August 16, 2012
As I sit in the LAX airport on my way home to O’hare, writing this final blogpost for my time at Cornerstone’s Institute Summer Residency, I realize that I have not written very much the last week or so. For that, I apologize. My days were FULL this last week. So full that I had little time to call home, little time for sleep, and little time for personal rest or blogging. They were full and exhausting, exciting and often hectic. But they were the “good” kind of full. They were not filled with “busy-work”, but rather full of work that was done with purpose, intention, specificity, and care. That kind of work is exhausting, but worth it.
Since last week, I’ve been stationed backstage Left, doing my best to entertain children and push them onstage at the exact right moment, interacting with monolingual Spanish speakers and helping them grab their props, leading our puppeteers in song while I moved lights, and interacting with my supervisor using a headset that wouldn’t allow me to move more than 3 feet away from the wall. I’ve definitely never experienced assistant stage managing at this level before, and though I felt much inadequacy this month, I also was able to own and settle into my job in the production, feeling much more confident by the end.
Over this past month, I have learned the immense value of work that discovers the artist in everyone, that engages community creatively in issues that are relevant to them specifically, that creates conversation, and that encourages joy and freedom. I have loved loved loved working with the professional artists, actors, and directors that I have met this month—not only are they amazing at what they do with Cornerstone and with their specific jobs, they are also kind, caring, and loving people. The community members were hard working and caring as well, giving our group local vegetables consistently, coming to rehearsals early in the day and staying late, mothers encouraging their children onstage, and giving us and each other lots of hugs. One 65-year-old Mexican American man Pedro called me daughter when he saw me each day, cried when I said goodbye, and consistently made me smile this month.
During our opening night ritual for FLOR, a time where each cast member and production member gets to share a memory from the process with everyone, I was blown away by how this play has impacted the lives of people in Arvin. Several children spoke of their role in their community to promote change. A young woman cried as she talked about the importance she felt the play had because it was the first time she was given the opportunity to perform in Spanish for her family. A mother spoke about her pride in her 8 year old daughter’s work.
It was such a joy to hear from the community, as I had a lot of doubts going in, fearing that we were imposing something on these people they didn’t want, fearing that we were trying to “save” or “solve” something. In reality, all we did was do a play. We made a play about these people, and they acted in it, created it with us. WE didn’t do anything alone. The community created, and I believe good conversations came from it. It’s hard to leave a place you have invested in for one month, but after hearing the voices of the children and teenagers say how they know they can change their future, I realize that all will be well. A line from the play speaks of the strength of these people in Arvin as strength like that of a wildflower— “stubborn wildflower beauty that says ‘I’m going to get to the sun, whether you asked me here, or not.’”
I take some of that strength of Arvin with me, I think. I take the stories I have heard and the people I have met with me in my heart. Now, on to the next journey.
Katie Kirschner recently graduated from college studying Communications and Theater. She is interested in hearing and telling the stories of people from different cultures, having recently spent time in Cambodia this past year. As a student with Cornerstone this summer, she has learned a lot from both the Cornerstone community as well as the individuals she has met in Arvin. Originally from the Chicagoland area, she is committed to traveling, experiencing new communities, creating art, and loving her family.