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Theatre

By Jenn Salcido

All of Providence is a Stage The Manton Avenue Project finds a new home Home is where the

heart is, allegedly. We all know the warm-n-fuzzy truism that’s meant to help us feel comfortable even when the comforts of home aren’t readily available to us. No one knows this better than the members of the Manton Avenue Project (MAP), who have been finding a home for their nonprofit wherever they can – in the living rooms of board members and collaborators, in the shared spaces where local colleagues can squeeze them in, and so on. But last February, when the collective was able to make a more permanent home for itself in the very community it serves, finally getting to align its heart with its hearth felt nothing short of momentous. “It’s really changed our entire life as an organization in a huge way,” says Executive Artistic Director Meg Sullivan, who herself set up a new home in Providence when she moved here from Austin, Texas to take over from MAP founder Jenny Peek in 2011. It was a grant obtained from Housing and Urban Development by the Olneyville Housing Corporation that allowed the group to move into its new home – affectionately called the Clubhouse – rent-free for the next five years. Meg says that as part of the lease agreement, MAP has taken on the responsibility of making sure that the once boarded-up building becomes and remains a vibrant community space. “With our clubhouse, we can have kids here more often. We’ve added programming. We’ve started a free Friday, which means that the MAP kids can come in and hang out after school – use the computers, eat healthy snacks and play books and games. We also bring in guest artists in all different areas of theater to come and lead workshops with the kids,” she says. The 900-square foot Clubhouse has allowed MAP to expand its full-time staffing on the order of two Americorps VISTAs, in addition to giving them on-site storage for props in the basement of the building. For Meg and the other dedicated members of MAP, having the organization centrally located in the community means that the group could finally immerse itself with the families and students that they serve. As the mission of MAP is to serve

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Subhead 3 Young playwrights stage their own productions in the Manton Avenue Project

a small group of students – ten per year – through their playwriting and theater programs, its small size and neighborhood location has been essential to creating what can only be described as a rooted, familial bond. “There’s been an eagerness on the part of parents and families to get involved since we’ve opened our doors,” she says. The city’s Olneyville neighborhood is a tight-knit community of families, but the burden of poverty facing the region is undeniable. MAP aims to use its programming not only to expose its students to the theater arts, but to teach critical and creative thinking skills. Meg explains that this goes a long way in promoting alternative solutions to violence, in particular. “I also feel like the stage is a really powerful place for giving underserved kids a position of power where they can say what they need to say. It’s a transformative practice,” Meg continues. This sense of empowerment is undoubtedly present in the group’s next performance, Be My Ally: The Upstander Play, running at the Media and Arts Center at the Met School in Providence from February 14-16. The play is the culmination of a six-week playwriting class at the Clubhouse, where nine 5th grade playwrights came together to write a full-length play promoting kindness and action in the face of bullying – “turning bystanders into upstanders,” according to a press release from the group. Directed by David Rabinow, a company of local adult theater artists will present the work for audiences while the young

playwrights sit on stage, as is typical with MAP productions. David says that although he’s been volunteering with MAP since its first show back in 2004, the young scribes never fail to surprise him with their unique take on whatever theme they choose to tackle. “We also get some really amazing people to work on these things,” says David. “And it’s wonderful as a director and actor to collaborate with these kids and actors.” In particular, the issue of bullying remains a hot button one these days. David points out that the kids who wrote this production are “right at the age” where they are “on the front lines” for many of these incidents, giving them a unique – and powerful – perspective. “I hope the audience will gain an understanding of what these kids are dealing with, and how they’re dealing with it creatively through this play. I hope that people come away with the understanding that there are resources for people going through this. The unspoken lesson is how interesting it is to turn a negative thing into a positive one through creativity,” he says.

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Providence Monthly February 2014  

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