One of the themes that surfaced during our value discussion was the idea of community. However, there seems to be a misconception about the term -- that is means community activism or involvement with community political and social issues.
When I use the word community, I mean it in a much simpler way: the ties or bonds between people. To create community is to create, and then strengthen, the bonds between people. One way to do that is through community activism, of course -- bonds are often strengthen through a common activity or a common enemy. But community is created simply through talking and listening. The times that I have been in church, there often were parts of the service in which we were asked to turn and greet the people around us. The intention is to create a sense of community, a sense of being part of a group. If that were the only thing, it would be a pretty superficial community, of course. But then there often was coffee and cake in the church basement afterwards, where many people went to talk -- and to strengthen bonds. I take a yoga class once a week, and at the end of the session, we all give each other a blessing, acknowledging each other individually. Why? To create a sense of community in the class.
So when I talk about theatre creating and strengthening community, it doesn't have to go outside the walls of the theatre. It might be creating a point during the theatrical event -- before, during, during intermission, after the show -- in which people are given an opportunity to talk to each other, to get to know each other as more than the head in the row in front of you.
For me, the traditional post-show Q & A session doesn't really promote community. Nobody introduces themselves (except whoever happens to be onstage fielding the questions), and the discussion is anonymous. But imagine a post-show discussion that follows the World Cafe model, in which people are put into groups of four and given a general topic to discuss, and then after a certain amount of time, they rotate and get new members. Each time, they introduce themselves to those who are at their table. In a small group, people are more comfortable talking than in the entire assembly.
So does that inspire community outside the walls of the theatre? Well, if you have talked to someone after a show and then you run into them in line at the grocery or at a meeting for another organization, you will probably talk again. And the bonds are strengthened. And when you are talking, you might introduce the person to another friend of yours, and the circle widens.
These are the bonds that are missing in many of our communities. This is how a theatre might contribute to creating community. Once ties are established, and community has been created, then you can put that energy to work. And that may or may not be something organized by the theatre.
That's what I mean by "community."