Jun 26, 2018
by Alexa Chipman
Inspired by a documentary theater project for the Petaluma sesquicentennial, Brian Glenn Bryson founded Walking Elephant Theatre Company as an opportunity for social and ecological healing. Young people interview members of the community, and piece the conversations into compelling staged theater that is relevant to a local audience. The company encourages empathy, and discussion of challenging issues such as civil disobedience and addiction psychology.
The ongoing “Thicker Than Smoke” performances have included third and eighth grade students, who interviewed victims of the wildfires, bringing their experiences to the stage in moving productions that helped raise funds for those affected. “Hearing each other’s stories awakens our compassion” Bryson explains. The company utilizes locations from traditional theaters like6th Street Playhouse to classrooms, homeless shelters and backyards, wherever they can make a difference.“Prop 8 Love Stories” has gone on to be published, and the cast traveled to New York for two weeks, performing at the 4th Street Theatre.
Using the recent grant for arts education from the Creative Sonoma Awards will enable the company to reach out to areas such as Village Elementary School in Santa Rosa, which does not have a theater program. Reva Navah believes in Walking Elephant’s ability to “positively impact…through learning and experiencing completely new forms of creative expression, storytelling and communication.” They produce original productions based on concepts that have meaning to students, who discover confidence and an inherent ability to create, with direct input into which topic will be explored for the documentary.
Bryson’s teaching techniques concentrate on truthful acting and nonviolent communication. He has seen “profound life transformations” through the program with students, building them up as members of the community. Initial ideas for upcoming productions are based on immediate concerns that will have significant personal impact. Young people choose which questions to ask, and the best interview moments are incorporated into the play, for a sense of ownership in the process. Navah’s choreography in the pieces is collaborative with the ensemble, “creating authentic and original movement experiences.”
Walking Elephant Theatre Company gives the chance to make a difference and be part of exciting, uplifting theater. The grant from Creative Sonoma Awards will assist with growth in diverse areas of the county through the revitalizing power of the arts.
Walking Elephant Theatre Company: walkingelephanttheatre.org
Photo by Brian Glenn Bryson
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