Monthly Archives: July 2011

Media as a Storyteller

The wonderful thing about theatre is that an audience can walk in a space full of strangers, watch a story unfold, and see a great piece of art that makes us feel really good about our world or become inspired to make our world better.

The media is made up of this same being. Media hooks the public with true tales of disaster, murder, love, money, blackmail, and everything else in between. I’ve attended many a lecture on the media monster, and there has always been a negative opinion of how the media spins its stories and manipulates the public. I used to critically listen and analyze, but then I got lazy. Granted, we all have selective hearing, choosing to listen only to what we connect with.

And look how easy it is to connect! The media surrounds our daily lives and there are thousands of stories being published on paper and on digital news feeds. Take a look at how much the media bubble has expanded in just two years: With the creation of Twitter, and the growing popularity and accuracy of blogs, people are getting media coverage from more than their local channel. All these things have become media outlets that transform our thoughts and actions.

There’s an ongoing argument that print journalism is losing its appeal; that it’s losing in the race towards King of all Media. I admit, I read more blogs than the pages that get tossed on my driveway. Why? Maybe it’s more accessible or perhaps it’s more fun to read. Blogs tend to be more opinionated and more specific. Blogs sometimes publish more of the gritty parts of the story.

The media has to tell the truth, but it also has to sell something—a product, an agenda, an advertisement, an idea. In order to do that, it has to tell a story through some sort of angle. That angle does not always make the community happy. Parts of the story can be left out and insignificant parts can be embellished.

How does the media paint your neighborhood? Do you feel like parts of the story are missing? In Clybourne Park, Lena does not like the way her neighborhood will be changing and worries that its history will be forgotten. Lena wants to protect the history that she grew up in, and she takes action to make sure her community’s story still exists.

In short, stories are the connecting factor between the media and its public. The media is a storyteller that we choose to listen to (or not). When you take part in this exchange, you are connected to the community. An entire culture can be connected by one story—emotionally, intellectually, or physically—and it happens over social media, at work, at a bar, and in theatre.

“Our shared stories create a connection to others that builds a sense of belonging to a particular community.” – Daniel Siegel

Want to be a part of this discussion? Come see the July 31st matinee of Clybourne Park and stay for the Mammoth Forum “Media as a Storyteller.” Special guests will include Lydia DePillis, author of “Housing Complex” blog for the Washington City Paper, Shani Hilton, author of “Confessions of a Black Gentrifier”, Elahe Izadi, reporter for WAMU’s Dcentric, and Philip Stewart, reporter ABC7/WJLA-TV and News Channel 8 team.

~ Noel Edwards, Marketing and Communications Assistant

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Neighborhood Spotlight: Bloomingdale

Today’s neighborhood of Bloomingdale is located just outside the original boundary of the city of Washington as designed by Maj. Pierre L’Enfant in 1792, and residential development started in this area about a century later. Located just east of LeDroit Park, the lands that comprise the residential blocks of Bloomingdale at that time were utilized for a variety of light industrial uses. Boundary Street, today Florida Avenue, was the dividing line between paved, planned streets and the country, where a variety of landowners maintained orchards, large country estates, and a mixture of commercial properties.

One of the first uses for the area was for train yards and transportation routes into and out of the city of Washington. And in 1889 one of only two flour mills in the city was built in this neighborhood, as pictured below.

Residents at the time complained that the industrial activity in the neighborhood precluded promises of a prospering residential community. However, since then the neighborhood has changed drastically. Here’s one perspective from our Box Office Supervisor Bryan Joseph Lee who currently lives in Bloomingdale:

IF YOU BUILD IT, or Creating a Community in Bloomingdale

How do you build a sense of community? It’s a huge question, one that varies from neighborhood to neighborhood. In Clybourne Park, the discussion of community building centers around the integration and redevelopment of a single house. In Bloomingdale, the DC neighborhood I’ve called home on and off for the last three years, I think the growth of community has centered around something equally as tangible: shared public spaces.

Good public spaces are key to a healthy neighborhood because they provide neighbors a place to relax, have fun, and see one another face to face. For generations, Bloomingdale and nearby Ledroit Park and Eckington maintained a sense of identity due to their close proximity to Howard University’s campus. But without a bustling nightlife (like U Street) or a large commercial center (hey there, Colubmia Heights), Bloomingdale has relied on shared public spaces like parks, churches, recreation centers, markets, and cafes to further develop its community atmosphere.

Ask anyone in the ‘dale and they’ll tell you the heart of our neighborhood is Big Bear Cafe, a mom-and-pop coffee shop on 1st and R NW. In addition to exceptional espresso and free wifi, Big Bear also hosts a vibrant community bulletin board and a Farmer’s Market on the weekends.  When you sit for hours at Big Bear, you’ll run into friends, coworkers, and neighbors. You’ll hear about a local ANC meeting or sample some locally-sourced produce that’s incorporated into the lunch special. Local artists are featured on the walls, and on some afternoons you might hear about an open mic or pop-up concert taking place on the patio. As far as community building goes, I can’t think of a more central location in this or any other DC neighborhood.

