by Erin Reilly, Artistic Director of Theatre Horizon
One of Theatre Horizon’s goals is to apply the skills of artists to the community’s most pressing problems.
That’s why we decided to tackle the issue of homelessness in Montgomery County alongside our upcoming production of Suzan-Lori Parks’ moving drama, In the Blood.
The resulting project, Imagine No Homelessness, came from a conversation I had with actor Forrest McClendon over a year ago. Forrest is not only a Tony Award nominated, in-demand actor, he is also an endlessly giving, deeply compassionate human being. Forrest urged me to not just produce the play, but use the play to advocate for social change around issues of homelessness and poverty.
When David and Linda Glickstein, frequent producers of some of Philadelphia’s most exciting shows, joined the project as Honorary Producers, they had the idea to connect me with Sister Mary Scullion at Project H.O.M.E. Sister Mary is an internationally recognized expert on homelessness. Sister Mary told me to help people who are homeless “tell their stories.” Mike Whistler, head of MCCC’s theatre department, volunteered his students to carry out the project, as did a class at nearbyCabrini College. The Patricia Kind Family Foundation and the Virginia Brown Martin Fund of the Philadephia Foundation wanted to fund this work, and suddenly this ambitious project had legs!
It was the right moment to bring In the Blood to Theatre Horizon’s stage because Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro recently launched a robust effort to end homelessness in Montgomery county through “Your Way Home,” a county program. We felt Theatre Horizon could shine a bright spotlight on the issue, and humanize the statistics behind poverty and housing insecurity in the county.
We have assembled a cast of consummate professionals, and are excited to welcome Forrest McClendon to the production in the role of Reverend D. The gifted Cathy Simpson will return to our stage in the role of The Welfare (Theatre Horizon audiences will remember her as the actress who brought the house down every night in Pretty Fire in 2012). And I’m thrilled to introduce our audience to Akeem Davis, Ashley Everage, Christina May, and Sam Sherburne, who round out this stellar cast.
Suzan-Lori Parks’ script calls for each actor to play an adult and also one of Hester’s five children. So this is a fun challenge for the cast and entertaining for the audience, as the dialogue Parks wrote for the children reflects the often hilarious and true insights kids voice about the world. Audience members will see a family onstage that likely resembles their own — the main difference is that Hester’s family is homeless.
SHELTERS & ADVOCATES GET INVOLVED
Check out our other blog posts to learn how our actors and college students from MCCC and Cabrini are working with men in women in Norristown’s CHOC and Hopeworx to create a HUGE AND BEAUTIFUL art installation in Theatre Horizon’s lobby, open to the public every night of In the Blood. Three savvy Theatre Horizon staffers – Suzana Berger, Rebecca May Flowers, and Victoria Cano – are helming this work.
When Sister Mary at Project H.O.M.E. advised me to tell the stories of the homeless, she said that in so doing, we would model empathy in our community.
COME SEE, STAY FOR THE DIALOGUE
So that’s what we are doing, by sending our actors to homeless shelters, creating art together, presenting the play, and then holding community dialogues every night after every performance. I hope audience members leave this show with a renewed commitment to extend kindness to strangers.
Hope to see you at the show!