Thom Workman Transcript

This week, our Theater in Community interview is with long-time theater artist, friend, and colleague, Thom Workman. Thom discusses his early years working in community with DC’s urban youth, first as Associate Director of Everyday Theater, then later as Artistic Director of City at Peace that specialized in developing authentic storytelling techniques that respond to conflict situations. More recently, Thom discusses his work as a director at Theatre Lab’s Life Stories program, where he conceptualized and co-directed My Soul Look Back and Wonder, a new work that was performed at the Kennedy Center and featured in N Street Village women residents in recovery.

Elizabeth: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Theatre in Community podcast series of Creativists in Dialogue. I’m Elizabeth Bruce.

Michael: And I’m Michael Oliver.

Elizabeth: And our guest today is old friend and colleague Thom Workman. Thom is an actor, a director, a producer, a visual artist and mask maker, a lifelong educator and advocate for young men—particularly young men of color—and a husband, father, and wise elder and griot.

For 30-plus years, Thom has engaged in socially conscious stage and film work. He was formerly the Artistic Director of City at Peace and Associate Director of Everyday Theater, both of which received many awards. He’s directed films and plays for his company, SunShip Productions, as well as for the Anacostia Oral History Project and Crossroads Theater Company.

A lifelong educator, Thom has facilitated theater workshops at Bethesda Academy [00:01:00] of Dramatic Arts, the NAMES Project, City Lights School, and the I Have a Dream Foundation. For many years, he was a director of Theater Lab’s Life Stories program, which included conceptualizing and co-directing My Soul Look Back and Wonder, a new work that was performed at the Kennedy Center and featured in N Street Village women residents in recovery. Welcome, Thom.

Thom: Thank you.

Michael: So now you’re originally from Richmond, Virginia—

Thom: I was born in DC, but I was raised in Richmond.

Michael: Oh, okay.

Thom: And then I would come back for summers to visit my grandmother who lived here and my older aunts and I had some cousins, always a good escape from Richmond during the summer to come and be here, you know. And she lived right above the zoo. Walking down to the zoo on those other days when I was bored.

Michael: So what were some of the factors then that led you to establish DC as sort of your place where you would do [00:02:00] theater and as an artist and all that?

Thom: Well, Richmond wasn’t really… I wasn’t feeling Richmond at the time, internally, and I really didn’t think that I was gonna be in theater when I was in Richmond, and then when I got here, I was working at Clyde’s in Georgetown, and I saw this advertisement for the theater school, and I got involved with the theater school, and that’s when I knew theater was for me.

Michael: Was that like in the ‘70s? When was that?

Thom: Maybe late ‘70s, early ‘80s.

Michael: Oh, okay.

Thom: Yeah.

Michael: Okay, so you went to the theater school and that sort of got you—

Thom: Yeah. And I met what’s I’m trying to think of a name, I forget his name, but he was a big director here in the city, and he told me, “You need to invest in theater.” And so I just—

Elizabeth: Okay. Yeah. “My friend, you have some talent.”

Thom: Davey Marlin-Jones.

Elizabeth: Oh, Davey Marlin-Jones! Oh, wow! [00:03:00] Okay. He was—Davey Marlin-Jones was, people in DC will remember him from his television criticisms, and he had a whole review shtick, but wasn’t he part of the theater lobby and other early theater projects in DC?

Michael: It was the theater at L Street.

Thom: Okay.

Michael: I think.

Thom: But he said, “You just need to do theater.” You know? And so, I took it to heart.

Elizabeth: Wow. I didn’t, I did not know about that connection with Davey Marlin-Jones.

So, Thom, elaborating on where you’re from and, as an interesting side note to our listeners, you, Thom, have often told me that when people meet you, they immediately ask you what your Native American heritage is, even though you identify as African American. I understand your ancestry, as you’ve said, is very nuanced, but do you have any stories you could share with us about your heritage?

Thom: It’s, like, my father’s side is different, they’re from South Carolina. And so [00:04:00] I guess in the last 20 years I’ve been meeting more of those people. And a lot of times I think what people say is my nose is very prominent and looks, like, Native American. And when I, when I meet the people from the country, they don’t so much identify themselves as they Native American or anything, but people just are. But they got land and country, they got these fields, these fields, where, you know, like, where they grow all these types of vegetables and stuff. New to me, just seeing people growing their own stuff in that capacity, but they’re very nice and embrace me.

Elizabeth: Yeah, so you have, yeah, a family who’s out in the countryside still and really connected to the land.

Thom: But I don’t think culturally that they’ve really said we’re this and we’re that.

Michael: But you’ve never heard any stories like you’re from this particular tribe?

Thom: No, no.

Elizabeth: [00:05:00] Let’s fast forward a little bit or rewind the videotape back to the 1980s. Because, offhand, I remember that you were Associate Artistic Director of Everyday Theater in DC, I think, when we first met you back in the ‘80s. You were then Artistic Director of a City at Peace production. And I remember you’ve worked with B. Stanley, whom we interviewed, at DCAC. You’ve also worked as a principal facilitator and director with the Life Stories Project at DC’s Theater Lab. And you worked in many settings with young men of color, including at CentroNía where you and I were both affiliated for many years, and at what used to be called the Oak Hill Youth Detention Facility. Thom, how would you describe the common threads that took you to all these various organizations and activities?

Thom: I haven’t really thought about it, but I… thinking about it now, I think that theater is a [00:06:00] strong force, and a lot of young Black men that, that come into this, it was something for them to grab hold, but it was within them, but they never had tapped into it. And a lot of times, once they do that, I, I see them become. And they don’t become lifelong actors per se, but they use that background when they go on job interviews, when they’re interacting with people, when they’re trying to do something or, a sort of better side of themselves, that sort of comes up. And I’ve worked at New Beginnings and, that’s the old Oak Hill, and they, the city used to have a detention center for kids in Northeast and I used to work there, I’m trying to think of the name of it, but I would go there and do workshops for kids, and a lot of times, they would, you could ground themselves a little bit to be able to articulate certain things. [00:07:00] When it came time for them to go before I don’t know if you’d call it the parole board or whatever, but it’s the juvenile authorities or whatever. But they could speak well of themselves or better of themselves once they had a little bit of practice, I guess.

Michael: It sounds like developing their role-playing skills. Role playing yourself before the parole board or role playing yourself when you go to a job interview. I’ve always thought that, I mean, theater and acting in particular was almost a life skill. I see how kids are just made better when they understand, okay, I’m playing a role here and I’m going to talk a certain way in order to achieve my objective.

Thom: Exactly.

