Allen County Common Threads Theater Project
The Allen County Common Threads Theater Project addressed issues of race, leadership, and water resources that divided public officials and residents of Ohio’s Allen County. The goal was to engage a large cross-section of both city and county residents and leaders in dialogue about issues of “trust among leaders” and “respecting differences.” The project revolved around an extended residency by Sojourn Theatre and its artistic director, Michael Rohd. Lima, the county’s largest city, suffered from loss of industrial jobs and a declining tax base, shrinking population, and downtown and neighborhood decay. In the suburbs and rural farmlands, county residents mistrust city officials who control needed water resources and have made moves toward annexing the county in order to revitalize the city. Issues of race have persisted over many years between the largely white rural and suburban population and the significant African-American population in the city of Lima. Building upon a successful 2000 event called Common Threads, the Arts Council of Greater Lima, Bluffton College, and a steering committee of interested citizens set out to develop a second Common Threads endeavor. Over 14 months, Sojourn company members met and interviewed 400 residents. Their words and perspectives fueled Rohd’s script for the “poetic documentary” play, Passing Glances: Mirrors and Windows in Allen County. Meanwhile, dialogue consultant Patricia Romney trained 40 local people in dialogue facilitation skills. Together they designed and facilitated community dialogues in relation to script readings of the in-progress play, and later after its public performances. A culminating Common Threads conference involved over 200 citizens in seeing the play, discussing the issues, and forming action teams to address them. The conference was followed by a weekend of performances and dialogue events in Lima's downtown Civic Arena attended by thousands of community members. Over 7,000 people from 15 of the 16 villages, townships, and towns of Allen County were involved in the Allen County Common Threads Theater Project in some way. Though much hard work remains to be done, the project took important and productive steps “along a continuum of action toward a more democratic community.” The Common Threads action teams created at the conference have continued to work to improve relationships between city and county elected officials, and linked with the Chamber of Commerce to propose a citizen’s long-range community plan. The Common Threads dialogue process continues to be used in school and community settings, supported by the cadre of trained dialogue facilitators. Organizations associated with this project include: Sojourn Theatre; Arts Council of Greater Lima; and Bluffton College.