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Theater on the Go: Turning the Green Line into a Mobile Stage

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Theater-goers don't typically have to hop on the train to catch the next scene of their play, but for Green Line Theater they may have to do just that.

This Saturday, community-engaged theater artist Ashley Hanson, photographer Wing Young Huie, and playwright Jessica Huang are turning the Green Line into a mobile stage for the final part of Minnesota Museum of American Art's month-long exhibit "From There to Here."

Green Line Theater will take place at five stops along the Central Corridor, starting at Raymond Avenue and ending at the MMAA Project Space in downtown St. Paul. The play is free for the first 150 registrants, thanks to co-sponsorship from Metro Transit, but any additional viewers will need to buy a $1.75 Metro ticket to ride the light rail. Springboard for the Arts, the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent, and the African Development Center also contributed to the creation of the exhibit.

"I'm really interested in getting people outside of the traditional theater box," Hanson says. "We come, we sit in a dark room, and we just let the actors do the work. I'm interested in getting people to engage with each other, and to have conversations in between scenes."

Hanson has been specializing in mobile theaters since 2012. Since then, audience members have walked, canoed, biked, and rode the city bus to watch some of the plays Hanson has directed and helped create.

Moving the audience around gives them more time to process what they've watched, she says, and also turns them into active participants. In between scenes, the people can interact and connect with one another and even the actors, and they can choose their own level of involvement.

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"It's a more three-dimensional experience for the audience," she says. "You have this person next to you, you have the weather. You have the smells, you have the sounds. It's just a more dynamic way to experience the story."

The stories being told also happened where the play is taking place, so there's a historical element to it, too.

The "From There to Here" exhibit explores the ways that public transportation intersects with the community it serves, and Green Line Theater focuses on the history, art, and culture found along the Central Corridor. "It's a play between the past, the present, and the future on the spots where the stories occurred," Hanson says. "It's really a fascinating way to connect the stories and to tell stories and to experience stories."

The play is part of a movement called "social practice." The movement, also called "applied theater," revolves around the idea of using art to build community.

Green Line Theater is the fourth project that Huie and Hanson have teamed up on. They first paired up in 2009 for Huie's expansive University Avenue Project where he photographed the community along the Central Corridor and displayed the photographs along a six-mile stretch of the road.

Last year, Hanson and Huie turned a series of bus rides into a community theater performance, where actors performed a play at four bus stops and also asked the riders to contribute to the conversation by talking about their own communities.

"We went the length of maybe a mile, two miles," Huie says. "Basically, they turned the bus into an impromptu community meeting."

For Green Line Theater, they spent two months researching the history of the neighborhoods and collecting interviews from the residents, and they used those testimonials and information to write the plays and create the exhibit at the end of the ride.

Before the Green Line was built, many residents along University were concerned over how the train would disrupt their communities, and there's still folks whose businesses are struggling after its construction. Hansen hopes the play will help address some of those issues and maybe even get people excited to ride the line.

"I wouldn't go as far as to say that we hope that this play or this process is healing," she says. "Just that it could be part of the healing process."

At the final stop, playgoers will be ushered to an exhibit where Huie's photographs are on display. There, the participants can look at pictures of community members holding up their own Green Line memories and beliefs written on a chalkboard. The audience can then write their own thoughts on a chalkboard, get photographed, and become part of the slideshow themselves.

The issues surrounding the Green Line are complicated, controversial, and have affected a lot of people, Huie says, and their project isn't trying to decide whether building the line was a good or bad thing. "In a way, it's not just about the Green Line," he says. "It's about the neighborhoods."

IF YOU GO:

Green Line Theater

1 p.m. Saturday, October 18

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Free up to 150 attendants, plus $1.75 for a Metro ticket

Event starts at the parking lot at 2314 University Avenue West in St. Paul, and ends at the MMAA Project Space at 141 East Fourth Street in St. Paul.