Michael: That’s good. And so, just focusing specifically on Everyday Theater, which a lot of our listeners won’t, I guess, won’t have a clue as to what that is, right? And could you maybe just talk about what the vision of Everyday Theater was and its methodology? How did it help people role play or express themselves?

Thom: The Everyday Theater came from a Bertolt Brecht [00:08:00] play about everyday theater. And a lot of it had to do with just reaching back to a community that normally didn’t have access to theater or understand it. And Susan Solf was the founder and director. And it was, like, all female, sort of, staff when I first came there. And they were great people, but I think I brought a whole different perspective to it. They were doing, like, community projects and it was good luck to have a young man of color out there. And we, I think there were a lot of things that Everyday Theater was interested in but eventually the, most of the female staff left except for Susie, and so we started getting a lot more people of color. And I think that everything changed. We used it as a way to get more out of theater, more than just being theatrical artists but, like you said, how to articulate a little bit better. And when [00:09:00] you leave the theater, how do you, how does that, like, how do you use that in terms of getting what you need? And I think in terms of job interviews, those who want to go into the service or whatever, they use those skills in a lot of different ways.

Michael: What, the, because it worked with youth, right? And were those, were these youth that, how did they come to the theater? What sort of networks did Everyday Theater tap into?

Thom: There was a woman at, I think it was DHS, and she saw the work that we were doing—and this is when Barry, Marion Barry was in office—and she took to the higher ups, and she got us funding, a building, and also like a network of kids, that were in youth programs or whatever, filtering through. And a lot of things that we did were, like, self-grown. We didn’t do any traditional reading of plays. Everything we did was—

Michael: Improvisation.

Thom: Yeah.

Michael: [00:10:00] Okay, so you developed a community. And did you work with the same group for three or four months or?

Thom: People were always coming and going. Those who were good sometimes led into positions at the theater, you know?

Michael: Oh, so it was also a job sort of training program for those that were good and wanted—

Thom: Yeah, and that aspect of it grew over the years. We always had new kids coming in.

Elizabeth: New kids coming in, yeah. Yeah, my memory is that Everyday Theater could use the SYEP, the Summer Youth Employment Program, which Washingtonians will remember as just one of the flagship programs of the late Mayor Marion Barry, that kids all over the city and now midlife adults have memories of getting their first jobs through the SYEP program. I also remember that with DHS that Everyday Theater could tap into dollars that were not art dollars, but they were community strengthening dollars. Did all that funding [00:11:00] apparatus have, did it come with a lot of strings attached? Do you remember having lots of bureaucratic hoops you had to jump through?

Thom: Well, I don’t know a whole lot about the financial aspects, but I do know that, I think her name was Audrey Rowe, and she was one of the administrators, but she had clout. She says, “Do this and do that.” People did it.

Elizabeth: Okay.

Thom: And it led to us, having, like I said, space and ability—we did a lot of summertime things. We would go around to, like, the community festivals. We were always plugged in to go and do things. And the kids, I call them kids, but they grew. They were doing their own things. And I think there’s a few, Tippie Satcher, Charles Satcher, have their own theater companies now. I think they saw modeled there that they continued the process.

Elizabeth: Right. Yeah, you said that young people who were regular [00:12:00] participants would be absorbed into the, into the staff and get actual positions that would be paid. And I know back in the day, I don’t know if this was far back in enough in the day, but theaters used to be able to get salary money from the CETA program, the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, which was a, something that was around in the ‘70s. It was minimum wage, but it was better than no wage.

Michael: Yeah. So let me, so the, you performed at festivals and at theaters, you had various locations that you would take the show on the road, so to speak?

Thom: Well, we had a space over in Southwest and, what’s the school, but it was right there. But we had a rehearsal space and a performance space there. And we met there every day.

Michael: Oh, okay.

Thom: We were able to do a lot of different things, but yeah.

Michael: So what kind of shows did you guys create? What were some of the themes? Were they, was there music involved?

Thom: Yeah, music [00:13:00] involved and the kids created a lot of music, but the musical director was Eddie Drummond. And he was a recording artist, producer—we were so lucky to have him—but he knew the professional aspect of it because he had been in the business for a while. But, like, really get them to be professional in terms of like their training and their whole attitude towards the theater. But a lot of different heads came through that had different experiences.

Michael: Sure. And then the themes, these were these themes that the kids or the young people we’re interested in?

Thom: Yeah.

Michael: So is it about their lives? I mean, it—

Thom: Yeah, that and top cool subjects of the day. I guess my first major production there that I directed and conceptualized was Til Death Do Us Part, and it was a short piece, I think about 20 minutes long. But it said everything it needed to say in those 20 minutes. And I may have copies around right now, but usually it was something that [00:14:00] affected them. AIDS was the big thing at that point. And it was really speaking from them about how young people should not get involved in certain things that were causing AIDS. And they rapped, so it brought a fresh spin on it in terms of, I’m an old head, I’m not going to be doing any rapping anytime soon, but they would put it together in a medium that other young people could speak to or understood. 

Michael: Sure, sure. So it sounds like it was, Til Death Do Us Part was a combination of what, getting AIDS, lovers, marriage, doing what? What was it?

Thom: Well, it told a story of a young couple who, they love each other, and then this morphed into these, they were out there and all, and once they’re out there all sorts of things were coming at ’em, and one of those things was the virus. So we just try to tell— [00:15:00]

Michael: Wow. Do you remember how audiences responded to that?

Thom: Oh, they loved it. I remember that. There’s actually a film out,

Elizabeth: Oh, yeah?

Michael: Oh, really? Did the, were the audiences peers, other young people, or?

Thom: Peers—

Michael: But also parents?

Thom: Peers, parents. And there’s stuff that we did, it’s just all adult at schools, and, or school associations or whatever, and they would see what young people do.

Michael: And did you have community forums after productions?

Thom: Yes, we did.

Elizabeth: So you guys would tour to different schools, so were the, some of the young people actually in school themselves? And were they able to do that during the school year or was that just a summertime thing?

Thom: Actually, we didn’t really have school age kids, they had to be sort of 18.

Elizabeth: Oh, okay.

Thom: We’d do things at schools and do trainings at schools, but the core was these people who were there every day.

Elizabeth: Challenges of life in the ‘80s, ‘70s and ‘80s, and onward to the [00:16:00] present.

Let me just switch gears a little bit and move forward chronologically to some of the other theater enterprises that you’ve, in which you’ve been a pivotal participant. One of those is this program called City at Peace, which is a youth development and theater performance organization that some listeners may know from a documentary film that was made about it in 1999. Thom, can you tell us more about City at Peace? Who was involved? What was the script or the foundational treatment that participants expanded upon? Just tell us about that.

