RHIZOME THEATER COMPANY
WHO WE ARE
Rhizome Theater Company is committed to sowing the seeds of social cohesion, awareness, and compassion through live documentary theater made by the community, for the community, about the community.
We're a group of artists with shared interests in theater, community-building, and listening. We have ongoing projects that incorporate these interests and are always looking for more collaborators (individual or organizational) to join our diverse coalition. Please reach out!
RECENT AND UPCOMING
We performed an adapted version of our interactive documentary play about home (Nice Town, Normal People) by invitation at the 2019 Encounter Festival sponsored by Chicago's social justice theater organization, Collaboraction. We worked with three local residents/artists to weave their own Chicago-specific stories into the larger conversational fabric of the project, tackling issues such as immigration history, gentrification, inequality, and personal expression through art.
VOICES OF NEUROTRAUMA
Interviewing dozens of neurotrauma (spinal cord and brain injury) experts, researchers, clinicians, therapists, social workers, caretakers, patients and family members, we visited several hospitals and embedded at the 2019 National Neurotrauma Society Symposium to create a live documentary portrait of a community of care, with special attention to questions of "function" in everyday life. Also helped facilitate NIH-sponsored roundtable discussions focusing on patient input on research and care decisions. In collaboration with spinal cord injury survivor Sean, presented a final compendium of the "Voices of NNS," in both performance and written form, taking stock of the diverse stakeholders of this community and re-centering the human stories behind the medical-scientific research.
NICE TOWN, NORMAL PEOPLE TOURING COLLABORATIONS
Following the same model we successfully developed in Chicago, in which we collaborate with local artists to weave them into the fabric of our own show and the larger conversation it hopes to inspire about the ethics of inclusive place-making and peace-building, Nice Town, Normal People is on the road at this critical national juncture. Contact us if you'd like to get your community involved! Future dates/locations TBA soon.
In August 2019, we performed a by-popular-demand revival Performance In Arroyo Grande, exploring how our community has changed in the two years since we originally conducted the interviews and made the show.
We are interested in continuing our nonprofit work in different communities across the country. If you would like to capture and share the stories of your community in the service of its collective betterment, please reach out. We are very flexible and would love to work with you to make something meaningful and transformational.
NICE TOWN, NORMAL PEOPLE
Our signature project, sponsored by the Davis Projects for Peace, began in summer 2017. We spent the summer interviewing people in Arroyo Grande, California (our home town) about the concept of "home" and what it means to them. We then compiled these interviews into a documentary theater piece entitled "Nice Town, Normal People." Performances took place at 7:30pm on August 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th at the Clark Center Studio Theater. All tickets were free. At each performance, we asked audience members to help us decide how to donate $1,000 to local community organizations. They discussed, provided their input, and on their way out of the theater voted for their favorite organizations. With these votes and their own donations, we raised thousands of dollars for organizations such as the Five Cities Diversity Coalition, the Five Cities Homeless Coalition, People's Self-Help Housing, Central Coast Salmon Enhancement, The Boys and Girls Club of Oceano, Community Counseling Center (South County), and others.
Nice Town, Normal People has since been performed across the country (in both small towns and large cities), engaging audiences in ongoing dialogues about equity & community-building.
Beginning July 1st, 2018, Rhizome Theater Co. spent a two-week artistic residency in East Blue Hill, Maine, with the support of local residents. We presented our documentary theater piece, NICE TOWN, NORMAL PEOPLE, in free performances, and collaborated with community members to create a new documentary theater piece about, by, and for the "VOICES of East Blue Hill."
In August of 2018, we spent a week at Camp DeBeneville Pines-- a long-standing, multi-generational family summer camp in San Bernardino, CA. We interviewed camp attendees, and collaborated to create a piece of documentary theater celebrating the "VOICES of DBP."
In July of 2019, we completed another "Voices" project in Pittsburgh, this time of the National Neurotrauma Society. This is an ongoing and open endeavor; we hope to collect and share new voices in new locations soon!
As part of these residencies, Rhizome conducted a series of open, free workshops for any and all community members interested in interviewing one another, crafting performance together, composing new music, and otherwise engaging in questions of community-building. These workshops culminated in community events, during which participants shared their newly created documentary theater pieces. Each workshop and community event was built first and foremost as a space for dialogue, with the hope that community members might discover and strengthen connections between one another.