Bloomingdale’s public spaces don’t stop at Big Bear. The newly-opened Rustik features one of the best brunches in DC, and Windows Cafe and Timor are great places to find local and organic produce. The newly-revitalized public park on 2nd and V is a great companion to the Common Good Community Garden. There are hidden gems, like Crispus Attucks Park (which is actually funded and maintained solely by the neighborhood and private donations) and a number of smaller corner stores and markets. Our neighborhood might not be huge, but there are tons of places for neighbors old and new to meet and talk with one another.

Winston Churchill once said, “We shape our public spaces, thereafter, our public spaces shape us.” It’s definitely true in Bloomingdale. Public spaces have gone a long way towards building a real sense of community in our neighborhood.

~ Bryan Joseph Lee, Box Office Supervisor

Bloomingdale history credit of: http://www.bloomingdaledc.org/history_brief.htm

 

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Not a Principle, But a Being: The House as a Character in CLYBOURNE PARK

Hey there Woolly blog community! It’s me, Mel Harker, the new Connectivity Assistant here to chat with you lovely people about Clybourne Park.

And can I just say? I’m super psyched.

In my first week here with Woolly, Rachel Grossman (fantastic Connectivity Director) pop quizzed me about the structure of a typical, Western drama. Fresh out of university and ready to prove that my bachelor’s degree was worth something, I went through from start to finish; inciting incident, climax, resolution, the whole shebang. Then Rachel posed me a question; how does the structure of Clybourne Park differ from our traditional concept of Western drama? Since at that point I had only read CP and not actually seen it, I was a little stumped. The first act (for those of you who haven’t seen it) occurs sometime around the late 1950’s and the second act occurs in the present. Both acts seem to stand on their own; two separate plays almost, with beginning, middles, and ends, and two sets of completely different characters. So what keeps us coming back in both acts?

Well, Watson, the answer is quite simple: the house.

The house on Clybourne Street is really the only character that stays constant in both acts. But how can a house, an inanimate object, be considered a character? Houses have been utilized as characters in literature for quite some time now. For instance, in Edgar Allen Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher the house itself is given human characteristics, like its “eye-like windows.” In the case of Clybourne Park, as an audience member you are following, on some level, the story of the house itself. In the first act you’re introduced to the house; you find out a little bit about its recent past, the scars it has acquired, and you also find out about its potentially trying future. In the second act the house is literally days from being demolished. As an audience member, reading/seeing that pained me. “But what about the history? What about the stories of the families that have lived there in the past and all of the crap they had to endure to simply live?” Bruce Norris has done an excellent job in adding a layer of written texture to the house which allows it to possess human-like qualities, and allow an audience to empathize and feel nostalgic about it.

Karl Lindner says in the first act, “But you can’t live in a principle, can you? Gotta live in a house.” And that’s just it. A house is not a principle, but a living, breathing being that shelters your family and shares your memories. A house is a character.

Have you seen Clybourne Park? Did you feel for the house at all? Do you think the house is a character? Let us know! (And seriously, come see Clybourne Park.)

~ Melanie Harker, Connectivity Assistant

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Why CLYBOURNE PARK Matters

I can be a little defensive.

No, really.

It’s true.

Certainly if you’ve talked to me over the past month about why Woolly is remounting Clybourne Park, that semi-insistent tone has likely underscored my answer to you. The reason we’re remounting this show, to a great extent, has become personal for me; it has everything to do with my job and department at Woolly… and what I want for the future of American theatre. Yes: Clybourne Park was a wildly successful show for Woolly Mammoth in 2010. And yes: we continue to face a gap in our budget. But no: that’s not why we decided to do the remount. That’s not why this show matters.

The Washington, DC area is undergoing a mind-bogglingly rapid economic growth and development, and is simultaneously experiencing a striking shift in population (both as result of and in response to the former). Right on their coattails is a significant, potentially seismic, cultural shift in the city which is heard foreshadowed in phrases like “Chocolate City is going vanilla” and “Chocolate City is melting.” As the face of our city changes—architecturally, economically, and, quite literally, of the faces of the people who live here—a charge is building up with few ways to productively release it widely and publically. I would argue that this is because we lack a shared experience, common ground and neutral territory on which to meet and engage in open dialogue. For many, Clybourne Park is that shared experience and provides us perspective from which to begin conversation.