Thom: City at Peace had been around for a while and I guess the goal was always to have young people deal with things that would cause peace in the city, whatever. But from my perspective, young people had their own ideas and so we would sit and we talked about what they wanted to do, and the best way to approach it, create scenes, things [00:17:00] that they felt would, like, speak to other young people. And the biggest thing is that, understanding that there was a lot of violence in the community at the time and different ways to speak to them, to ask them to put the guns down, and do that. Just even how to get along. City at Peace, I think, was important work at the time because I don’t think anybody else was dealing with young people, who were actually in it and doing it.

Elizabeth: For whom this is their daily work.

Michael: It reminded me of Augusto Boal in his Theater of the Oppressed. He talks about the initial idea that he had for, for the theater, that whole concept of theater. He said he would go into communities as, quote, “an activist.” And he would be thinking about certain solutions, etc., but then he realized that the community had a totally different way of seeing it. And that it’s the activist’s responsibility to surrender their own perspective. And so could you talk about [00:18:00] how the kids’ perspective on this violence, how that changed sort of the way the whole creative process worked at City at Peace?

Thom: I think part of it is that so many of the youth had been there and been involved, whatever. When the adults spoke to it, we didn’t have the perspective that they had. And so a lot of times they would correct us on a lot of misconceptions that we had. And, and really, for them, it wasn’t just, something to do, it was it was their lives. And even when we performed in their neighborhoods or in their communities, it took a bigger impact on certain people because they could see a difference that it made in these kids who used to be out there doing what they were doing, and they were able to talk to them in a way that, you know, I couldn’t, where [00:19:00] people would hear me like they would hear them, right?

Elizabeth: Right, they had a—

Michael: And so the plays that—’cause you guys developed plays with the youth again—and the process with the youth, would they write down a scene or would they get up and start improving? What was the creative process to creating scripts?

Thom: Well, we would do a lot of improv and with the idea that one thing led to another, but there wasn’t really a scripter, per se. It was more the kids would create scenes that sort of meant something that was leading to something else that would show how they got themselves in certain situations. I don’t know if that sort of answered it. But I think as we were developing and going out and doing things and seeing, like, the, the children’s home, for example, the receiving home, to go there and there’d be like young people who, they, rough, so they, it wasn’t like [00:20:00] they were just automatically open to that, but, and since they became open to that after a while, and after—

Michael: As you guys developed trust?

Thom: Yes. And see, once they’re involved too, they know it’s about, then it’s a whole different thing, because now we’re telling you to do this, it’s okay, you have this idea, what has happened to you or what, what’s your perspective on that? And so a lot of times the experiences that they’ve had played a big part in to what they were going to do. How do we put this on the stage in a way that other people could—

Michael: So the more trust that was developed and the more willing they were to present their views and scenes and situations that they themselves had experienced.

Thom: Yeah. And I think too, sometimes when you’re in a setting, and you’ve not really been a performer, but then when you’re performing and people are looking at you, they’re hearing your words, and, get a different feel for [00:21:00] it, in terms of hey, somebody’s listening to me now, I’m creating this, I’m feeling like an artist, I think that sort of grew over time as well.

Michael: Sure, and I know, just working with young people, because I’ve done a lot of improvisation and sometimes, I tell you, this is when you’re a teacher at a school and when a student reveals some sometimes horrifying things. Now as a teacher I’m going, should I report this? I guess you guys were coming in as, you didn’t have the same teacher responsibility. And I would always hold things in confidence. I guess I always chose that the day I chose that. I guess you, did, you must have heard some pretty horrifying stories about, particularly in dealing with violence, you must have heard some pretty horrifying stories.

Thom: Yeah and see the neighborhood that some of these kids came from, they knew some real folks out there, how, that are telling you to get out of there, but you know what this involves, you know where it could lead, so try to let them know—or even, they knew, as [00:22:00] we created scenes or whatever, what’s the end game with this, you’re not gonna be grateful that [MM1] 

Michael: Yeah.

Thom: It’s just a charge waiting to happen for you. But in my perspective, in a way, that’s rich theater. If you can, not to make fun of it, but still like captivate, find a way to use that to show audiences that you—

Michael: Sure, in the Augusto Boal model he would frequently stop the play right at the moment of do or die decision making and that’s when he would invite the audience to say, “What should they do?” You know audiences want solutions, right? I mean what do we—and I would assume that this organization wanted to somehow

Thom: Yeah, talking to them, “He’s, he can’t write that script. You have to write it.”

Michael: So did you guys perform for the various communities that these kids were from?

Thom: Yes all over the city [00:23:00] and especially, like, places of color and not so much uptown, but those communities that need to see it. And we traveled a bit to, we went to New Orleans one year. Went to a few places where people had seen the work and wanted to share it.

Elizabeth: Wow. That must have been a powerful experience for all the kids involved, just being—even just when we talked with Molly Smith, she talked about her initial production way up in Alaska at Perseverance Theater. They had older people who were talking about the Gold Rush and they had a bunch of storytellers and things were pretty dull until they picked these three storytellers and they put them before an audience, and suddenly they just came alive. So it sounds like these young people, once they were given that performance role just really embodied that kind of story.

Speaking of stories, Thom, one of the earliest connections that Michael and I [00:24:00] had with you was way back in the ‘80s when you produced and performed your one man show Griot’s Song at Sanctuary Theatre, which Michael and I and our good friend Jill Navarre ran in the Columbia Heights neighborhood for many years in the old sanctuary of an old church. And we had this thing we called the, quote, “stage for cultural democracy,” in which many theater artists and groups, both large and small, produced their own work at Sanctuary back in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Tell us about your one man show, Griot’s Song. What was its inspiration? How did you develop this work? Can you just revisit that, that experience?

Thom: Griot’s Song, that title, a griot is a storyteller or a memory keeper in Africa. And this is done orally, so a lot of times, the griot knew the history of the village, of the families. And it wasn’t like he was a performer, a lot [00:25:00] of times, he just sit and tell the history of people’s families, the community, or whatever. And I felt, from my perspective, I was telling stories that people didn’t normally get a chance to hear. And a lot of the characters were combinations of people I’d seen, things, and done. For me, it was one of my first forays into writing, but I wanted to be able to have something that came from me in terms of who these characters were. And sometimes it’s, I was like, yeah man, too deep or whatever. But one of the first characters, he didn’t even speak, he was the seeker. And the costume was more than anything for me like that you had, he went out amongst the audience, and he had a thing he’d, you know. [00:26:00]

Elizabeth: Yeah, yeah.

Thom: And so, for me that would, like, set the stage for everything else I would do because I’d just go out and would, it wasn’t really me, it was like the seeker trying to see where people were at, you know, going amongst them.

