One night, one Zoom link, three actors, — not the typical stage for a performance. But the digital format was not the most non-traditional aspect of Company One Theatre’s community wellbeing event “In Community We Trust.”
Josh Glenn-Kayden, an artistic producer and casting director at Company One, said what truly sets “In Community We Trust” apart is the group’s dedication to going beyond the performance and building community.
“We never want the play to be the only thing our audience is experiencing,” Glenn-Kayden said.
The event was divided into three sections, each containing one short original monologue-style play followed by a conversation addressing a thematically related Boston community issue.
“We want (the audience) to think about these plays in relation to the communities they live in,” he said. “To build a better Boston and a world for each other.”
The opening play, entitled “Uncle Sonny’s New Lady Friend, Joanne,” explored how food can aid in navigating through the cycles of grief. Written by Jonathan Norton and directed by Harold Steward, the play centered around an elderly man, played by BU playwriting alum Cliff Odle, speaking as the audience, piece by piece, learned the theme of the work.
“Uncle Sonny” was followed by a conversation with chef partner Kwasi Kwaa and managing partner Biplaw Rai from Comfort Kitchen, a “Black-owned, immigrant-owned and women-owned” cafe, bar and restaurant specializing in comforting dishes of the African diaspora, according to its website. The conversation focused similarly on the connection between food and healing.
“In theory, what connects people through food is based on that cultural attachment to the food.” Kwaa explained, “and we are trying to bring those cultural attachments in every dish that we do.”
J.C. Pankratz, a recent Boston University graduate, wrote the second play, which addressed the issues surrounding trans people’s welfare. Entitled “yes virginia, trans people danced under mount vesuvius,” the play laid out the inner thoughts of its sole character Pash, played by Jupiter Lê, constructing a reaction to an offhand remark, Pankratz said.
“It’s always really exciting to me, to see how I can braid together really poetic or lyrical language with really contemporary dialogue,” Pankratz said. “That’s like a really fun puzzle to figure out, especially within the voice of the characters.”
Pankratz said Company One provided a prompt about “finding safe space as a queer person or a trans person” and informed them that their play’s corresponding conversation would feature the Boston Alliance for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth (BAGLY).
“They were great about just kind of letting me go with what my heart really wanted to do, and that’s how we ended up with the play,” Pankratz said.
In the conversation following Pankratz’s play, B Paul, the host Homes Peer Leader at BAGLY. Paul discussed the group’s goals and what steps can be taken by everyone in the community to help LGBTQ+ people.
“Really the ask, the continuous ask is that space is made for us and not that decisions are made for us.” Paul said, “so that we are able to decide for ourselves what we would like our community group to look like or what we would like benefits to look like for us.”
Pankratz recently earned a Master of Fine Arts in playwriting from BU. Their senior thesis, Pankratz said, incorporated a production workshop.
“It was really invaluable in terms of what it was like to put on a play, and what it’s like to put on a new play especially,” they said.
Pankratz said they had “really wonderful mentors” during their time at BU.
“I had a great cohort that pushed me and were a great support to me during our time together,” Pankratz said. “I got time and space to write many different kinds of plays.”
Another graduate of the same program Eliana Pipes wrote the third and final play of the night, entitled “The Waiting Room.” The play began with a woman, played by Elle Borders, explaining how much she hates the hospital. She tells the story behind this aversion, revealing her role as a translator for her parents throughout her childhood and that she is soon to be a mother.
The conversation that followed highlighted Nashira Baril, Project Director at Neighborhood Birth Center. Baril discussed how she thinks having a birth center brings midwives back to a community, as well as her plan to open one in the Boston area.
A recording of the event is available on YouTube, containing all three plays and all three conversations.
“Everybody really came in ready to work and to do their best,” said Pankratz. “It was a really wonderful experience.”