Actors Emily Dussault and Josiah Thompson in the Adoption Play Project reading, May 2015. Photo: Deb Ervin

Backstage at The Adoption Play Project

Adoption is all around us. We all know friends, family members, or colleagues whose lives have been touched by adoption, and yet the profound influence that adoption has on our lives and the complex ways that it affects our ideas about family, identity, and culture are not something we talk about openly. Local theater artists Alan Berks and Leah Cooper, the co-founders of Wonderlust Productions, have set out to change that with a powerful new work, The Adoption Play Project.

The play, slated for a fall 2016 opening, is based upon a collection of over 1,000 personal stories gathered from members of the Twin Cities adoption community. These stories were collected from individuals across all backgrounds and ages through workshops and story circles where community members shared and explored their adoption stories. Participants included adoptees, adoptive parents, birth parents, siblings, social workers, unofficial adoptees, and members of the foster care community.

These stories, once gathered, were then brought to life by Wonderlust Productions as a fictional work for the stage through a highly collaborative theatrical process. The play features a unique ensemble of community members performing alongside professional actors. Members of the adoption community were included in every aspect of the production, from script development to lighting and sound and everything in between. Their intimate involvement in the artistic process results in a production that explores its subject matter in ways that are startling raw, genuine, healing, and true.

Berks and Cooper have been influential members of the Twin Cities theater community for many years, but creating community-driven theater is what currently most excites and motivates them. Through Wonderlust Productions, they continually seek out overlooked or misunderstood communities (their previous work was with the veteran community) and provide them with a safe space to share the stories of their hearts and minds. They then validate these stories and experiences by giving them a public voice through the artistic process of mounting a theatrical production. This approach represents a significant departure from traditional theater where a pre-set narrative searches for an audience. Wonderlust Productions starts with the audience, and the narrative structure evolves organically based on the community it exists within.

Audiences will have a unique opportunity to gain an inside look into community-driven theater and the evolution of The Adoption Play Project at an upcoming event offered by Rimon: The Minnesota Jewish Arts Council. Rimon’s acclaimed artist salon series will feature Cooper and Berks in a conversation moderated by Minnesota-based writer Sharon DeMark. The program will also feature excerpts from the play and will engage audience members in a dialogue exploring the play’s stories, themes and ideas. Cooper, Berks, and Rimon’s Executive Director David Harris aren’t certain exactly what is in store for the event. The door remains open for dialogue, possibilities are endless and the story is still unfolding. One thing is certain though: audiences can expect a transformative experience.

Backstage at The Adoption Play Project will be presented by Rimon: The Jewish Arts Council at 2 pm on Sunday, February 7 at Intermedia Arts (2822 Lyndale Ave. S.) in Minneapolis. Tickets are $12 ($6 for ages 30 and under) and may be reserved online at www.rimonMN.org or by contacting the Rimon office at 952-381-3449.

This interview was made possible in part with support from the Howard B. & Ruth F. Brin Jewish Arts Endowment, a fund of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation’s Foundation, and Rimon: The Minnesota Jewish Arts Council, an initiative of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation.

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About Katharine Kline

Katharine Kline is a communications consultant and freelance writer. She is the former director of the Morris Cafritz Center for the Arts and the founding director of the Washington Jewish Music Festival.

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