Michael: And he wouldn’t say anything?

Thom: He wouldn’t say anything.

Michael: The audience would just like…

Thom: Yeah, he’d just go, but…

Michael: How did audiences respond to that? “What is he doing?”

Thom: I don’t know, I guess it was, like, the wakeup call, that was the whole thing. “Okay. You can really experience something here.”

Michael: So that was the opening?

Elizabeth: Griot comes from African—is an elder, a storyteller from African tradition, so the costume is a part of summoning up the ancestors, or summoning up the kind of oral through line.

Michael: So what kind of stories did you present? I’m trying to remember, I saw the production back in the day—

Thom: It was about the experience of being here in America and what [00:27:00] we’ve gone through and grew out of, grew into. And so, like I said, it’s the spoken word in terms of like the griot, using that power of the word to try to reach people. And like I said, the first character doesn’t say anything. But the rest of the characters tell stories, and then so—

Michael: Were these, like, real events that had happened?

Thom: No it was—

Michael: Or that you took and then created stories around?

Thom: Yeah, exactly.

Michael: So it was about the, sort of the experience of, what, of African Americans and this, in America?

Thom: Yeah there, there was a preacher from the 1800s, Johnny B. Cool was, like, the rasta that came into, and he was more Misty Mornin he’s trying to involve you on a level where it’s not really music, but based on music. Yeah, Misty Mornin, see my son, and I know you’re out there somewhere having fun. And it [00:28:00] was I don’t want to say funny, but like amusing in terms of it, because even the costume and everything else, it’s not how I dress, but he gets your attention, and physically you’re looking at him, but then what he’s saying is much more important.

Michael: Were there any memorable performances?  ‘Cause you performed this in various locations, right? Did you do it at BloomBars as well, or portions of it?

Elizabeth: I think this predates BloomBars.

Michael: Oh, no, yeah. But you performed at BloomBars with Matt, right?

Thom Okay, yeah.

Michael: And maybe it wasn’t Griot, maybe it was just one story you did.

Elizabeth: Oh, that’s right. Yeah.

Michael: But anyway, you performed Griot’s Song in various locations, right? Were there any memorable performances in terms of audience reaction or—

Elizabeth: ‘Cause mask is a big part of, some of, that’s a whole dimension of your work as a performer. You make masks, you’ve performed with masks, and can you talk a little bit about, what that does to the performer, what it does to the audience to have that kind of, [00:29:00] that layer of otherness that’s in front of you?

Thom: Yeah, I think it’s, it gives you a sense that you’re out of yourself, you know? This is something, it’s another layer to it. And so I don’t really—and not feeling the audience because I’m hoping that they’re feeling me at that point, you know. So there’s, you know or you can feel when they’re getting it. And then sometimes you get when they’re not getting it. So it’s it’s a…

Elizabeth: Yeah. Yeah. There’s a level of almost mysticism involved sometimes. I know whenever I’ve gone to museums and there are these incredible masks and costumes from other cultures, it’s, it’s a, there’s a presence there that really shouldn’t be in a museum for people to just look at. It needs to be in a kind of sacred place.

So, continuing on this exploration of story [00:30:00] as in storytelling in, in your long career, Thom, you also worked for a considerable period of time with the Life Stories Project at Theatre Lab.

Thom: Yes.

Elizabeth: Which is another extraordinary chapter in your lifelong work of creating theater and making art in community-based settings. Could you paint a picture for us of the Life Stories Project in DC at N Street Village and elsewhere? And conceptualize for our listeners who the women performers were with whom you worked, what their circumstances were, and what the outcomes of that project are?

Thom: Yeah, Life Stories primarily started, was doing workshops at New Beginnings.

Elizabeth: Okay. Okay.

Thom: And that’s the juvenile detention center here. But when, when you’re dealing with incarcerated people, it’s like they have something, I don’t want to say it’s a wall, but certainly you don’t have the trust that you immediately would have [00:31:00] with an outside audience.

And a lot of times, it’d be like developing a relationship with them. It’s not just about theater, but about who they are, and sometimes, I remember one time in particular where there’s not a lot of trust in terms of, like, them trusting you, you’re just some guy coming in and trying to do this or whatever. But we, had a, like, talk, and actually went back to, it was already in the facility, but where their residences are, and I was back there kicking it or whatever, and talking about different things. And really, I think that me being in, in their place, like without any security at all, sitting back there and trying to find out who you are, what you know, what do you want to do in life, what you know, where do you want to go? It brought another level of, like, where I think the [00:32:00] trust was. Because they see I’m not afraid. I’m not here to get anything from you. I just want your story. And I want you to help tell a story. And I think that, by being there, and letting them realize that, this is the deal, I just want your story, because if we get the story out, it’s going to help other young people like you, and, but it was just a very different sort of, lying on a kid’s bed, not lying on the bed, sitting on the bed, and we were—so we had a workshop back in, the, the residence.

Michael: So are you this is a minimum security jail, or—?

Thom: It’s New Beginnings, it’s a youth detention facility.

Michael: Youth detention, okay. Yeah. Oh, okay, so when you say you’re going into their residence, you’re going to, like, their bunk beds?

Thom: Yeah.

Michael: Okay. Alright, but just going into their, their space and we get into sort of this talk to them about these stories. That was crucial to helping them [00:33:00] feel like you’d developed some kind of trust.

Thom: Yeah. Yeah. And normally you have a space, you know, and it could be like the theater or rehearsal space or whatever, but when you’re in their space and then you go back, this is their residence, then there’s another level where they actually sleep at whatever and, most people don’t get a chance to be there, in that space. And it was just a whole ‘nother level in terms of, I’m here, I want to know about you or whatever. And we would do things, sometimes we go outside and do things and create scenes or whatever, or just pick up from each other.

Elizabeth: Yeah. Yeah, this, I can just imagine the time and sort of vulnerability that would have to be established in terms of—because you’re not going into a theater environment where people are actors and they know the deal and, so you’ve got to really [00:34:00] spend a lot of time developing relationships and trust and really establishing, as you say, a layer of trust.

Michael: I guess people from the facility signed up for the project though, right?

Thom: Yes.

Michael: So at least there was some sort of initial desire on their part to at least engage in some kind of activity,

Elizabeth: Yeah. Boy, powerful bonds of connection, I would think, come out of something like that.

Michael: So that was, so was the process similar there where you would do improvisations with them, or would you just get them just talking first?

