“One of the things theater does,” says Noël Raymond, “is create that space that can connect people emotionally in ways that sometimes you can’t even verbalize. I feel like that’s what we need. We need to feel connected.”
Raymond, one of two artistic directors at Pillsbury House Theatre, is directing She Persists: The Great Divide III. The anthology of five short plays is the third installment in an annual series that began in 2017.
“When the 2016 election happened,” Raymond remembers, “we talked about, ‘What could our response be?’” Inspired by the 10-minute plays that came out of the theater’s Chicago Avenue Project, Pillsbury House decided to ask five different playwrights to create work “based on their perception of what this election has revealed.”
The shows sold out. “It was so successful,” says Raymond. “A great way to use art is to think about and talk about those issues. We decided to keep doing it for all four years of this administration.”
Audrey Park, who returns as part of the She Persists ensemble, is the only actor to have participated in all three iterations of The Great Divide. “We’ve had some pretty interesting conversations during the talkbacks,” she recalls. “Those might even be the things that stick out more than the performance.”
Despite the series’ title, these plays aren’t debates. While some after-show discussion has focused on how to bridge the red-blue divide, says Raymond, a primary purpose is to help community members process today’s reality and support one another.
“Some of the reasons to continue doing this is just that it’s so traumatic for so many people, with what’s happening,” Raymond says. “How do we let the political debate happen, on one layer of things, but really take care of the human beings who are most vulnerable and most impacted by the things that are happening?”
This year’s plays will explore the experiences of women in 2019, and into an imagined future. The first play, Aamera Siddiqui’s I Voted, says Raymond, is set in a “dystopian future where things are really on the line. It’s issues of voter suppression, and what would happen if some of the things we’re seeing have gone even further.”
Playwright Cristina Florencia Castro’s contribution takes place in the suburbs, says Raymond, with a teacher “who’s an immigrant and has wanted to teach an all-women Spanish class. That one is very comical, but also painful.”
“This is the second time I’ve been in a production that features all women,” says Park. “That, in itself, is a powerful feeling. The energy in the room is quite different.”
Pillsbury House Theatre
3501 Chicago Ave. S., Minneapolis
612-825-0459; through March 24