Theater, Tradition, and Collaboration

Theater, Tradition, and Collaboration
Laurie Laird

Laurie Laird

Theater, tradition, and collaboration can lead to experiences that transcend power imbalances. Powerful organizations such as museums and universities, can bring their own goals and objectives to the community. They can also have more influence because of their resources and their attitude. This is not always the case, though.Laurie Laird, then associate director of the Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education at Santa Clara University, shared her experiences of a collaboration between a San Jose parish and the university. For years a primarily low-income Latino parish had been performing The Apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe to mark a feast day in her honor. In the late 1990s, that play was brought to the Santa Clara University campus and has remained there ever since. Laird tells the story of that partnership. She describes it as, “One of the probably most powerful experiences I’ve been a part of …”

The story of Our Lady of Guadalupe goes back to the 1500s when a native Mexican saw her in a vision. She asked him to build a church on that site in her honor. Laird describes her as a “very powerful and spiritual figure in the lives of particularly Latin American Catholics…She is a strong faith figure. People have a strong devotion to her.” What follows are her own words as told to Tori Egherman.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Santa Clara University

The first time The Apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe was performed on campus it was so incredibly powerful that the provost created a scholarship for a young person from that primarily Latino parish to attend the college. That scholarship has been awarded since 1998.

…I sometimes forget it’s the arts… I don’t think of it as theater. It’s life. It is community. It is family. It is faith. It’s all those things.

It was because of that shared experience of theater and faith that people were so moved, particularly the provost. It’s repeated annually, and it’s standing room only. It brings the university community together with the Latino community. Few things are more important than that.

One of the things that stands out for me is that in this field of community based learning, service learning, there is often a sense that the university is the source of greater knowledge and that going into the community is an act of service where we are doing something to help someone else. We’re always trying to shift that paradigm – and really have it be about the knowledge and experience on both sides, and that coming together is one that we strive for being about mutual benefit, reciprocity, really informed by this sense of being equals.

This partnership has been so effective because it was the theater group in this community that clearly had the knowledge and experience. It was so much more weighted on their side – the university students, what did they have to offer? They could add their voice to the choir and to learn. They weren’t in a position of power. It really helped to tip that balance in a way that I think was very informative for the university and for the community.

Being able to have community members from this parish come on to the campus – a place where they had not felt welcome, a which was symbolically the mission church, which some would say was oppressive to people of native origin – and to have this story told in that place, that historic place, and have these community members feel so welcome, was a very moving experience for them…

It’s so much of a community coming together – an experience, that to be quite honest, I sometimes forget it’s the arts… I don’t think of it as theater. It’s life. It is community. It is family. It is faith. It’s all those things. But of course, they have rehearsals, they have a director, they have costumes, all that stuff. But it’s rooted in something that is so much deeper – as most theater is.

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