Thom: We’d talk first, and then we’d develop from that. And then sometimes it’s, “Okay what’s interesting to you?” Where do you want to… how does that sort of go? And how do we get there? A lot of times the discussions start one thing, but also, okay, well let’s see where this will go. Sometimes it’s the same, then whatever. And then, sometimes it’d be, like, if you’re having conflicts with your [00:35:00] parents or teachers, what role do you play in this? Let’s act out, the scene where you’ve had a conflict with a parent or teacher. And sometimes it’ll start out as them being themselves. But then we do a role reversal, okay, and then you sit in my seat as administrator, teacher. And I’m gonna be you. Let’s see how you deal with that.

Elizabeth: Yeah, get a little perspective on this, yeah. Yeah, that must be a powerful experience, to change roles like that.

Michael: Now, the first time I heard of this project, the Life Stories Project, I think it was an event at Woolly Mammoth, one of their rehearsal halls, and it was the time that the Life Stories was going into the Kennedy Center. And as you’re describing it now, it sounds very much like a, this is very intimate work, and it’s really for the purpose of the practitioners to discover themselves and develop themselves, but the Kennedy Center is showing it to the world. [00:36:00] So if you could talk about that transition and that experience at the Kennedy Center, what was that, what was that like?

Thom: Nicole—what’s her last name?

Elizabeth: Burton? No. Nicole Burton?

Thom: Yeah. Yes.

Elizabeth: Okay. Nicole Burton.

Thom: She got involved with us and she’s the one who was, like, with the whole film with the N Street Village, she’s behind that. But I think that, as we were trying to figure out what this all meant, it was a learning experience on everybody’s part. But for the women in particular, I think they had the concept of okay, this may go to the, the Kennedy Center. And it’s just interesting dynamics in terms of the N Street Village, women who hadn’t really been involved in the project start taking notice now and, and what they wanted to say, things change ‘cause now you have a voice, you have a forum where this is gonna take on different things. And like even when [00:37:00] we would do rehearsals at N Street Village, the other women in the program who weren’t involved in our program started taking notice a little bit more and started bringing ideas.

And I think that for me, when I look back, that this was just giving them a ear to what they could do, who they could become, and it wasn’t just, okay, you’re gonna be a CEO, or anything like that. But the idea of you need to be able to communicate with your kids that you haven’t seen, in five, ten years. You can see the role that you play in terms of like your own drug addiction, and how do we get out of that place, and you made the first start of being here. And sometimes you don’t really have a choice, it’s like you got locked up and then, I think, a lot of the institutions, if you were being released, they wanted to [00:38:00] know that you were being released to some place that’s gonna help you work on these ideas of how to improve yourself and the actions that you’ve been doing.

Elizabeth: Yeah, take just take a step back, Thom, and tell our listeners a short description of N Street Village, which is a remarkable organization that’s still going strong.

Thom: Yeah N Street Village is a place where homeless women would go to get back on their feet, and it has residences for women, they also cater to women who are just coming out of facilities and they have workshops to help them get jobs and different things.

Elizabeth: Yeah. My understanding is it’s a very intensive, very effective program.

Thom: Yeah. It’s been around for a while and, but I’ve seen, like, how, when they get there, you fresh outta the institution, it’s like you got to put your own agenda together. And sometimes people are [00:39:00] resistant and sometimes people are open, and so if you have an opportunity to see how this person has grown from this program, then it’s up to you to make a choice if you want to be involved. And the thing is, I think that, from my perspective once again, is that, okay, the things that we are looking at or we’re trying to do is to have you get to the next level, and what that involves is, okay, you need to cut back on some of the things you’re doing. Not in a judgmental way, but like when we come up with scenes or whatever, you know, you’re bringing that to the table. I’m going to bring a different perspective to it, but it’s things that, are important to you, things that you’ve experienced.

Elizabeth: Yeah. To take the age range of the theater makers with whom you’ve worked down, down back to the childhood level. One of the other things that I know you to have been an incredible leader of is a [00:40:00] program at the community-based organization CentroNía, where you and I both were affiliated for many years, when you and your colleague Matt Miller and the late Daryl Stewart ran a project called Boys to Men. So these are kids, we’re talking young boys who were tweens. So, can you talk a little bit about just the experience of working with very young men, young boys, who are perhaps facing a lot of challenges in their lives and their circumstances but who are still very young and very fresh in their life journey.

Thom: Yeah. Matt Miller in particular, one of our partners, and we had discussed things for a while, and what was important to us is that, a lot of times with the age group that, that I was dealing with, they had already made certain choices about who they wanted to be and what they wanted to do and it was harder for them to pull back from doing certain things because they were still around [00:41:00] the same people, who were older now. Sometimes it’s older gangsters who would hurt them if they did certain things. It was different with that.

But when we discussed that, you catch them before they get there and try to show them other things. And not only just telling them things about how to do what, but like we did a lot of physical things where we would do, go on hikes and we would find, things that were important to them, but also talking with the parents a little bit more closer than we had before, in terms of what the kids need, how they could change directions if they weren’t listening or if they were listening, like, how to push them to that next—if you’re going to go to college, you start planting those seeds early about, okay, what direction you’re going to take. And I’m sure there’s a few college grads out here now that sort of came through that.

Elizabeth: Increasingly there’s discussion now [00:42:00] about how boys and young men are really struggling in our society. What is it to be a man? What is masculinity? What are the characteristics? And there’s a lot of negative associations with male behaviors, etc., and these young boys are thrown into a kind of turbulent world where there’s just conflicting pressures on them. And, as you say, you and Matt and Daryl would work with these boys when they were very young. They were not out in the world with harsher realities. So can you just talk a little bit about the values of masculinity and manhood that you and your colleagues would work on? Just what are some of those qualities and characteristics?

Thom: I don’t think that it’s about being macho or anything like that, but it’s just the opposite in terms of being able to be vulnerable, to be able to listen, a lot of things that people associate [00:43:00] with feminine qualities, not really that, but you gotta slow down and be able to accept who they are, and show them ways with—because you still had to deal with females, but it’s not always about trying to be macho and push for ideals that are traditionally masculine, but how do you show a different side? How do you deal with females sometimes, as a man, in certain situations, when you’re dealing with females, you have to be pushy or you’ve got to be the dominant force, and it’s not about that. It’s being able to hear them and almost be more vulnerable, to understand what they’ve been through and to hear their voices.

Michael: Did you create like role playing exercises or games when you were trying to convey this vulnerability? How would you get them, [00:44:00] a young man, a young boy that maybe just doesn’t have that experience in his life of being vulnerable, how would you get them to even know what you’re talking about?

