Graduate student connects community and theater by Deneia Washington Outreach is what brings many college students and community leaders together with knowledge-seeking youth in hopes that new information and new tools will help one steer away from a costly and dangerous path that may harm their future. But community outreach is not something that should be taken lightly. MFA Directing candidate Liz Carlson wants to redirect the way many go about community outreach, shifting the focus to firmly listening to those in the community we serve and the stories they have to share, in order to apply these voices and stories to theater. [caption id="attachment_686" align="alignright" width="300"] Liz Carlson[/caption] “I think we use the term ‘community theater’ sort of derisively as people of theater and I think that’s really wrong,” says Carlson. “If you expect them to listen to you, you need to listen to them as well,” she adds. Going into undergrad as a Political Science major and graduating with a BA Communications and Theater from Eastern University in 2006, Carlson has immersed herself in the arts. In 2007, Carlson joined Curio Theater Company, located in West Philadelphia, and has become very familiar with all components of theater. “It was a great opportunity for me to get a lot of varied experience and hands on training of the administrative side of running a theater,” says Carlson. As the current Interim Director of Education and Development, Carlson has taken a different approach of allowing the youth’s vivid imagination to come alive. Becoming a summer instructor, starting in 2013, students from ages 6 to 17 were able to get involved in various activities that develop into one big play at the end of each camp session. “We’re interested in this idea of ensemble and collaboration, so instead of picking a script where every kid can have a part, we start with a story and we ask the students to devise the play from the story,” she says. “It isn’t about memorizing your lines and knowing when you’re supposed to talk and where you’re supposed to stand, its ‘here’s this story that we’re going to tell. How are we going to tell it?” adds Carlson. Though Philadelphia’s theater community is small, Carlson enjoys this close-knit community, where collaboration and support is paramount. She also recognizes the variety and diversity students from Temple University’s Theater Department bring to this community of professionals. “I think Temple’s turning out some really fantastic theater makers. Whether they be actors, directors, or designers, you see young people come into this community and in a lot of ways, Temple prepares them very well for how to work in a professional world and also how to be generous, collaborative, and scrappy,” says Carlson. Carlson sees great purpose on being an informed citizen to the world around you, in order to make theater with purpose and meaning. “There’s plenty of time to hone a craft and there’s plenty of time and ways to learn to be better at what you want to do, but I think you’ve got to start with understanding why,” says Carlson. She adds that, “[Theater] helps us and gives us a place to articulate our questions, but you have to know what is going on in order to have questions about it.” At some point in her professional career, Carlson is interested in exploring how theaters can be functional and sustainable in underrepresented rural communities. “The theater feeds the community and the community feeds the theater,” Carlson says. Liz Carlson will direct Temple Theaters' production of Arcadia by Tom Stoppard running March 25 - April 4, 2015.