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By Vesna Brajkovic, Associate Editor
Passenger? Commuter? Theatergoer? It’s one in the same for the light-rail riders of Valley Metro in Arizona.
Rising Youth Theatre, a collaborative theater company of young performers and professional actors based at the Phoenix Center for the Arts, partnered with Valley Metro last month to take live performance off the stage and into public transportation spaces with “The Light Rail Plays.”
The five-minute, two person original plays — underscored by live music from The Harmony Project, a music education and social support organization for youth — were performed for riders throughout the light rail plaza and Tempe Transportation Center (TTC) in Arizona, which is also home to several bus lines and bikeshare stations.
“Riders have had many positive experiences watching ‘The Light Rail Plays,’” Valley Metro Public Information Specialist Brittany Hoffman said in an email. “The pop of energy on station platforms is well received. Many people enjoy the arts and culture showcase happening right before their eyes.”
The partnership began when the theater group reached out to Valley Metro officials in 2014 to highlight arts and culture in the community, Hoffman said in an email. The plays were originally performed on Valley Metro light-rail trains and on platforms between the Roosevelt Street and Camelback Road stations along Central Avenue in Phoenix. This year — the sixth season of the performances — the theater company made its home-base the platform of the Veterans Way/College Avenue light-rail stop in Tempe, Arizona, for a weekend in mid-February.
An arts grant from the city of Tempe allowed the company to rent practice space in the TTC building next to the light-rail plaza, in the five weeks leading up to their performances.
The production started with a call for adult and youth artists. Following auditions, seven youth performers and seven adult performers were chosen and paired up to create one performance each for a total of seven performances. The entire production team is made up of youth and adult musicians, designers and stage managers.
The performances held during the weekend of Feb. 22 were free. Youth and professional actors collaborated to conceptualize, write and perform unique plays with riders, passersby and scheduled audience members in mind.
Each performance attracted a mix of audience members. Half of the crowd were “walkups,” while the other half had reserved tickets online, said Sarah Sullivan, co-artistic director of Rising Youth Theatre.
“With the short play style, this is a great opportunity for riders hopping on or off the rail to stop by and check out the plays without being confused by plot or storyline,” Hoffman said in an email. “The plays include music, dancing, masks and even an aerial artist this year. The plays are perfect for audiences of all ages.”
Although tickets were not required, 355 tickets were reserved to view the performances this year. The tickets served as more of an RSVP for “intentional” audience members, giving them details on performance start times, precise locations and parking instructions.
Sullivan explained that before “The Light Rail Plays” was conceptualized in 2014, the Rising Youth Theatre company performed plays in a traditional theater space. But situation limited the audience to community members who already were comfortable attending live theater. By holding performances in a public space, “The Light Rail Plays” provided an opportunity for the company to reach more audience members, including those who are not regular theatergoers.
“There were people who go to the theater all the time who were showing up and coming to the light-rail [train], and there were people who were commuters on the light rail who [said they] were coming for the first time to a play,” Sullivan said. “It was just a really beautiful cross-section of our community that were able to show up and watch the plays. That really changed how we operate, and we have continued to do the plays in partnership with Valley Metro because of this.”
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