Thom: Yeah. A lot of our workshops, we would sometimes we’d have videos or whatever, but in the workshops, we would do role plays, but we’d look at situations, put you in that situation, see how you react in that situation, show how we would react in that situation, but you still have to make the ultimate choice. And the world out here is, it’s, you got transgender, you got females, there’s so many different aspects of who we are as a world now, you can’t be stuck in yourself where you see it as this or that, it is you have to be open to who people—it is almost like you have to learn people every day, and you’re not gonna get all aspects of it, people not gonna all aspects of you—

Michael: So the situations you create [00:45:00] for the, the young people would be situations where they were not stereotyping the person or not assuming you knew who they were, but you were basically exploring options?

Thom: Yeah. Every situation is different, and you have to, like I said, understand that, okay, away from that, there’s somebody else here, that’s been here, they have this, they, they, have their own life, but everything changes all the time. And how do you be a person that’s open to hear all of that? Because if you shut down your ears once you gonna miss some valuable stuff. Always try to be open. And a lot of times when we’d go on field trips or if we go to Smithsonian, what is this really about? And you tell me that, because I have no perspective, but, what are you getting out of it? What do you see? How could this be improved?

Elizabeth:  Kind of critical thinking, yeah. One of the things that I’ve read a lot about is that boys [00:46:00] increasingly today aren’t, they’re losing their friendships with their guy friends that, as children, boys can be really close friends and then as they age, it becomes competitive and these boys become very isolated and lonely. So did you and your colleagues find that in the program the, sort of, bonds of friendship between the boys would be strengthened and really validated?

Thom: Yeah, I think so. And a lot of times, away from CentroNía I feel like we had more influence because we’re out in the world and you’re doing things and there’s certain ways that you can act and certain ways you can’t act. But still what’s going to help you grow? How do you communicate in a way that, that still, you have questions, but how do you, how are you really going to [00:47:00] grow from whatever experience that, that you meet? And when we’re out in the world, it’s not like you’re in a sheltered place, which is CentroNía, it’s, this is the real world out here. And it’s going to be people who don’t like you, who are going to be offensive. And you’re going to fight every time, you’re going to get in a dialogue with them, whatever. It’s yeah, they make choices, and the thing is, how do you be yourself and be respectful? And how do you grow?

Elizabeth: How do you grow, yeah.

Michael: Just listening to you talking, it sounds like one of the primary methods you use, and one of the lessons that you have, is he importance of listening to others. You’ve talked about stories. And the stories that haven’t been told. Can you talk about, with an example even of, when a person learns, has their story validated? When they finally can actually tell their story or express their story and realize that just [00:48:00] because it maybe is different from the stories that they’re bombarded with by popular culture, but does it transform them? Does it change them? How does the person change when they begin to hear their stories articulated?

Thom: I think with the younger kids, how they react to each other is something that you can almost see. And sometimes it’s like they’re not as aggressive, they listen a little bit more. And that’s not overnight, but over a course of time.

But I just know that with the older youth, I’m thinking now to Everyday Theater and some of the young adults that I work with, there’s one guy in particular, Charles Dyer, and I saw him grow up there. He was a young adult, but like I really saw him grow, and he became a recording artist, a producer, but also like his personality in [00:49:00] particular, he wasn’t aggressive, like he was open to things, he was still a strong person, but he didn’t have to be so there, and there’s ways that you can resist that are not, doesn’t have to be in your face or it’s like this way that you grow yourself. And that’s what I saw him doing and, fantastic guy. I don’t know what he’s doing right now, but I know that he was on a good path and, and I saw that a lot of that had to do with how we acted as a company, how we listened to each other, examples that we set, and I just, and he can go into any situation with the most professional, to the most street person or whatever and be okay, could deal with him and get his ideas across.

Elizabeth: This reminds me of this kind of validating narratives that are so different from this life experience or that one or whatever a person’s or [00:50:00] community’s experiences are, there’s a democracy in that, in democratizing story, democratizing narrative, and validating narratives at all levels. And that reminds me to really rewind the videotape of an experience you and Michael had 25, maybe more, years ago, taking a group of high school students—

Michael: 35.

Elizabeth: You’re revealing our age here. But there used to be an organization that doesn’t exist anymore called the Alliance for Cultural Democracy. And we’ve talked before about this concept of cultural democracy. You and Michael and maybe some other adults took a group of high school students in a school van from The New School of Northern Virginia, where Michael was a high school director and a humanities chair. And you went to this conference in Atlanta with all these high school students. It wasn’t specifically about theater, but it was about culture and stuff. Michael and Thom, can you guys revisit that experience and tell us about it and just [00:51:00] interweave how culture had an effect on these young students?

Thom: We’re talking about 35 years.

Elizabeth: What were you doing the night of, yeah.

Thom: But I remember in particular that we stayed at somebody’s house or something like that, if I remember correctly. And the whole approach is nice but we still, I would have, had a wall up because I didn’t really trust it, I don’t know why.

Michael: Sure.

Thom: Yeah. And, but over time as we were, really, I like the person, and I got a lot out of the whole experience. So sometimes you don’t know what’s gonna be what, but you have to go with the flow and try to just leave them with a truer sense of who you are than what they initially may have thought.

Elizabeth: Yeah, I remember—

Michael: The New School of Northern Virginia, I would do everything [00:52:00] possible—talking about just different stories, different narratives—do everything possible to expose these kids to the diversity of the world. I’d sometimes just bring them into DC on field trips just so they could walk through Adams Morgan, right? And just see that everything is not this suburban world that they’re in.

And then the Alliance for Cultural Democracy is about all these different narratives that are being told. That there isn’t just the mainstream narrative, there isn’t just the popular culture narrative, that there’s a diverse range of narratives both in terms of people’s stories, but also in terms of their own life choices, right? ‘Cause a lot of times young people get stuck into the life choices that are the dominant life choices. I mean, we’ve dealt with it with our own son, in terms of our own son. You gotta, you graduate high school, and then you go to college, and then you, and that’s, there are other possibilities. I was always just trying to open up the possibilities, that they can have a life narrative for themselves that [00:53:00] was specific to who they are as people, their needs, their desires, their wants, etc. So the Alliance for Cultural Democracy, the reason I wanted to take them on the trip, the reason I invited them, was to expose them to this diverse range of cultures that were taking place down in Atlanta. And I remember them participating in the creation of this large mural. It was a large mural being painted on a wall, and the students got to volunteer, and it was very organized and everything, but they got to help create this collective artwork and I think most of them participated. One guy, I remember one kid was up there all the time painting on that wall. He loved to fill in various aspects of this large image on the wall.

Elizabeth: Something I remember, I think, both of you guys talking about was just how, Thom, you as this sort of very tall, dramatic looking Black man who then had all these long dreads, you’re such a man of peace and you were such a, you were [00:54:00] such an alternate persona to other projections and characterizations of young African American men. And that was a pretty powerful experience for the kids themselves. Just to be in community with you for a week or whatever it was.

