Prize of Hope 2016
The Prize of Hope to Cornerstone Theater Company,
Founded in1986 in the USA by Bill Rauch and Alison Cary.
Cornerstone Theater Company creates theater art, which brings people together regardless of race or background. Cornerstone Theater Company is responsible for more than 80 new dramatic works, has educated more than 2000 students, and has collaborated with thousands of people all over the USA.
Already in May,1989, the New york Times relates what happens when Cornerstone Theater comes to the small town of Port Gibson in Mississippi. Here the black people and the white people live completely separate from one another, without contact, each in their own part of town, and with segregated schools. This is transformed on the day that the young touring theater company arrives in town and announces that they will perform Romeo and Juliette, and that people are welcome participate. Young people, regardless of skin color, would like to perform theater. A process lasting several months begins, where all are invited to be cast in roles. Where will the performance be played? How do you adapt Shakespeare so that it has a significance in these surroundings? And so forth. The result is a performance in which Juliette’s clan are the whites and Romeo’s are the blacks, and even thought the play is a tragedy, it becomes something else for the people of Port Gibson. The performance plays for full houses and the formerly racially divided groups, acquire a common history. One begins to imagine a future, where they can also remain together. The performers in the company are a combination of professional actors from Cornerstone Theater
Company, and both black and white inhabitants of Port Gibson.
In this way, Cornerstone Theater Company, during their first 5 years, toured from town to town throughout the entire USA. During this period it is primarily classics, which they re-interpret, so that they fit into the reality which exists in the place where they are, thus building bridges through theater. They create new productions, including Tartuffe by Moliere, Peer Gynt by Henrik Ibsen, and The Oresteia by Aeschylus.
After this long tour, the Cornerstone Theater Company settles in Los Angeles, which now for 25 years, has been the theater’s home base. The USA is, above, all, an immigrant society, with many different ethnic groups and races. This is true to a high degree in Los Angeles. Here the theater group launches itself with performances which build bridges between Afro-Americans and Latinos, performances about undocumented immigrants which become central in the immigration debate, but also performances about the many religious groups which exist in the Los Angeles area.
Cornerstone Theater Company eventually grows into a large, fertile organism, which welcomes collaboration and development in the workshop of the arts. It is a piece by Michael John Garcés, which founds Teatro Jornalero Sin Fronteras: Day Laborer Theater without Borders. As John Steinbeck already described in “The Grapes of Wrath”, the day laborers’ work in California’s endless fruit fields was no bed of roses, and it still remains that way. Teatro Jornalero Sin Fronteras provides a valuable opportunity for these people to tell their stories.
Cornerstone Theater Company has, in 2014-15, created no less than 10 new productions of Shakespeare’s, “The Tempest” throughout California, involving local stories. They have set into motion a large performance cycle about hunger. Right now, they are presenting the performance “Urban Rez”, by Larissa Fasthorse from the Sioux tribe, which is about the indigenous people from around Los Angeles. They have been oppressed and even declared extinct, but now they are coming forth into the light.
Cornerstone Theater Company has, at the same time, created an institution for learning about theater and the society, where the essence of the many years with bridge building projects can provide education for new generations who will tell their stories and build bridges in the society.
Precisely in these times of change and peoples seeking refuge from war and drought, there is a special kind of hope in the work that Cornerstone Theater Company achieves through creating art that builds bridges between human beings. We can learn from this; in the USA as well as in Europe and Denmark.
What Cornerstone Theater Company says, is this: Whoever you are, whatever your race, whatever your social status, you are the bearer of a story, which deserves to be told.
Congratulations on The Prize of Hope 2016 to the Cornerstone Theater for 30 years of theater, which builds bridges.