We interviewed Aaron Mays, Court’s Community Programs Manager, to hear more about the recent work of our Community Partners Initiative to connect surrounding Chicago communities with the power of theatre.
For anyone who may not have heard about the Community Partners Initiative or wants to know more, how would you describe it? What kind of work does your department center around?
The Community Partners Initiative is an annual membership program for civic groups, nonprofits, and faith-based institutions. If an organization is a member, Court provides them discounted tickets in the form of vouchers. The goal is to open up opportunities to Chicagoland organizations so their members may have access to professional theatre.
How would you describe the relationship between Court and the surrounding Hyde Park community?
Court continues to grow in popularity in and around Hyde Park. When I onboard new members to the program, I often find people who have not been to Court, so I find it a great honor to introduce them to a theatre with more than 60 years of history on the South Side.
What opportunities are there for individuals and community institutions to involve themselves in programming at Court, in and beyond the auditorium?
Outside of our mainstage productions, individuals and groups can attend our Spotlight Reading Series. This program brings theatre into specific neighbors as opposed to inviting people to come to Hyde Park. With Spotlight, Ron OJ Parson curates five classic plays by writers of color, most of which are rarely produced today. Spotlight gathers audiences to listen to actors read a play with the script in hand. There’s very little rehearsal and no technical elements, so you focus on just the story and raw emotion.
I consider the Spotlight Series, which started in 2016, one of our hallmarks for community engagement efforts and emblematic of Court’s mission to redefine classical theatre.
In May 2017, you remarked that you hoped “to engage more audiences through talkbacks and symposiums.“ Fast forward a few years, how would you evaluate the effect of these programs with connecting Court and its audiences?
Spotlight has always generated great interest and high attendance. On average, about 70 to 80 people attend our free public readings. In our first year, we had nearly 400 people attend in total. As for CPI, the interest in the programs is growing. We generally take on between 20 to 25 groups to become members, with a wide range of constituents.
What hopes do you have for the future of these community outreach programs?
My hope is that our programs continue to preserve the voices and spaces of both longstanding and new community members. The city’s demographics are changing, so the question moving forward will be how do we, as a theatre, keep pace with this shift while honoring the cultural legacy throughout the South Side.