Stories, Human Flourishing, and Spaces of Abundance in BETSY!

Roadside Theater Artistic Director Dudley Cocke facilitates a story circle. Photo by Jim Carroll.

[Editor’s Note: Throughout the month of April, Art of the Rural shared a series of new writing and multimedia from HowlRoundabout the twenty-one-year artistic collaboration between Pregones Theater and Roadside Theater. The collaboration bridges two vast geographies and cultures, Puerto Rican and Appalachian, and two distinct aesthetics. Curated by Imagining America’s Jamie Haft and Dr. Arnaldo López of Pregones Theater/PRTT, the series explores the creation of BETSY!, a musical about a Bronx singer and performer uncovering the secrets of her family’s history. The musical premiered off-Broadway and completed its three week run on April 26, 2015. BETSY! offers an important lens on a long-term rural-urban exchange and the many threads of commonality along America’s rural-urban continuum. This series is part of a strategy to develop new scholarship and multimedia about the vision, values, practice, and complexities of intercultural artistic collaboration, which will eventually be digested into a learning guide for teaching BETSY!. This is our final post in this series, and we’re proud to share the work of HowlRound, Imagining America, Roadside Theater, and Pregones Theater.]

Today we share excerpts from Stephani Etheridge Woodson’s essay “Stories, Human Flourishing, and Spaces of Abundance”, in which she discusses her interest in the “how” of how arts and culture builds stronger communities. She talks about building collective efficacy and expanding community networks, and about transparency and effective documentation. She also talks about “how stories build homes and social places for human flourishing”. Mostly, she reminds us that art and theatre can “develop abundant communities through their focus on the narrative wealth of a community, community efficacy, and community meaning-making”:

“Human flourishing does not function as a zero-sum game or a set of inputs for defined outputs (x + y = happiness). A focus on flourishing grows from understanding communities as sites of plenty, not sets of risks. Pregones and Roadside are partners and even catalysts, framing their communities as spaces of power.”

“Theatre companies like Pregones and Roadside function as public intellectuals and cultural development institutions. Their focus on stories, on connections, on the messy reality of the human condition and U.S. American ideologies of self and other don’t offer easy answers.  But they move in a space of abundance in the communion of art.”

 To read Woodson’s full essay, visit:

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