In the bleak of winter, the theater building condemned and the town dying, Richard Owen Geer's original production of Dracula should have played to empty houses. Instead, it sold out for an extended run. How, he wondered, did that happen?
Answering that question led Geer to create a new genre, Community Performance: theater of, by, and for a place and people. Geer's Dracula went on to break attendance records at The Denver Center Theatre Company, and The Oregon Shakespearean Festival, but what made the show a smash in his home town was this: the crisis in the play mirrored the crisis in the town.
When that happens, ancient forces are unleashed and theater returns to its roots as the voice of the people, sounding and speaking a shared soul.
To understand what he had been a part of, Geer left professional theater and completed a doctorate in Performance Studies at Northwestern University. He then carried his knowledge of theater and culture into communities to hybridize his ideas with the life of the people-- beginning with the internationally renowned Swamp Gravy which he co-founded and lead for most of its life.
For the next twenty years a growing band of explorers mapped a new (and ancient!) geography for theater at the intersection of local story, ordinary life, and virtuosic artistry.
Designers Brackley Frayer and Joe Varga built distinguished academic and professional design careers while serving Community Performance. Brackley and Joe have designed internationally, and throughout the America's regional theaters, Joe as head of the Design Department of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and Brackley as Theater Department chair at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and Executive Director of the Nevada Conservatory Theater.
Jules Corriere joined the team thirteen years ago and shares with Geer the artistic direction of the organization. She has written nearly forty plays and is equally active as a stage director. In addition to communities in a dozen states, her work has been produced at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, and internationally. Jules has focused on the development of Agency in her characters, and by this means CPI deepens the inclusivity of its work.
Kevin Iega Jeff founded and leads a stellar American dance company, Deeply Rooted Dance Theater, and has for thirteen years made the dance of ordinary people a highlight of his work with Community Performance. From his beginning on Broadway at age17 (one of a hundred graduates of Julliard honored on their centenary), Iega is a choreographer who works from the roots up bringing soul and spirit to his artistry with CPI.
Heather McCluskey, musical theater composer and lyricist brings sophistication, grace and a high standard to the music of Community Performance Projects. Whether it’s character driven comical pieces, or tear jerking ballads, she is able to help propel the play forward with her musical sensibilities.
Of late, we have been joined by a new generation of designers. Jason Bolen's wit and warmth inform his participation with the company as much as his talent as a designer. Wes Sullivan spreads the word of our process and brings his lighting talent to work with Swamp Gravy and Salkehatchie Stew.
To guide the evolution of this organization, community performance brought Melissa Block from a background in folk arts, foundations and community development and her unique life experience as a mother of five to lead the organizational development of Community Performance International.
These artists create the values that undergird the work of the community performance model.