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Two L.A. Communities Peer 'Through the Looking Glass'

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Jerry Quickly at a rehearsal for "Through the Looking Glass" at the Kirk Douglas theatre.

Photo by Hal Banfield.

Through the Looking Glass seeks to foster a dialogue between the communities of Montebello and Leimert Park by creating a play inspired by individual residents’ autobiographies—written not by themselves but by their counterparts in the other community. For seven months, Center Theatre Group and playwright and poet Jerry Quickley hosted workshops with groups of residents of Montebello and Leimert Park, encouraging them to learn and write about themselves, their neighborhoods, and one another.

Through the Looking Glass is an arts-focused, prescriptive community engagement, designed as a vessel to hold a pool of community memories, reflections, and hopes, all of which are executed through an iterative multi-site theatre-making program,” said Quickley. Stated more simply, the goals of the process are to allow “communities to dream together and to feel together, especially in places where there may be a distressed connection between the communities or where there has been no connection.”

Over the course of the project, Quickley used the residents’ autobiographies to create a play that is “a direct reflection of some of the collective memories, longing, milestones, culture, and challenges that link these communities as they consider each other,” said Quickley. “What does it mean to be you, as you imagine the life of the other?”

Quickley created Through the Looking Glass as a visiting fellow at Stanford University; its first iteration paired Stanford students with incarcerated youth. “Our program allows community members who often lack public agency to frame their stories, and by extension those of their community, family, and friends, on a platform—theatre—that both changes the context of and empowers the legitimacy of their stories as well as that of their communities,” said Quickley. “This effect scales through both communities, and the impact is far greater because the communities are in artistic dialogue with one another, as opposed to only gazing inward.”

Through the Looking Glass explores the preconceptions Montebello and Leimert Park have about each other, and what happens when these ideas and reality collide. Participants will perform live stage readings in Montebello on February 2, 2016 and in Leimert Park on February 3, 2016, culminating in a performance at Center Theatre Group’s Kirk Douglas Theatre on February 8, 2016.

“We seek to empower communities to be the decision makers about what stories are valuable, individually and collectively, in the spine that connects their history, present, and hopes for the future,” said Quickley.

Through the Looking Glass is supported by a grant from The James Irvine Foundation. Since 1937, The James Irvine Foundation has provided more than $1.5 billion in grants to over 3,600 nonprofit organizations across the state. The Foundation’s mission is to expand opportunity for the people of California to participate in a vibrant, successful, and inclusive society.

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