In 13 years of leading discussions following theatrical performances, I have yet to see a show that primes people to talk intimately in a room of strangers about heated topics like race and gentrification as Clybourne Park.  It is the “perfect storm” of connectivity: linking audience members with one another and the artists through the work of art. During the initial run in March and April 2010, I was humbled by the willingness of audiences to speak from the heart sharing deeply personal stories and beliefs of the “way the world works” which were suddenly questioned. The outpouring of conversation led to the decision to create opportunity for dialogue after every performance of the remount.

15 months after the initial run, the landscape in DC has shifted—from the change in DC’s mayoral seat to the shifting racial makeup of the city’s citizenry. We’ll be engaging with Clybourne Park this time from a different starting point. What shape will the conversation take in the theatre? Only the next four weeks will tell. Can it have an impact on the city’s larger capacity to dialogue about race and gentrification? We hope so.

So if you ask me why this show matters, to me or to Woolly…. Sure, it is a Pulitzer Prize-winning play. Of course, the production is hilarious and poignant. Yes, we expect many people to purchase tickets. But it matters because it models as a function that theatre could play in this city and in American society. It unites citizens in the pleasurable act of collective imagining, while also challenging us to examine innermost portions of ourselves as individuals, a community, a nation.

When we ask “Is your neighborhood Clybourne Park?” we want to know, and we want to explore what we’re going to do about it.

~Rachel Grossman, Connectivity Director

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Columbia Heights Neighborhood Spotlight

“Columbia Heights does not have technical boundaries, but based on my experience and the different boundaries that do exist for the city, I would argue Columbia Heights is bounded in the south by Florida, the north by Spring Rd, the west by 16th Street, and the east by Sherman Avenue, maybe Georgia. It gets tricky but it is a nice, neat rectangle.  But names are really contested.  I went to some of the ANC meetings while I was doing my [dissertation] research; there have been fights over the years about getting recognition of a neighborhood to be called something.  For years the people who fought to get Pleasant Plains called ‘Pleasant Plains’ are now being taken up by modern conceptions about what Columbia Heights is, or what Petworth is.”

–       Justin Maher, Ph.D. on the contemporary boundaries of Columbia Heights.

 

A Brief Timeline of Columbia Heights

–       ca 1840: The horse track located on 14th and Irving, around which Columbia Heights formed, closes. 

–       1871: The area in which Columbia Heights resides officially becomes a part of Washington, DC as part of the DC Organic Act.

–       1881: Former senator from Ohio and real estate investor John Sherman names the 121-acres he purchases “Columbia Heights.” 

–       1902 – 1913: 650 row houses are built by Washington developer Harry Wardman.

–       1924: Tivoli Theatre and Riggs Bank building opens.

–       1936: Meridian Hill Park opens on the grounds that formally housed Columbian College (which became George Washington University).

–       1949: The white Central High School was replaced by the “colored” Cardozo High School due to its low enrollment and the increasing African American population in the city. This was the start of a significant demographic change in Columbia Heights.

–       1950s: Columbia Heights, and surrounding neighborhoods transitioned into a middle-class African American area of Washington, DC.

–       1968: Riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. irreparably damage many buildings.

–       1976: Tivoli Theatre closes.

–       1999: Columbia Heights Metro station opens.

–       2008: Target opens.

 

Ebb and Flow

“Change is what Columbia Heights does best, and every change seems to reflect, in dramatic and exaggerated terms, the state of the city and the city’s most powerful trends.”

–       Washington at Home, “Columbia Heights: Passageway for Urban Change” by Brian Kraft

 

 

 

 

 

 
14th Street between Irving and Park Road in 1925.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The same section of street today.

 

Columbia Heights by the Numbers

“Columbia Heights is one of those rare DC neighborhoods where people of all races, ages, and socioeconomic classes share space, and to many, that – not the revitalized commercial strip – is what gives the community its charm. With the housing market moving slower than its former breakneck pace a few years back, the face of the area might not change drastically in the next few years, but DC neighborhood growth being what it is, it’s unlikely Columbia Heights will stay the same for long. “

– Amanda Abrams, “Columbia Heights: DC’s Most Diverse Neighborhood, But For How Long?,” dc.urbanturf.com

 

DC’s population according to the 2010 census: 601,723

Number of Columbia Heights residents in 2011: 39,000+ within a half-mile of the metro station.

Average number of house holds:  15,164

Average house hold income:  $55,222

 Over 25% of Columbia Heights residents are population is between 20 – 34 years of age.

 

For more information visit our sources:

 http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Columbia_Heights,_Washington,_D.C.

 http://www.wdcep.org/

http://www.columbiaheightsnews.org/About/History.html

http:// dc.urbanturf.com

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/10/14/AR2005101400789_pf.html

 

~Rachel Grossman, Connectivity Director

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Single White Female, DC-Located, $1525/mo

Just over a year ago I graduated from Columbia University with my MFA in Producing and Theatre Management. A joyous celebration, for sure; hugs of congrats-on-surviving-three-years-of-contracts-and-budgets for all, combined with an underlying fear of paying back that student loan debt for the next 57 years of our lives, mixed with a special kind of congratulations saved especially for me of the “I Can’t Believe You’re Moving to DC for a Job that Pays a Salary and IT’S GOING TO BE SO MUCH CHEAPER TO LIVE THERE!” variety. See, my classmates might have masters degrees but in this case they are complete idiots.