Michael: Did you get to know any of the kids on that trip?

Thom: I don’t remember.

Michael: I don’t remember either. I know it was a long ride down. And back, but it was a fun trip. Nothing extraordinary happened that would make me regret going.

All right. All right.Speaking of unique stories, we got a chance to work together in the Tawfiq al-Hakim’s The Fate of a Cockroach, the great Egyptian playwright. And The Fate of a Cockroach being this story about this tribe of cockroaches marching across the desert and going up to the Great Lake—

Elizabeth: The Great White Lake.

Michael: The Great White Lake, which was [00:55:00] empty, and ultimately the king cockroach falls into the Great White Lake. That’s act one. Act two is the husband—

Elizabeth: The human husband.

Michael: The human husband, the bureaucrat, looking at this large cockroach in his bathtub, struggling to get out. And mesmerized to the point where he’s not going to work anymore.

Elizabeth: The struggle of the cockroach to get out of the bathtub.  

Michael: And you played the psychiatrist-philosopher who came in to try to help.

Elizabeth: The wife called in the psychiatrist because her husband wouldn’t get out of the bathroom.

Michael: Can you just maybe talk about your—and Matt Miller was in that play as well. As well as Ricky Green, right. Can you talk a little bit about that experience? What that was like? Because we did it at the Fringe Festival.

Thom: I think that the doctor had all these preconceived notions about what should be what or whatever, and then come into a situation where you’re evaluating the lives of cockroaches, it was, speaking as an actor looking at the character, [00:56:00] I think that he was learning something about himself. And also it’s that you can put your life in perspective compared to a cockroach, it humbles you a little bit. And you try to understand that it’s a bigger world than than you. And lot of times you, a doctor or a lawyer, you’re, you deal, certain things don’t even cross your mind, simpler things don’t matter to you, and certainly the fate of a cockroach, you couldn’t fucking give a shit about it. But, like I said, it was, for me, the doctor learning about himself, and how he reacts to certain situations.

Elizabeth: I remember you and the human husband, who was played by Victor Steele truly had this remarkably philosophical discussion about the valiant, dauntless struggle of this King [00:57:00] Cockroach to get out, just over and over, the myth of Sisyphus. It was, it was very funny, but there was a sort of deep psychological and kind of philosophical core to it.

Talking about the cast of Fate of a Cockroach, which was wonderfully international, we had a Brit, we had, we had African Americans and white Americans and young people and old people and it was great. And that leads me to, one of the questions that we’ve asked a lot of theater folk about in this series for theater and community is this whole notion of, quote,” non-traditional casting.” I’m reminded of the production that you and your daughter, Amelia Workman, and B. Stanley did, and others, at DCAC of Shaw’s Pygmalion. You played—I think B. played Professor Henry Higgins, and your daughter played Liza Doolittle, the Cockney flower seller. And you played the linguist, who was the [00:58:00] friend of Professor Henry Higgins. People, oh, our audience will know this play because it was the foundation for the musical My Fair Lady that’s famously played by Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn. Can you talk a little bit about the non-traditional casting process and if that increased the punch of this particular production, which is about a, sort of, very prestigious linguist deciding he’s going to change the speech patterns of this lowly Cockney girl and make her behave and sound like a member of the—

Thom: I, I think that in society today we all are pressured to be more than what we perceive ourselves to be, especially if you’re trying to get ahead more than what you’ve been. [00:59:00] Or, things that you have to change about yourself to get there. And I think for, like, Amelia, who’s my daughter, I think she was just getting her ground as an actress, and just even as an older person and, to be that age and have to deal with things that grown-ups tend to struggle with or whatever, that she really had to go within herself and be a little bit more than she may have been ready for at that particular time. But I think that the whole aspects of being in a professional play and everything that goes along with that, that really grew her as a person, because after that, she’s been doing theater for a long time right now.

Elizabeth: Was Amelia still in high school when she did that show? At Duke Ellington School of the Arts?

Thom: I think she [01:00:00] might even have been in junior high. I’m not sure.

Elizabeth: Yeah, she was young. She did a great job. Thom, speaking of your daughter, Amelia, you are the father of two remarkable daughters, both Amelia and Makita, amazing young women both. Amelia, as you’ve mentioned, has a really wonderful career as an actress, and Makita, too, has theatrical characteristics qualities in her life. Can you talk a little bit about the process of being a father of young daughters and having this theatrical connection with your two daughters?

Thom: Makita isn’t so much a theater person as Amelia is. She’s actually in the Navy right now.

Elizabeth: Makita is, yeah.

Thom: And doing rather well. Like I said, Amelia is still involved in theater, and she was here recently for Jane Anger, [01:01:00] which was performed in DC. And a couple of her teachers from Duke Ellington came out to see her work and everyone was pretty pleased. And I think that what theater has done for her, she knows how to go out and get it. But when she was here performing last time, and she went to Duke Ellington, but for me, it was like, it comes full circle. Because she’s performing at one of the premier theaters in DC. People would come from all over. And she’s standing on her own. And I think that the growth process for her, even the times she may have been rejected, it’s built up her character and understanding how to deal with rejection because as [01:02:00] talented and as beautiful as I think she is, she’s still got to go out there in the world every single time.  

Elizabeth: Every single time, yeah. What is that expression, an artist’s life is a study in rejection. You gotta just keep going, yeah.

Thom: The actor’s life.

Elizabeth: The actor’s life.

Thom: Is a study in rejection.

Elizabeth: Well, I would say the writer’s life. Definitely the poet’s life, you know. Can you talk just briefly about the place that Duke Ellington School of the Arts has, in your view, in terms of developing young, young artists, be they actors or dancers or musicians or visual artists. Is there a kind of a long view that you as a dad take on Duke Ellington?

Thom: I’ve always appreciated Duke Ellington and, and they’ve been involved with a lot of prominent actors that, came outta DC, you know what I mean? Most [MM2] traced her, some experience back to Duke Ellington. Chappelle. There’s another actress that Amelia grew up with and I see her on television all the time.

They have their hand in the [01:03:00] creative community. And, like I said, when I saw her recently perform, a few people from Duke Ellington came out to support her. And they don’t have to do that, but just seeing where the end product is of what you’ve been working, that’s what you work for, like, to see, people succeed. And still supporting her, I feel good about, like, what they’ve done with the community and—

Elizabeth: Another Duke Ellington, yeah, not everybody—we talked with our mutual good friend Quique Avilés and his wife Hillary Binder-Avilés, and Quique has some funny stories to tell because he went to Duke Ellington, back in the day. Anyway, it’s just a little note to our listeners to go back and listen to Quique’s stories about Duke Ellington.

