In our first years, plays were developed through a mixture of documentary and studio approaches that resulted in physically rigorous, fairly presentational events with public dialogue components. In 2001, Sojourn Theatre and the Council for the Arts in Lima, Ohio was chosen to be one of 32 National Animating Democracy Lab Projects. For two years, Sojourn worked with Lima, Ohio’s City, County and State legislators to develop a County-wide process that engaged community members and leaders in ongoing dialogue about community identified difficulties surrounding local race and class issues. The project culminated in a production (Passing Glances), a well-attended community convening and action committees that worked together for years following.
Five years in, site-based work and participation became more a part of our process; our work visibly took on more elements of conscious spectacle while simultaneously engaging in community research that moved beyond interviews into the territory of workshops, installations and public encounters. In 2003- 2005, in partnership with the Oregon Department of Education, universities around the state, high schools in 4 towns and the Oregon Historical Society, Sojourn Theatre created Witness Our Schools, a poetic documentary about the state of public education in America, and Oregon in particular. Every free performance was followed by a town hall meeting attended by audiences and local political leaders; facilitated by the company and utilizing small group discussion, improvisation and values clarification work, the sessions grew in scope and scale by the end of the tour, the show had been invited to perform on the floor of the state legislature at the Capitol as well as share its dialogue findings.
Ten years in, our methods of making and our methods of production began to blur as processes became performance, and models of display became opportunities for exchange. On The Table welcomed one hundred people in two different cities fifty miles apart in Oregon, one urban and one rural, to see a story, take a bus ride, and have a meal together as wedding guests engaged in trying to save a marriage and heal a state.
Fifteen years in, we have become committed to a process that demands long periods of investigation, participation and experimentation. We need that process because our theatre explores a kind of drama that arises when we construct imaginative collisions between people, systems and art. Like when Finding Penelope takes audiences through a long term care facility to become immersed in an adaptation of The Odyssey told partly by men and women living with Alzheimer’s. Like when Islands of Milwaukee uses performance to bring homebound seniors and their caregivers into contact with a public often ignorant of their presence in neighborhoods. Like when, as Catholic Charities USA artists in residence 2012-2014, we send teams of three to six Sojourn ensemble members to 18 poverty reduction sites around the country, helping workers and clients use skills of story and collaboration to build more economically just, healthy communities.