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Oct. 11, 2021 LA GRANDE, Ore. – A year in the making, theatre artists Sarah and Jack Greenman have begun the next major phase of the Urban-Rural Theater Project. The project found its origins in Sarah and Jack’s time living in the rural community of Halfway, Oregon and the contrast to their prior experience in urban Dallas, Texas.
During their times visiting Oregon prior to moving, the Greenmans often spoke to people who had intentionally moved to the rural areas of the state for specific reasons. Conversations with these urban transplants and their experiences aided in the decision for the Greenman’s to live rurally.
“It was such a rich and beautiful experience to be with rural folk and to land in that space and start to better understand some of the questions I had about the folks who live rurally and what their interests are and where there’s a lot of crossover and where there’s a lot of division,” Sarah said.
On Oct. 1, the Greenmans sat down with partners from Eastern Oregon University, the Rural Engagement and Vitality (REV) Center and Wallowa Resources in Zabel Hall to officially begin drafting their script as a team.
Jack described how the project found its origins in friendly debates about the experiences of people in rural communities and the contrast to urban areas of the state.
“I think the start of the debate was, is there even an urban-rural divide,” Jack said.
No longer just a conversation however, the Urban-Rural Theater Project is now a reality. Taking stories from dozens of interviews from across the state, the team is in the midst of creating a full theatrical script made entirely of real, Oregonian, experiences.
In addition to the script drafting, the team also has plans for workshops and talkbacks to coincide with the final production.
“We are telling true verbatim stories from a variety of voices across the state as a way of better understanding the nature of what we refer to as the urban-rural divide in the state of Oregon,” Sarah said.
The project grew out of a partnership with the REV Center. While both Greenmans come from academic backgrounds, Sarah explained how their careers as theatre professionals and location in rural Oregon lend themselves well to collaboration with the REV Center. In addition, Sarah is a proponent of community collaboration and believes the REV Center’s goals align with the project.
“Eastern Oregon University is a rural university. There aren’t many like EOU in the country even. I think there is a particularly beautiful thing that a rural university like Eastern Oregon University has to offer that really matches our mission,” she said.
As part of the REV Center collaboration, EOU students Julia Huyg and Emily Mendoza contribute to the project as paid interns. Julia Huyg, has been reviewing interviews for quotes and key concepts. She initially got involved because she saw it as a rare opportunity to participate in a theater project during COVID. Huyg described the project as fun and said she enjoys hearing so many different perspectives.
“I always describe this project as us handing a megaphone to people who don’t get to share their stories. It is so important for all of these voices to be heard and I am so excited for people to hear these incredible stories,” she said.
Huyg also emphasized the neutral intentions of the project, noting that the team did not go into it with a specific agenda in mind.
“We are not trying to tell a story, we are letting the interviewees tell the stories,” Huyg said.
Completion of the story is still some ways off though. Having just begun the scripting and greater planning process, the team is looking at 1 to 2 years of additional work as part of a roughly three-year timeline.
They hope to finish a draft this fall, and have a revised version ready for reading by May 2022, and then begin theatrical production in late 2022 or early 2023.
Readings and performances of the final play will initially be exclusive to EOU, but leaders anticipate producing it in a variety of venues.
“This piece belongs at Eastern Oregon University, so this is the place to see it,” Sarah said.
Anyone interested in further involvement with the project can donate or share their stories by contacting Sarah Greenman at sarahgreenman.com/urban-rural. Learn more about the project at revcenter.org/urban-rural-theater.
Written by PR Intern Garrett Christensen
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