Tuesday, November 24, 2020

"The Empathy Project" streaming from Full Circle Theater

This past weekend, Full Circle Theater Company premiered a new play they've been working on for several years. Playwright and Full Circle Core Artist Stephanie Lein Walseth interviewed about 20 people around the state about empathy. She noted in a post show discussion (which followed all four showings of the recorded zoom reading) that she first had the idea for this project prior to the 2016 election, and started interviewing people about a year ago. Out of each interview, she pulled a short story, looking for moments of surprise or something that challenged our stereotypes. The stories are woven together in a structure she compared to the docu-theater style of a Laramie Project or Yellow Face, or like a story circle. The result is incredibly moving, and is well suited to the virtual format as it focuses on one person telling a story.

The compiled stories aren't really about politics, but more about values, family, and life in general. Each is preceded by the speaker's name and location, which immediately brings judgments of who this person might be, sometimes right but more often wrong. One such surprise was a self-described "liberal redneck" - who knew such a thing existed? That's biggest takeaway from this play - that people are not stereotypes, people are unique individuals who can be complicated, and contradictory, and surprising, and at their core maybe not so different.

For this project, Full Circle partnered with an organization called The Department of Public Transformation, "an artist-led organization that works locally and relationally to develop creative strategies for increased community connection, civic pride, and equitable participation in rural places." I love the idea of using art to connect and heal the very real divides we currently face, including but not limited to the rural/urban divide that exists in Minnesota (and other states).

The Empathy Project was directed by Rick Shiomi and featured the talents of actors Brighid Burkhalter, Malick Ceesay, Shanan Custer, Jay Eisenberg, Song Kim, Seth Patterson, Delinda "Oogie" Pushetonequa, Siddeeqah Shabazz, and Lara Trujillo. It is not currently available to view, but follow Full Circle on Facebook for updates on this and other projects.