So…Should We Build the Good Neighbor?

As I watched the Express Tour Showcase for the fourth time on Saturday night, I was amazed that I could still find something new and exciting to anticipate in the show. Of course I still enjoyed seeing Alex Perez flounce around the stage as a bully in Love, Math, and Martians Don’t Mix, watching Alex Vernon pluck a kimono out of thin air in The Bird of One Thousand Colors, and seeing Dawn Thomas wave her finger in attitude-laden bewilderment as a seventh grader in The Good Neighbor, but in the end, the part of the show I waited for every night was the moment when the audience became part of the performance.

In case you didn’t get a chance to see it, The Good Neighbor is a play produced in collaboration with Fannie Mae’s Help the Homeless Program, structured as a community meeting to discuss the building of a transitional housing facility in our neighborhood. The actors on stage each represent a character, speaking words inspired by YPT-led workshops at shelters, transitional housing facilities and schools around DC. Once the characters have expressed their perspectives, the meeting facilitator (played by Wendy Nogales), opens the conversation up to the audience. As a result, every performance is different. At one performance, a little girl told Mr. Best (a character who does not want the transitional housing facility to be built), that his argument was irrational, because people are people and they deserve to have a place to live. At another performance, audience members asked a series of very specific questions about how to get into the facility, perhaps believing that such a place was actually being built. At another, a young man shared his own story of growing up homeless with his drug-addicted mother as a child, and the role of a transitional housing facility in his family’s stability now. In the end, every conversation was different, every performance was different, and the number of votes for or against the facility was different. However, at each Showcase performance, the audience voted to build The Good Neighbor.

I am curious to know how the Express Tour is received differently at each stop on its run (through December). Performing the play in front of folks at nursing homes, elementary schools, and community centers, I imagine that people bring forth drastically different points, questions, and observations. Perhaps the vote to build or not to build The Good Neighbor also ends differently. I hope that some audiences are frustrated or angered by the characters and discussions. I hope they keep talking after the performance is over. That’s what a good play does—it gets people talking. Even if they are frustrated by the things characters say, they are thinking. Maybe it’s the voyeur in me, but I love that this play provides a space to include this dissent and anger within the structure of the performance itself. That makes it pretty great in my book.

If you saw the play (and even if you didn’t), I would love to hear your thoughts! What angered you? Inspired you? Which characters did you identify with? Would you build a transitional housing facility in YOUR neighborhood? Leave your comments below to keep the conversation going, or write your own response and we will post it here on the blog! A play is only as good as the conversation that follows, so keep it going!

Raina
Community Engagement Associate

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