aspect of Voices of Community. Taking a cue from its name, the week-long festival features many programs based on gathering, telling and hearing stories from the various voices in our community.

"One of the most important things for us is to have the public show up at the workshops. The workshops all have the same theme - how we tell and listen to community stories," said Bass. "It's a week that's absolutely filled with story circles. What we would like to see happen is that in this week we help the community to have many more facilitators of story circles."

Which begs the question: Why?

"Ultimately the solution to injustice and inequality needs to contain our ability to hear other people's stories," said Bass, encouraging people to give the story circles a try. "A well-facilitated story circle really inspires people to tell stories, often stories they didn't even know they had. It can be joyful. It can be moving. It definitely connects us as a community."

Story circle events for the public include Carlton Turner's "Facilitating Story Circles" on Monday, Nov. 14, at 4 p.m., at Landmark College, Anu Yadav's "The Art of Listening" on Tuesday, Nov. 15 at 4 p.m., at Next Stage, "Digital Storytelling" with Linda Parris-Bailer on Wednesday, Nov. 16, at 4 p.m., at Next Stage, and, on Sunday, Nov. 20, at 11:15 a.m., Will McAdam's "Moving Forward/Making Change" at Next Stage. All these workshops are $10. There are other story workshops for student groups at Brattleboro Union High School, the Putney School and Putney Central School. The public is welcome at these, with admission at $8. See voicesofcommunity.org for details.

Other outreach programs include a mask-making workshop and Sandy Spieler's Production for the Whole Community, both on Saturday, Nov. 19.

There are also several other community engagement opportunities, starting on Sunday, Nov. 13, at 11:30 a.m., at Next Stage with a free event gathering people to build a community installation. That night, everyone can kick up their heels and open their minds with a Zydeco Dance Party and Spoken Word Rap with music by Planet Zydeco from 7 to 10 p.m., at Next Stage. Admission is $15.

There are Artist/Activist Lunchtime Conversations at noon on Monday, Nov. 14, Wednesday, Nov. 16, and Thursday, Nov. 17, at noon at 118 Elliot in Brattleboro, as well as two Loaves and Fishes Roundtable Conversations about food, a Farm To Table Farm Dinner on Thursday, Nov. 16, a free conversation on Art, Food, Shelter and Justice with Shanta Lee of the Arts Council of Windham County on Saturday, Nov. 19, and a free presentation on Saturday, Nov. 19, at the Putney Public Library on Art and Water.

Also tune in for Carlton Turner's keynote address on Monday, Nov. 14, at 7 p.m., at Next Stage, evocatively titled "Imagining the Reintegration of Art and Humanity."

Jon Potter may be reached at jon@latchisarts.org


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