RESPONSES TO NICE TOWN, NORMAL PEOPLE
“I found [the show] moving and powerful and unlike anything I had ever seen. Thank you for showing me what abstract macro-data and sociological trends I've learned about at school mean concretely in the lives of members of my own (neighbor) community. Thank you for showing me what is at stake in these national discussions and how seemingly-innocuous exclusion takes shape in the world. Thank you for broadening and sharpening my ideas about what social change is and how to promote it in a community. And for doing all of the above with such honesty, kindness, and care. As I'm sure it did for many others, the show left me pondering and digesting exactly what I need to be pondering and digesting right now. It's just different seeing a play about you, about your world, and I'm so grateful…for that experience.”
"This show changed my life and how I think about myself, my community, and my obligations to others. It cracked open my me-centered bubble by so evocatively listening to and portraying the voices of my neighbors."
"An outstanding and courageous production, which was by turns funny, touching and troubling."
"A thought-provoking, funny, and tender show...just stunning."
"There is wisdom here, and an empathic understanding of human nature that belies the youth of the performers; that is a good thing indeed. That they are learning from the past while actively asking questions about the future bodes well for the future of every nice town with normal people."
For more information, check out interviews and reviews in The San Luis Obispo Tribune, Arroyo Grande Living Magazine, The New Times, The Homesick Traveler, as well as our appearances on KCBX's "The Reluctant Therapist" and The Dave Congalton Show!
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
WHAT'S WITH THE NAME?
We call ourselves "Rhizome Theater Company" because a rhizome is a non-hierarchical shape with many entry and exit points. It comes from the botanical term for a plant stem that shoots out underground roots. It is also the name of a philosophical theory that encourages people to stop thinking about history and culture as linear narratives, and start envisioning them as ever-shifting, ever-expanding maps of relationships. Both of these understandings of the rhizome represent the kind of theater we want to make: inclusive, thoughtful, non-hierarchical, focused on forging and taking stock of the complex system of connections that make up the stem and roots of our community.
The project we created in Summer 2017 is called Nice Town, Normal People—a phrase that is also our hometown of Arroyo Grande's unofficial slogan. Through the making of this performance, we used this phrase as a jumping-off point from which to ask: what stories, thoughts, opinions, and aspirations lie underneath the smooth surface of this turn of phrase? What does our "nice" town look like from different points of view? Who are these "normal" people, anyway? Whose voices does our town's representation of itself work to amplify? Whose does it work to push to the margins? And how might it be possible to bring those voices together?
WHAT, EXACTLY, DO YOU DO?
Good question! We're figuring this out as we go along. We don't pretend to know all (or any) of the answers to the tough questions that we are asking about theater, belonging, and community-building. We expect to learn and make many discoveries along the way. That being the case, our creative process is generally very flexible, and changes based on the communities with whom we partner.
One of the main ways we create performances is by talking to residents from across the areas in which we work about their concept of "home." When we made Nice Town, Normal People, we interviewed a diverse cross-section of the community, ranging from the descendants of farmers whose families have lived in AG for tens of decades to immigrants recently arrived from Latin America. We invited them to share what “home” means to them, particularly as it relates to their experience engaging with the Arroyo Grande community. Using text, audio, and video recording, we catalogued the memories, anecdotes, and experiences that were shared with us, compiling them into a live performance piece to be shared with community audiences. Throughout the process, we held public storytelling events and workshops where we could gather feedback and foster conversation.
From there, working with local artists and musicians, we created a piece of theater whose content is comprised of the interviews and archival material that we collected. Performances took place in various Arroyo Grande locations, beginning in mid-August. All performances were free and open to the public. Any donations/funds remaining after the show closed were donated to local groups working to support community members in need.
This gives you a broad sense of what our process may look like, but it really does change depending on the particularities of each community and all the individuals involved.
HOW CAN I GET INVOLVED?
This is exactly the question we were hoping you would would ask! No matter who you are, if you are interested in being a part of our projects, we want to hear from you. There are many ways to get involved, ranging from wiring with us to create a new performance, to partnering with us on community-building workshops, to collaborating with us in efforts to bring Nice Town, Normal People to a performance space near you! Please scroll down and reach out, if you would like to work with or support us.
Please reach out if you would like to get in touch, to partner with us, or even just to say hello.
We are always looking for more collaborators and storytellers from all walks of life and backgrounds.
Everyone has something to add to this conversation!