Shipyard Project

Location:  Portsmouth, NH
Project Description: 

The Liz Lerman Dance Exchange’s Shipyard Project explored memories and issues – historic and contemporary – of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, and their significance to the lives of people in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The Music Hall of Portsmouth, New Hampshire sponsored the project as a way to address the high community anxiety around recent downsizing and two efforts to close the naval shipyard. Throughout the two-year residency project, Liz Lerman and her dancers, shipyard workers, civilian and military personnel, youth, and retired shipyard professionals told their stories to one another. These stories functioned as both civic dialogue and the raw material from which the Dance Exchange developed pieces that interpreted residents’ experiences with the shipyard. The project culminated in a three-week event that featured performances by Lerman’s company involving local students and performers, seacoast songs and stories composed and performed by local musicians and songwriters, a shipyard fashion show “annotated” with stories collected for the project, and a finale dance on boats and bridges featuring the Liz Lerman dancers and community members. Story circles also extended topic discussions initiated at the advisory meetings ranging from the shipyard’s nuclear waste storage and fears of contamination to recollections of the 1960s submarine launch that sank and killed a full crew on board to a wider group of participants. Informal community discussions were held at public lunches, and rehearsals actively facilitated a dialogue on project themes among community participants. The project led participants to explore value systems and beliefs different from their own, and in the process discover unexpected connections with one another. The nature of the issues that came forth, together with the experiences of those who participated, inspired several advisory committee members to continue meeting for years after the project’s close.