Cornerstone Theater Company

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Agua frescas and planting a garden in Grayson and Westley

Grayson under a rainbow during our tech week. Photo by Ashley Sparks.

Grayson under a rainbow during our tech week. Photo by Ashley Sparks.

Grayson and Westley are small agricultural towns in Stanislaus County. These are towns where people know what’s happening with their neighbors, music and the sound of family celebrations underscore Saturday afternoons, and children ride their bikes after dark. Since July, we’ve made monthly visits to the Grayson United Community Center leading Creative Seeds events.

Photo by Ashley Sparks

In 2011, Cornerstone launched The Hunger Cycle with Creative Seeds – events and activities that allowed us to go deeper into conversations with our collaborating communities and audiences. We’ve carried the idea forward and Creative Seeds are now integrated in to all of our Hunger Cycle projects and the Bridge Tour. We’ve been talking with community organizations, leaders, and individuals across the state, asking “What are you hungry for?” We’ve designed Creative Seeds events that are responsive to just a few of the “hungers” of each community. Currently, we are in Grayson and Westley and we’ve done several Creative Seeds events here since July.

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Boda de Luna Nueva: New Moon Wedding, 2005.

 

Creative Seeds events bring together artists, activists, thought leaders and community members to explore, converse, and create. We invite organizations and individuals to join us in events with and for our communities and audiences. Each Creative Seeds menu is created with input from the collaborating community. The menu offers various courses that invite people to engage around relevant topics before, during, and after each production. Art Breaks are participatory art-making activities led by Creative Seeds Artists culminating in collaborative work and exhibitions. At The Tables are discussions with artists, leaders, advocates and community members. Single Servings are performances, events, and installations created by local and guest artists. In The Kitchens are volunteer opportunities that invite participants to be active in the community by engaging with organizations and community partners. Creative Seeds provide a connection to each production in a way that encourages the conversations to continue in each community.

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Lilia Lomeli-Gil, left, with Cornerstone in 2005.

It’s been 9 years since we were in Grayson and Westley working on Boda de Luna Nueva: New Moon Wedding. On our return to Grayson we reconnected with previous cast member Lilia Lomeli-Gil. She is now the director of the Grayson United Community Center. Through conversations with her, we decided on Art Breaks and In the Kitchen events for Grayson and Westley. When we asked “What are you hungry for?” some of the answers included: learning healthy recipes and activities for seniors and young people. Several of our Art Breaks focused on creating community treasure drawings that will be installed on a large neighborhood map in the lobby for the show.

Cast member Maria Irene Lopez Sanchez makes her Agua de Piña for National Night Out.  Photo by Cesar Ortega.

Cast member Maria Irene Lopez Sanchez makes her Agua de Piña for National Night Out. Photo by Cesar Ortega.

This past July, Ashley offered two different cooking classes as an In The Kitchen. This was an opportunity for moms and youth to explore adding more fruits and vegetables to their snacks and meals. Together we made a Mexican-style cabbage salad, jicama salad, fruit smoothies, and dates stuffed with walnuts a.k.a. “nature’s candy bar.” During that visit we also lead an Art Break with the seniors that are part of the Young At Heart program. Each senior created drawings and shared stories contributing to the community treasure map.

Grayson is an active participant in the National Night Out event. On August 5, we tabled at this community-wide event. Cornerstone staff members, Paula Donnelly and Cesar Ortega, invited community members to tell us about their favorite place in Grayson or Westley. We worked with a group of mothers to prepare Agua Frescas for the community. This In The Kitchen was a fantastic way to hear more stories about the Grayson Community. The following recipe is from one of our community cast members:

This past week, we lead a series of Art Breaks with the Grayson Charter Elementary afterschool program. 4th and 5th Graders have been giving us secret tips about the treasures of their town. All of the drawings will contribute to a part of the on-going lobby installation. This Art Break created a unique opportunity for young people to celebrate their own stories and experiences of growing up in a small town.

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Treasure Map for Grayson and Westley made by students at Grayson Charter Elementary. Photo by Ashley Sparks.

California: The Tempest asks us to celebrate what makes us Californian. These Creative Seeds are opportunities to deepen our connection and engagement with our collaborating communities. These events allow us to hear more answers and build deeper connections between people across the state. Audiences are invited to experience our plays, beyond the performance, and hopefully keep the conversation going after we’ve gone.

Cornerstone is cultivating a garden – kind of like a community art garden, spanning California. We take care of the garden by inviting many people from diverse backgrounds and experiences to get involved in making plays, by learning together about issues that matter to their community, and by encouraging the artist in each one of them. Through Creative Seeds and the plays we make together, we all grow. It is the combination of curiosity, conversation and creativity that makes the harvest abundant and our art feast so delicious.

Moms making cabbage salad! Photos by Ashley Sparks.

Moms making cabbage salad! Photos by Ashley Sparks.

This blog was written by Ashley Sparks, Cornerstone’s Community Partnerships Associate, and Daniel Penila, Cornerstone’s Artistic Associate. Experience California: The Tempest in Grayson & Westley! October 2 – 4, 2014. Click here for more information.