We’ve been hearing an awful lot lately about who can and can’t call the United States home. In that context it may count as a statement that the National Theatre of Scotland chose Chicago’s Adventure Stage to represent the U.S. in its Home Away festival in Glasgow (Oct. 8-12), for which NTS has commissioned five theatres from Scotland and five international companies to create 10 new works exploring the concept of home.
Adventure Stage is housed in the Northwestern Settlement, a social service organization that has served immigrants and under-privileged community members since 1891. While it originally served German, Polish, Irish, and Scandinavian immigrants, its patronage shifted some time last century to the region’s burgeoning African-American community. More recently the settlement has seen a surge in its Latino population.
“We want to tell hopeful stories that encourage people to make a positive impact,” says Adventure Stage producing artistic director Tom Arvetis, stories that inspire audiences “to believe in themselves and change their circumstances if that is indeed what needs to happen.”
Reprise, the play they’ve devised for the Scots, takes its story from the settlement’s own history. Three years ago a man showed up with a violin he said he wanted to return to Harriet Vittum, the settlement’s founder, who had loaned it to him when he was a child. Ms. Vittum has been dead since 1953. “It’s a story we’ve seen in different iterations with community members at the settlement house,” says director Sarah Rose Graber, a frequent Adventure Stage collaborator. “People have times of struggle and the settlement house helps them when they need it, so they return later to give back to others. They don’t just do it out of the goodness of their heart; they do it because they’ve lived it.”
In Reprise, the life of the man with the violin is imagined in three different eras. As decades shift, the character’s cultural background changes to reflect the cultural makeup of the settlement itself—in the 1930s, he’s a European boy; in the 1960s, he’s a young black man; and in the 2010s, he’s an older Latino man.
Community collaborators who helped develop the show range from members of Adventure Stage’s youth mentoring program to members of a knitting club for seniors. “We’re trying to put community members in a position to be professional,” explains Graber. “There’s a real honor for the work and a real integrity in what’s done, even though they aren’t people who have gone through master’s training programs in theatre.”
That the creative input of community members should be taken seriously is a central ethos of the Home Away festival. In addition to homegrown Scottish works and this piece from Chicago, the festival has commissioned work from arts organizations in India, Brazil, Australia, and Jamaica. Like many of its counterparts, Reprise has a cast made up of both experienced actors and newcomers to the theatrical stage. They hope to represent American stories that international communities wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to.
“Their work is authentic and exciting,” Graber says of her community collaborators. “There are moments when you think, ‘My God—sometimes our training gets in the way of our work.’”