One of the last questions we love to ask our interviewees is how they, what advice, what concrete advice—and as a [01:04:00] father and a lifelong educator and advocate, I’m sure you have a lot of words of wisdom to share—but how would you advise our listeners to nurture and embrace and sustain their own creative lives?

Thom: Sometimes it’s harder as you get older to do the things that you used to do obediently because there’s car notes, house notes, other things that are, if you’re not fully invested, but like now you’ve got to take care of yourself because what I find is that, I need that creative part of me. Even if I’m not performing, I try to write something, I try to see something different, and I try to see what other people are doing out there. I went to play at the Studio recently, and I felt a little out of touch, just, and that was just me, and I don’t know what it was, but I got the sense that we as a [01:05:00] community are doing more. What I mean by that is there could be more theater in the park. It doesn’t have to be a big, full out productions. We could be doing it on a smaller level more frequently. And just even opening up the doors for, young artists. By just letting the community know by virtue of seeing these performances and seeing how it grounds young people and teaches them discipline. It gives them the opportunity to see other artists and develop. And I don’t know that’s being supported or nurtured by us. Because everybody’s got different agendas.

Michael: It sounds like you’re saying, because you’ve dedicated your life to doing theater in communities, working with communities, listening to their stories, and bringing their stories to life—do you think that kind of theater is in decline?

Because the theater at the larger institutions, the more moneyed institutions, are really [01:06:00] doing theater that’s presented to the community. They’re not from the community. It’s more to the community. So are you, have you noticed a decline in that kind of theater in communities?

Thom: Yeah, from my perspective. And it may be happening, but I’m just not aware of it. But certainly, during my day we’d go to receiving hall, we’d do street theater, we’d go, you develop it, it in pockets, wherever, and unlikely places. And when I had the opportunity to go, like I said, into institutions where people who, they probably hadn’t even dealt with theater before they were there, but then they come up with a whole new understanding. And just by starting doing workshops, getting them involved in terms of what their ideas were, what’s going to make a statement, what’s theatrical, what’s not theatrical. I’ve done stuff with young women, incarcerated people, you name it, but it’s like disenfranchised communities have opportunity to make a [01:07:00] statement. So I just wish there was more opportunities for them to get their stories out there.

Michael: I don’t think you’re alone. I guess it was during the ‘80s or ‘90s, the whole notion that theater was the economic engine. So it could be used to cause gentrification. Look down at 14th Street and Studio Theater. It’s a high-priced neighborhood. Back in the day, it was definitely a hardcore sort of neighborhood. Yeah, so I think your perceptions are shared by a number of theaters. It’s good for artists to get paid, but ultimately it has shifted the focus away from the kind of theater you’re talking about, where you’re using it as a vehicle of social uplift, social change, individual transformation, et cetera, among oppressed communities.

Thom: And it’s not just in terms of money, it’s having young people see within themselves that there’s things that are worth doing and bringing [01:08:00] out right here. You don’t have to go far, but still, you—and then you tweak it or whatever, it’s, okay, grandma next door can relate to it just as well as the homeboy over here just doing his thing, and see how it relates to you and what that statement means, of, where do we go from here? And okay, if nobody’s doing theater anymore, then it’s, in a way we’re not really talking to each other because there’s a way of talking to each other without us having, like, all the fences and blockages,

Elizabeth: The, you know, to the real transformational power of theater, that we need to roll it back so you can do theater in the park, you can do theater in a, on a shoestring. In the UK they used to have, or maybe they still do have, lunchtime theater where you go to a pub and you have your pint and there are two people doing theater on, on a, just on a bar [01:09:00] stool, there’s nothing—so, anyway, so speaking of what is next. The last question we always like to ask our interviewees is what’s next for them? What’s, tell us, I know you’re, quote, “retired” from all these many day jobs and paid work experiences you’ve had. But can you tell our audiences just a little bit about what you’re doing these days?

Thom: Oh, I’m doing some writing and it’s more from, it’s an older perspective now about what was important to us. And I actually would like to see more getting out into like different institutions, schools or whatever. And that don’t necessarily have theatrical budgets, but where we can go in once, twice a week and do stuff, but I think it’s got to be like a meeting of minds in terms of artists and administrators, but like that, this is important to these—a lot of schools don’t have [01:10:00] any theater whatsoever, and they may have somebody, but it’s not something that’s on the agenda. And it can be so important to young people’s growth and development, that they know what theater is, and not just, okay, it’s something up here, but it’s something that is everywhere. We just have to see it and bring it together, and hopefully, productions can grow out of that. Not huge productions, but something where, you know, every school can be, have their own little unit and visit around other schools. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, it’s just something where we’re interacting and sharing our creativity.

Michael: It’d be great if somebody was advocating for that. No, seriously, theater, particularly in today’s age where everybody’s on their screens. The notion of, ‘cause theater is, not only is it creative, self-expression in a physical, verbal way, but it’s also community building, where you’re actually flesh, live human beings [01:11:00] in one-on-one situations, and you’re developing collaborative skills, all that stuff, teamwork, and it’s so crucial.

Elizabeth: Yeah. Theater is a collectively created—

Michael: Every school should have it. We need an advocate for that.

Thom: Who are you Michael?

Michael: There we go!

Elizabeth: Well, when you’re collectively creating a work, you cannot flake out. There’s all this energy, all these people who put their time and energies and expertise—

Michael: Well and as you’ve been talking, you develop trust with your other people, a sense of responsibility to the other people in the group. I mean there’s a brotherhood, sisterhood, is developed, a community-hood is developed. I mean it’s, no, I agree. It would be great.

Elizabeth: I like that word, “community-hood.” I think we need to start using that.

Michael: I don’t if that’s a word but it’s alright. I make up words.

Elizabeth: You’re good at that. So, Thom Workman. Oh, my friend. Our friend. Long time, longtime friend and colleague. Thank you so much for joining us on the Theatre in Community podcast [01:12:00] series of Creativists in Dialogue. And thanks to our listeners for listening.

Thom: Thank you. Thank you.

Tremendous thanks to all our listeners. To those of you who are free subscribers, please consider becoming paid subscribers so that Creativists in Dialogue can continue bringing you insightful conversations about creativity from Washington, DC and beyond. Thanks.

Special shout out to Creativists in Dialogue’s production team: Audio engineer Elliot Lanes, social media manager Erin Dumas of Dumas83, and transcription editor Morgan Musselman. Thank you all.

For more information about Creativists in Dialogue, please visit or our Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn pages. To learn more about our other projects, please visit or

The Creativists in Dialogue podcast is supported in part by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and subscribers like you. The Theatre in Community podcast series is supported in part by Humanities DC. Thanks.

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