As it turns out, my junior one bedroom in DC costs a whopping $264 more a month than my one bedroom in Manhattan did—a fact that I am still not able to accept. Sure, you can say things like “but the DC neighborhood is nicer and your roof is gorgeous and you have a security guy (doorman-lite) and and and” But the fact is simple. My one bedroom apartment in Manhattan was cheaper.

See, in DC I don’t even have a bedroom. I have a “bed cave” that is separated from the rest of my apartment by an IKEA room divider and a curtain on a tension rod. In NYC I had a door. I thought a grown-up job and an MFA would get me a sweet pad. Turns out I just regressed to living like a 22 year-old. And the real problem is: it’s getting worse.

Back in May DCentric reported that 68% of DC renters don’t make enough money to be able to afford the rents in town. This story was followed immediately by another report that rents in DC are expected to increase by 3.6% in 2011, making it the third amongst US cities where rent is rising most rapidly. (NYC, for the record, is number two. Personal victory, for the win.)

Back in March I got a notification that my rent was going to increase to a point where I—again, grown-up job, masters degree-educated—would not be able to afford my apartment. I panicked. I went on craigslist to find a cheaper place. I went on OK Cupid to try to find a boyfriend with whom I could split the rent. I submitted pleading requests to my management company to not raise the rent, as I am a wonderful tenant who only ever broke one thing in her apartment ever (the light above my bed which cracked when I was hanging aforementioned tension rod to create the bed cave). Luckily, I won and escaped a $100+/mo increase. Now all I have to do is fork over an additional $61/month. No big deal. I don’t need groceries.

Look, I’m not an idiot. I get that rising rents is a very complex economic issue. I grew up in this area and for most of my life rents in the city and surrounding neighborhoods were affordable, but, let’s be honest, it just wasn’t… safe. Particularly for a single white female. Rents are cheap when there is crime (see: all of DC except NW prior to 1998ish), when there is no industry (see: Waterfront and Navy Yard), when there is no transportation (see: Glover Park). But what happens when the entire city is going through a change as drastic as DC is? Where do you live? And, as with any other cost, are you getting the appropriate value for what you pay?

I recently had a friend in DC—note, the suburbs—confide in me that he was desperately unhappy in his relationship (he lives with his g/f), so much so that it had gotten to the point where he had “packed his bags” in his mind and had come up with a short list of people with whom he could live. Three months later he has not left. When asked why, the easy response was “I can’t afford it.” I lived in NYC for close to five years and saw several friends go through the same horrible experience. But they all left.

It is my hope that one day The Rent is Too Damn High party will decide it should relocate to Washington, we vote them into office, political corruption decreases, people in unhappy relationships can move out and in to their own places, and I can go back to living in an apartment with a door. But I guess that’s me being idealistic and thinking like a 22 year-old again. In the meantime, anyone know what rents are like in Iowa?

~ Alli Houseworth, Director of Marketing and Communications

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Who Am I in my Neighborhood?

As the opening of Clybourne Park approaches I sit here in my kitchen in Takoma Park pondering the question posed by last season’s production, “is your neighborhood Clybourne Park?” Takoma has long been considered a multicultural, liberal/radical, green enclave, which seemed perfect for a bohemian/rasta artist/academic like myself. Yet, I think about how few of my neighbors I actually know. The ones that I do know are young, African-American (mostly), professional couples like my husband and myself. I know only one white family on my block—again a young professional couple and they have since moved. I know none of the elders. I know only one of my Latino neighbors because she provided child care for our next door neighbors, and only one working-class family, the demographic that comprises the majority of our community. Although this isn’t necessarily all bad considering that getting to know your neighbors through service can be an effective unifying force.

Just a few weeks ago our new next door neighbors lost their dog, an adorable yorkie named Mason. I had never really spoken to them, but I had certainly spoken to Mason who spends a fair amount of time tied up between our two yards much to my dog’s chagrin. However, returning home one Sunday evening around ten or so, I saw my neighbor sitting on the front steps in tears. I finally learned her name (Carla), which was enough to make my husband and I spend the next hour or so scouring the neighborhood for her dog. It isn’t the first time. There was the beagle that I returned to his yard at least once a week before his family moved. So the question for me is not only “is your neighborhood Clybourne Park?” but who am I in my neighborhood?

~Sybil Roberts, Clybourne Park Humanities Scholar

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