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New Yellow Springs Theatre Project seeks to tap local talent

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Village children have many opportunities to take part in live theater through YS Kids Playhouse and school productions, and older youth benefit from a vital theater program at YSHS/McKinney. But local adult actors and playwrights have lacked consistent opportunities to perform since the closing of Center Stage theater several years ago.

However, local director Sandra Crews is stepping into this gap and hoping to close it. Specifically, she is launching the Yellow Springs Theatre Project, an effort to produce original and nontraditional theater in the village.

“Theater is so important. It’s a gathering place, a place where we tell our stories,” Crews said in an interview last week. “It’s an immediate experience, a visceral experience that wakes up parts of the body and brain that don’t normally wake up.”

The project takes off this weekend with a production of 20%, described as a “dramatic expose about women in the military.” The play will take place at the South Gym of Antioch College at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, May 7 and 8.

The play consists of material that was compiled and shaped by Crews from actual testimony and writings from women who have served, or are serving, in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Officially, Congress has banned women from serving in combat positions. However, the urban guerrilla warfare in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have made that ban irrelevant, since female soldiers in those countries face the same risks and dangers as anyone else. They carry guns just as the men do, and they are wounded and die. And unlike the men, many also encounter sexual harrassment and abuse, Crews stated, noting that one in three female American soldiers in those countries report sexual trauma.

To add to their difficulties, VA hospitals are not equipped to deal with women who return from the service suffering from that trauma or from post traumatic stress disorder, since officially women don’t serve in combat.

“It’s a humanitarian issue,” Crews said. “I’m fiercely anti-war but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be compassionate to those who are coming back.”

The play will be performed by six women and two men who are Wright State University theater arts students. The production has already been performed at the Wright State experimental theater space.

Using students from Wright State, where Crews teaches in the theatre arts program, illustrates an additional goal for the Yellow Springs Theatre Project, that of promoting collaboration between local actors and playwrights, and those from Wright State. The two entities are both full of creative talent, and could benefit from joining together, Crews believes.

She also hopes that YSTP provides creative opportunities for local playwrights, so that writers and directors, as well as actors, can find a local audience for their work.

The play 20% will also be performed this summer at the July Chatauqua, which will be sponsored by the Yellow Springs Arts Council. The YSTP will rotate that production with “Rose Johnny,” a staged reading of a Barbara Kingsolver short story.

Having worked in San Francisco with Word for Word, a company that specializes in staged readings of short stories, Crews is also excited to bring that means of experiencing literature to the village.

“This is a very literary town,” she said.

Crews has been working in the theater since she went to high school in Baltimore. She studied theater in San Francisco for several years, and went on to teach at San Francisco State University. The city was a hotbed of new theatrical experiences, she said.

“If you want to be a theater artist, San Francisco was the place to be,” Crews said. “There’s a lot of risk-taking.”

Crews then took a job at Florida State, where she met her husband, Byron Crews, who was introduced to her when she needed a musician for a project. Their creative collaboration continues to this day, and is a vital part of their marriage, Crews said. Byron, a guitarist who plays in Dr. Skillet, will provide music for the project’s initial productions.

Her job at Wright State brought the couple to Yellow Springs, where they have raised their son, Henry, and where Byron now teaches playwrighting at Wright State. Joining the family business, Henry will be assistant lighting director at this weekend’s performance. Elias Mulhall will serve as lighting director and Jasmine Batchelor is assistant director.

Crews encourages local actors, playwrights and directors who want to be a part of the Yellow Springs Theatre Project to contact her at sandra.crews@wright.edu . She has no doubt that the town offers enough creative people to keep the project lively.

“To me, Yellow Springs is the expatriate artists from the city,” she said. “We wanted to get away from the city but we still want to do exciting work. We need a venue for that.”

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