Baltimore Center Stage was awarded a $40,000 Art Works grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for its mobile unit, which brings theater to the community.
For the past month, actors have staged “Antigone” at locations throughout the Baltimore area.
“My focus has been homeless shelters, elderly centers, under or overlooked schools, community centers across Baltimore and also the incarcerated,” says Daniel Bryant, community programs director and artistic producer at Center Stage. “We choose the play and we rehearse and audition it just like we do our normal theater productions. The only difference is that with the mobile unit, there are no sets and there are no lights.”
The group brought the play to Jessup Correctional Institution for both men and women prisoners there. The positive comments afterward affirmed the program’s purpose, Bryant says.
“I believe firmly that art is enriching for everybody, regardless of circumstance, regardless of whatever economic, geographic or cultural barrier there may be,” Bryant says. “The job of the mobile unit is to break through those barriers and still deliver art.”
The whole idea is to go into “any space” and put on a show, he adds. “It can be a cafeteria. It can be a gym and it can be a library. The purity of storytelling, the purity of setting up some chairs and having a play happen in these nontraditional spaces. That is the original heart of what theater used to be.”
“Antigone” was a great play for the mobile unit. The story begins in the aftermath of a civil war in which the two sons of Oedipus, Eteocles and Polyneices, kill each other, Bryant explains.
“Although it’s a 2,500-year-old play, a lot of the issues are so relevant to now,” he says. There are parallels to the #MeToo movement as well as the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. Brown was shot by police and his body was left on the street, uncovered for hours. In “Antigone,” one of the brothers who is killed is left unburied.
“There are so many parallels, even with the politics that are spoken about in ‘Antigone,’ like how to lead and how leaders should lead,” Bryant says. “It’s interesting to see how our audiences lean in to listen and critique and determine what side of the arguments they are going to fall on.”
Center Stage’s adaption of “Antigone” also featured original poetry by 2016 National Poetry Grand Slam Winner and local Baltimorean Lady Brion.