Marquee Dinner Spotlight on Brey Ann Barrett | Theatre Philadelphia
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Marquee Dinner Spotlight on Brey Ann Barrett

Mar 4, 2019

On March 11th, Theatre Philadelphia will host the 2019 Marquee Dinner, honoring Gene Dilks and the Virginia Brown Martin Fund of the Philadelphia Foundation. This spotlight shares some background on the key artists who address social change through theatre.

Meet Brey Ann Barrett: freelance director/dramaturg/producer, who worked with Theatre Exile during several of their Brown Martin Philadelphia Award Barrymore nominations.

What makes you choose Philadelphia as your artistic home? What about the city inspires your work?

Philadelphia is unyielding in its determination and city pride. I am beyond inspired by this city; I am persuaded to participate. I haven’t met a person who doesn’t completely let Philly into their hearts. Nobody ever seems to look at a challenge as impossible to overcome. Instead, they go at it with a tenacity that can be seen as quixotic but is actually very deeply progressive. 

Are there particular issues, causes, or organizations you are passionate about supporting, either as an individual or as an artist?

There are so many great organizations committed to social justice. I am moved by and support the work around many issues, including public education reform, wage equity, and mass liberation/prison reform. The main issue that has captured my attention is political education. I want people to have more confidence regarding their understanding of the political ecosystem and what their role is in shaping it. I really believe that the cynicism around politics can be traced to people not having clarity on their power in the system. There is a lot of purposeful confusion and undermining of the everyday citizen's ability to take power. More people deserve to know that their voice and vote matter and that they can run for certain offices or actively be a part of policy-making. 

Why do you feel theatre is a powerful forum to shed light on social just issues?

I think that you can find a social justice issue in nearly every story that is shared. When I was a senior in high school, I was fortunate enough to see Elie Wiesel give a talk. In it, he stated a phrase that has since been a driver for the work that I seek out: “to listen to a witness, is to become a witness”. In a theatre, or space that presents a story, there is an opportunity for everyone to viscerally experience the lives of the characters. When you feel something with the right amount of visceral exposure, it stirs empathy or sympathy. As you witness these stories, you're slowly becoming a witness yourself. Those emotions lead to questions such as “why did that have to happen to them?”. Then you have a social justice query that can be redirected to “how can that catalyst of trauma or declination have been prevented?”. From there the theatrical experience has inspired people to change the world and prevent another dramatic story of pain to happen in reality. That is what I think theatre has been able to, continues to, and can do. 

Tell us about a project that you are working on now. Where did your idea or inspiration come from?

This is not a theatrical presentation but a supplementary project to productions that I tried out about a year ago and am currently in the process of reconfiguring. It was called “What Now?” And it was some curated legislative research that I would put together and display. The goal is to inspire audiences to consider how civics and policy-making could influence a change of course for the characters in the play they just saw. 

I started considering the creation of a dramaturgical-like project such as this when I was working on The Whale at Theatre Exile. I just kept asking myself what would Charlie’s life be like if he didn’t have to choose between healthcare services for his treatable conditions or saving money to leave his daughter before his increasingly premature death.

Healthcare is a constant legislative issue that gets debated on the floors of historic buildings and under bright lights of television studios. However, Charlie’s story in The Whale, although fiction, is not uncommon and feels deeply personal to people. What would Charlie’s life been like if he felt financially capable to get the mental and physical help that he desperately needed? 

So, I wanted to research the legislation that could benefit the Charlies currently living through these challenges. I am still figuring out the best method for this project but it is still an ongoing effort for me.

Who are the activists and theatre artists inspiring you today?

There are so many! And I am always learning about more. I don’t even know where to start a list like this. However, I will answer this question with a shout out to an awesome organization that I recently found out about, Artist Campaign School. It is a program to train artists and arts administrators to run for office. I think we can all benefit from more artists (and activists) in representational positions. 

What action do you hope theatre audiences will take out in the world after seeing your work?

Any! All I ask is that you don’t leave those stories behind - you are a witness now. The best way to vote in an informed manner. Do the research that you can. Consider the stories you have heard/seen/felt when you vote and civically participate. No matter what, we are all in this together.

Hear more stories like Brey Ann Barrett's and share a meal alongside creators of social justice work at the 2019 Marquee Dinner on March 11th at Panorama Restaurant!