The theatre is in a unique position to enact social change through artistic expression, and Greenville’s Warehouse Theatre is taking the task to heart. From the Main Stage to Main Street: the simple mission of the Warehouse’s forum series is to delve into the drama on stage to help stimulate thoughtful discussion on social experience. “Theatre is one of the oral histories,” Warehouse producing artistic director Mike Sablone says. “So examining the history of the community is extremely important.”
Drawing from whatever is on stage, the series “focuses a lens,” as Sablone puts it, and zeroes in on a relevant theme to the community. “It really allows us to get into the more vibrant and alive topics worth examining,” Sablone says. Panelists are drawn from all sides: the privilege panel held last spring featured wealthy businessmen, minorities, and stay-at-home moms. The March discussion, titled “Of All My Sons, Who Is Really Privileged?,” offered six completely different viewpoints on life in America, which created an open conversation that examined privilege from the perspective of race, sexuality, gender, and religion.
Illustration by Alexander Harrison
Real Talk // The Warehouse Theatre’s forums on its upcoming show Clybourne Park will be held on Wednesday, September 20 (part one) and October 4 (part two) at 6:30 p.m. at the Warehouse Theatre, 37 Augusta St, Greenville. Showings of Clybourne Park will play immediately after the forums. Tickets can be purchased at warehousetheatre. com/tickets.
The panel was Sablone’s first introduction to the forums. “It was spectacular. Watching this community talk about things that aren’t comfortable to talk about but doing so with grace, humility, and respect was really moving,” he says. The sensitive topics can be difficult to navigate, but longtime moderator Jonathan Parker conducts the discourse with mindfulness. “You’re going to want to run out of the room, but we don’t want you to because this conversation is too important,” Parker says of the honest dialogue, where touchy words like racism and white privilege aren’t shied away from. But the conflict is vital; fires of change can’t burn without friction. “A pooling of agreement is not helpful,” Parker says. “If all our panelists agree, we have failed.”
This month’s show, Clybourne Park, tackles changing communities throughout two time periods: the 1950s and now. The play by Bruce Norris, which bookends the events that occur in Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun, focuses on an issue Greenville is grappling with: gentrification. “Even after only living here for six months, I can tell how much gentrification is a part of Greenville. The growth is spectacular. At the same point, you want to examine the cost of that growth,” Sablone says.
The hefty subject warrants two forums, which will look at Greenville’s growth during two time periods: pre–Main Street revitalization and now (post-hashtag). The Warehouse wants to give a platform for both sides to come together and air out the problem. “It doesn’t matter if you’re right, wrong, indifferent,” Parker says, “what matters is that we’re talking about it.” The talk will include developers like early Main Street advocate Merl Code and people who have been affected by rising rents.
No matter what perspective or argument is brought to the theatre, Parker ensures that all voices will be heard with three simple rules: disagree with dignity, listen with intentionality, and respond with sensitivity. While the forums seek to change minds and open eyes, you might get dirty and you might sweat. And that’s okay. “This is a safe place to have unsafe conversations,” Parker says. It’s a place to be heard, to be challenged, and to be changed.
Originally published in the September 2017 issue on towncarolina.com