Arts preview: Columbus Voices

Jim Fischer

Start off not knowing what you're doing, and end up with a cool, creative community connectivity project.

The Columbus Voices Workshop, a series of audience-engaging performances, is underway and likely coming to a neighborhood location near you between now and Nov. 30. Matt Slaybaugh of Available Light Theatre, where the concept started, isn't even calling them performances, but rather workshops. The Columbus Voices Workshop will be presented 17 times at 16 different small venues inside the I-270 ring in the coming weeks.

"For two hours, eight actors will present a series of short scenes and monologues mixed in with participatory activities designed to get audience members to interact, to talk with the people seated around them," Slaybaugh said.

The scenes and monologues are based on interviews conducted by Available Light with Columbus residents over the past year, part of a successful Kickstarter project.

"We wanted to make a show about Columbus, and we were up front that we didn't know exactly what that meant," Slaybaugh said. "We interviewed and talked to as many people around the city as we could. And in listening, we heard stories and gained content."

What they learned was two-fold. First, that Columbus is very supportive to a variety of communities, from the arts and African-American families to the LGBTQ community and a variety of other ethnic, cultural and economic groups; and second, that members of those groups often feel isolated.

"People felt supported but not connected," Slaybaugh said. "So while there are a lot of things that are great about Columbus, where we're building this amazing city for all these cool people to come and do great things, we're segmented. It's a paradox."

Paradox being an effective dramatic device, this proved of interest to Available Light. But team members wanted to take it further.

"We asked ourselves, 'What can we do, on a micro level, to help connect people?'" Slaybaugh said. "We can't change the city, the culture, but we can do these neat events for people to … hear stories from their neighbors in their communities and from other parts of the city.

"We will share stories gathered from our interviews, but it's also about getting audiences to talk to us and to each other, so people maybe feel like they know other people in the audience when it's over."

The Columbus Voices Workshop

Through Nov. 30

Various locations