Faith-Based Theater Cycle
In its four-and-a-half year Faith-Based Theater Cycle, Cornerstone Theater Company created original community-based plays in collaboration with faith-based institutions and inter-faith communities. The project explored how faith both unites and divides American society through experimentation with a variety of dialogue approaches that gave congregation members and others who attended the plays a chance to reflect on the issues and questions that rose from them. Having witnessed the bombing of a local Jewish community center, and having seen how quickly Islamic fundamentalists were blamed for the Oklahoma City bombing, Cornerstone Theater Company felt the acute need for a faith-based project. Working in partnership with the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ) for the Los Angeles region, Cornerstone created the Faith-Based Theater Cycle, which provided a new context and urgency to explore how faith both unites and divides American society. The four-and-a-half year project began with the Festival of Faith, a citywide event that involved 21 productions at five religious venues. As the centerpiece of the Festival, Cornerstone’s ensemble created Zones. Part play, part community conversation, Zones was a participatory theater experience in which characters confronted the challenges of living in a religiously pluralistic city and audience members were encouraged to do the same with each other. The festival was followed by Weekly Wednesdays, a three-part series of dialogues held at various faith-based institutions. The three parts were thematically focused: “Ritual” moved participants through a sequence of examining and sharing childhood then family then deeply personal sacred rituals; “Believing” explored concepts and perspectives on the topics of belief and believing in a diverse society; “Faith and Social Justice: The Hard Questions” was a dialogue about the ways that faith and belief can contribute to building a society of inclusion and justice. Six community collaborations and productions addressed a wide span of faith-based issues. Crossings: Journeys of Catholic Immigrants engaged diverse Catholic immigrant communities that reflected the intersection between Bible stories and current immigrant experiences. In Body of Faith, MacArthur award-winning playwright Luis Alfaro conducted oral-history gathering, acting, and writing workshops with LGBT people of faith. You Can’t Take It With You worked through community meetings and story circles in mosques to delve into questions of acceptance, belonging, family, and faith in the Muslim community. Other productions engaged the Jewish, Hindu, and Protestant Christian communities. Each of the six community residencies in the cycle informed the creation of the cycle’s final production, the Faith-Based Bridge Show. Past participants gathered together to create an original play that gave voice to regional and universal issues of tolerance, cultural and religious identity, compassion, loss, and the celebration of life. Organizations associated with the Faith-Based Theatre Cycle include: Cornerstone Theater Company and National Conference for Community and Justice.