"Somerville Theatre Festival explores identity, cannibalism and diversity"
By Erica Scharn
On January 30th, 2014
In 10 minutes or less, each play at the Somerville Theatre Festival delved into issues ranging from gender roles and sexuality to race and relationships to the thoughts of dogs. The plays raised questions like: Who should take out the trash – the man or the woman? Is God a woman? What would a restaurant serving human meat look like?
Performing Fusion Theatre held its first annual Somerville Theatre Festival at The Somerville Center for Arts at the Armory Friday, Jan. 24, and Saturday, Jan. 25. The festival featured 10 short plays under the broad umbrella theme of equality and multicultural entertainment, including Curry College’s M.O.T.I.O.N. Steppers. Performing Fusion Theatre, which aims to promote multiculturalism and encourage intercultural dialogue, chose the 10 plays out of more than 50 submissions to its contest in the fall.
“We had a great turnout, especially being a new theatre company on the scene,” said Ayshia Stephenson, executive director of Performing Fusion Theatre. Stephenson co-founded Performing Fusion Theatre with Brian Moore-Ward in the summer of 2013. Moore-Ward said that they had to add extra rows of chairs Saturday as the number of attendees approached 160.
Live music played as the audience members settled into their seats or mingled and bought food and drinks at the bar. The Festival kicked off with a screening of the trailer for The Stoop, an independent full-length feature film starring Moore-Ward and Stephenson. Due out in late summer or early fall 2014, Ion Spire Pictures’ film centers on an interracial relationship.
Jason York, producer of Ion Spire Pictures, was in the audience both nights of the show and noticed that the audience reaction differed. “Tonight, the audience was a little more in touch with the humor,” York said. “Last night, they were more taken aback by Caliban’s [a play about human meat] – some of the audience was shocked.”
Stephenson and Moore-Ward said that they think their introduction to the festival for Saturday’s show – which included a warning that some of the material would push boundaries – helped prepare the audience. The plays often dealt with serious issues, including bullying and suicide, the death of a loved one, and uncertainty about religion and what comes after death. But they also used slapstick and jokes to portray some of the serious issues.
“It’s like a slice of life,” said Joe Lemieux, who was in the audience Saturday night and produced The Stoop. “It shows how life today is…it’s like a roller coaster ride.”
Although the plays highlighted the particular challenges faced by people of different races, ethnicities, cultures and sexualities, Stephenson said that audience members she spoke to found the plays very easy to relate to. One attendee told her that the “plays had something for everyone,” said Stephenson. “[They could] draw bridges between people.” Stephenson and Moore-Ward said that they were told by several audience members that they had never seen anything like the festival before, and both the audience members and the actors asked them about what will come next.
Performing Fusion Theatre’s next show will be held in the summer of 2014, and the second annual Somerville Theatre Festival (which will have a different theme but the same process) is planned for the winter of 2015. Stephenson is currently writing a play titled Boston Bedroom, which is about a Bostonian’s interracial love interest and research that turns dangerous. And Stephenson and Moore-Ward are in discussions with Barbara Lewis from the William Monroe Trotter Institute for the Study of Black History and Culture at University of Massachusetts Boston, who is working on a piece about Trayvon Martin.
Stephenson said that they “tried to create an atmosphere of collaboration…and family,” and that the actors became very close. Consistent with this, some of the festival’s actors are carrying the themes of inclusion and community to their other projects: audience members only pay what they can afford at the upcoming performance of Artists’ Theater of Boston.
To stay updated on what comes next, see Performing Fusion Theatre’s Facebook page or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Somerville Theatre Festival coming this weekend
By Samantha Laine
January 22nd, 2014
The first Somerville Theatre Festival, hosted by Performing Fusion Theatre, will be taking place this Friday and Saturday at the Center for Arts at the Armory.
Each night will feature live performances of 10 selected short plays as well as performances by other local artists.
Ayshia Stephenson, the executive direct of Performing Fusion Theatre, said the goal of the festival is to connect with and invite the community to participate in the company’s vision of collaboration and integrating art forms. The company, which began in June 2013, aims to promote multiculturalism by producing and showcasing multicultural talent.
“We really felt like we could've started with a full length piece, but we thought ‘What is the best way to introduce ourselves to the community and really get the community involved in the theatre?’” Stephenson said. “The festival seemed like the perfect way to do so.”
The festival invited playwrights and performers to submit original works that address the theme of equality. Stephenson said that this provided a great opportunity to give playwrights some direction while still giving them freedom to explore and individually interpret the theme. Of the over 50 submissions that were received, ten have been produced by local casts and will be performed at the festival. Each piece is ten minutes or less.
Brian Moore-Ward, the artistic director of Performing Fusion Theatre and a Dorchester native, said the theme of equality fits in well to the company’s overall mission of promoting diversity on the stage. He said that within the plays selected, audience members will see a range of topics addressed, such as gender, racial, religious, cultural, sexual, interpersonal, and socioeconomic equality.
“We wanted to capture a theme because it’s easier to have a basis to go by. Right now in society, equality is such a broad interpretation of a loaded concept,” Moore-Ward said. “We wanted something to grab us, to capture our attention.”
Moore-Ward said that he feels this festival brings the unique focus of multiculturalism to the theatre stage. He said that having been in the theatre world for over 20 years, he is amazed by the lack of diversity that is often seen on stage. He feels like this festival will provide a great platform for all members of the community to explore ideas of multiculturalism.
“We always want to see more of the community. Boston, Somerville, Cambridge—it’s not all one face. There are so many different faces in Boston and we wanted to capture that. We wanted to give the community their voice and their chance to be heard as well,” Moore-Ward said.
Stephenson echoed Moore-Ward’s sentiment that as a community, Boston and the surrounding areas would benefit from having a festival that challenges people to continue to question equality. She said that theatre and arts provides a safe place to look at how we as a society have evolved in our understanding of what it means to be equal.
“I think in many ways we’ve made a lot of progress in Boston’s history, but I think we could integrate our communities more. That’s not about living in the same neighborhood, but about really understanding that we have more in common than we think we do, that we’re all human beings.” Stephenson said. “[It’s about] how this festival can open the door and help us to open up more as a culture.”
Moore-Ward said that everyone in the community should take the opportunity to come and experience the original pieces at the festival. He said that the majority of pieces are written and performed by local artists, giving the audience an excellent opportunity to explore ideas of multiculturalism and equality in a powerful way.
“The stories are really incredible. The plays are really powerful, and they’re short, so they have to grab you, and they definitely will and make you think,” Moore-Ward said. “We’re using multicultural theatre to generate those conversations. I think we’re really bringing something new to the theatre community.”
The first Somerville Theatre Festival will take place on Friday, January 24 and Saturday, January 25 from 7 to 10:30 p.m. at the Center for Arts at the Armory. Each night will include ten short plays as well as live music from Graham Peck and surprise guest dance performers. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 (cash) at the door. There is a cash and credit bar for food and drink. For more information, visit the event’s website.