The Sage VOICES Project is a 12-week intergenerational artistic project that combines storytelling and devised theater.
Produced by The VOICES Project, a Carbondale-based nonprofit arts education organization, the collaboration intentionally brings together stories by “sage” and youth participants.
The inspiration for MinTze Wu’s first production since joining VOICES as the executive and artistic director last November came when she and her daughters visited Sondie Reiff. Wu’s children asked Reiff, “Tell us what your first kiss was like.” She answered their query “with a beautiful story that lasted about 15 minutes,” Wu remembered.
Reiff’s story became the first episode of “VOICES Radio Hour,” a new KDNK Radio program that premiered last month, produced by VOICES and Circa 71 Productions and broadcast on the second Friday of the month from 6 to 7pm.
Wu said of the theater project and radio show, “It’s important that we continue this oral history style of sharing.”
The youngest participant is 11, and the oldest is 97 and two-thirds-years-old, Wu specified. “The youth were born in this millennium and the sages in the last, so we span two millennia,” she observed.
VOICES Education Coordinator Cassidy Willey is directing the Sage VOICES Theater Project.
When interacting with the youth, the sages naturally reflect on their childhood. “It’s almost like they see the younger versions of themselves. For some, that’s going back 60, 70 or 80 years,” Wu shared.
She gave an example of a sage telling the story of living during the Great Depression. She said, “For the youth, it was like, ‘My gosh, you lived through the Great Depression!’ They learn that it’s not just an event in a textbook.’”
To facilitate the creative process, VOICES teaching artists — Kristin Carlson (theater writing), Keely Conroy (visual arts) and Jackson Emmer (music) — are offering mentorship and support for participants by employing tools like visual art, music, theater, movement and spoken word.
Conroy grew up in Minnesota and graduated from St. Olaf College last year with a bachelor’s degree in Studio Art. She came to Carbondale last July through the ArtistYear Americorps program and is a Resident Teaching Artist at Roaring Fork High School.
She is teaching participants the visual arts aspects of theater production. So far, she has led the group’s art sessions, which include developing the set design.
Conroy, whose focus as an artist has been on “collaborative experiences,” shared there’s no definitive goal for what the visual aspect of the production will look like, “but instead, we’re allowing it to grow as themes arise in the organic and collaborative process.”
Sage participant Sue Lavin has been directing theater since 1971. After working at a theater in Dublin, she came to Carbondale to accept a teaching position at Colorado Rocky Mountain School. In 2010, she was awarded “Adjunct Teacher of the Year” by Colorado Mountain College, where she taught ESL (English as a Second Language) for 20 years.
Eleven-year-old youth participant Camille Wray Moore is a sixth-grade homeschooler and Wu’s youngest daughter. She recently finished acting in the SoL Theatre production of “The Fantastic Mr. Fox.” Her first on-stage experience was at the tender age of 3 when she played The King in “The Little Prince.”
Lavin, who is 76 years old, said, “I knew this would be true, but experiencing the energy of the youth has been very, very fun.”
Moore was amazed by the sages’ life experiences, saying, “For me, the surprise is how much the sages know about different things. In every session, there’s always some time to tell our stories. It’s very surprising to hear all of the sages, from different backgrounds, talking about their different adventures.”
Elaborating on her collaboration thus far, Lavin said, “What I’ve learned from the youth is that they’re very present, and they come up with ideas and offer them unself-consciously. It’s very impressive and wonderful to be attached to the present. As I’ve gotten older, it’s easier for me to become self-conscious, whereas the kids are, ‘Let’s be here and have some fun,’ and they’re right.”
Moore quickly agreed, saying, “Yeah, it is a lot of fun.”
Performances will take place April 28-30 at Thunder River Theatre in Carbondale. Tickets go on sale on April 1. For more information, visit voicesrfv.org
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