Joe Plambeck and Joe Bailey sit in The Ringwald Theatre green room surrounded by a showcase of posters representing their work over the last ten years. They are one of the Michigan Theaters participating in the Ghostlight Project Jan. 19 Photo courtesy of Jim Harper

Local Theaters Join in Solidarity for Ghostlight Project

BY KATE OPALEWSKI

In each time zone across the country on Jan. 19 at 5:30 p.m. members of the theater community will come together to launch The Ghostlight Project.

On the eve of the presidential inauguration, people from Broadway to regional theaters to high schools and colleges, and community theaters, will join in a collective, simultaneous action, together creating "light" for challenging times ahead. Inspired by the tradition of leaving a "ghost light" on in a darkened theater, artists and communities will make or renew a pledge to stand for and protect the values of inclusion, participation, and compassion for everyone regardless of race, class, religion, country of origin, immigration status, (dis)ability, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

The Ghostlight Project aims to create brave spaces that will serve as lights in the coming years and to activate a network of people across the country working to support vulnerable communities. These gatherings are a pledge for continued vigilance and increased advocacy.

The event marks the initiation for some artists and theaters, and marks another step for others with a long history of fighting for social justice and equity. As the participants all have varied backgrounds, so too is it up to each institution and individual to determine what ongoing action will best serve their institution and community.

"I am so thrilled to be participating in The Ghostlight Project. As we approach what feels like very perilous times for a number of Americans, having safe spaces is so important. I feel like The Ringwald has always been that for a number of people, but I'm glad to have the opportunity to reaffirm that," said Joe Bailey, artistic director at The Ringwald Theatre at 22742 Woodward Ave. in Ferndale.

"I know that most of the theaters in Detroit feel the same way. Building and re-building communities will be so important over the next four years and doing everything we can - together - to make sure everyone feels included, that everyone does indeed have a seat at this great table called America, is the focus of what The Ghostlight Project is aiming to do. And really, we are willing to do whatever it takes to further that goal."

Following a ceremony at The Ringwald, everyone is invited into the theater where a community meeting will be held to discuss and celebrate the current theatrical scene and to open a dialogue for what projects and/or ideas the community may have for the future. Everyone who attends is encouraged to bring a dish to pass to foster a true community feeling.

After the community discussion, The Ringwald will present its revived staged reading of Tony Kushner's "A Bright Room Called Day" at 7 p.m. A representative from the ACLU of Michigan will be on hand to lead a talkback after the performance.

Nine theaters in the Lansing community will come together at the Miller Performing Arts Center at 6025 Curry Lane for a program led by Debbie Mikula of the Arts Council of Greater Lansing and facilitators to discuss and celebrate the current theater scene in the Lansing community. Also, what projects, ideas, and dreams they would like to see take place or established moving forward, with an eye toward social justice, inclusion, and diversity.

Present at the event will be representatives from Ixion Theatre, Lansing Community College Theatre Department, Michigan State University Department of Theatre, Over the Ledge Theatre, Owosso Community Theatre, Peppermint Creek Theatre Company, Riverwalk Theatre, Starlight Dinner Theatre, and Williamston Theatre.

"Peppermint Creek is proud to be joining with the rest of the Lansing theater community and theaters across the nation to take part in The Ghostlight Project, a celebration of the theater's role and responsibility to champion diversity, equity and inclusion in our storytelling," said co-artistic director Chad Swan-Badgero.

"It is so tremendously important, at a time when these very attributes are being questioned and diminished, to stand for and protect the values of inclusion, participation, and compassion for everyone regardless of race, class, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation. The theater as an art form has always been a method in which we can address and explore sensitive and thorny topics, and Peppermint Creek is proud to have a mission that aligns so much with this endeavor. We are thrilled to host an event of this nature that stands so firmly in compassion for all."

It is in the MSU Department of Theatre's mission to provide the auspices for enhanced understanding of current issues through theatrical expressions, to provoke and sustain interest in the theater as a source of truth and insight into the human condition, and to address the re-definitions of dramatic and theatrical styles, forms, and structures as they emerge as artistic responses to the changing world.

With that in mind, "we are honored to be a contributing partner in this effort to promote diversity and inclusion, and be a part of this very important communal voice against hatred and discrimination of any kind. In our classrooms and our rehearsal rooms, we strive for democratic dialogue and civil engagement, with participation and compassion for all," said Dionne O'Dell, associate director of arts and cultural management at MSU, and faculty for the department of theater.

"We strive to give our students opportunities to learn and perform a wide range of stories reflecting diverse voices. Participating in The Ghostlight Project confirms our commitment to nourish our students' aspirations and our connection with a strong theater community, and to affirm inclusion for all," said Melissa Kaplan, performing arts producer and CMA academic coordinator at LCC Theatre.

The Lansing event will also include music, excerpts from historical speeches, and a "community lighting". All are welcome at this free public event.

The Ghostlight Project is a resource for theaters, arts communities, and individuals to identify and create meaningful action steps, or to continue in the social justice work already underway. More information about The Ghostlight Project can be found on their website at https://theghostlightproject.com/.


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