Ellicia Elliott believes in the power of theater arts.
The artistic director of The Rude Mechanicals said she has seen live theater change people.
It can “help us be better, kinder human beings if we take time to watch and learn from it,” she said.
But sometimes people can’t access or relate to productions. Tickets are too expensive. Or they can’t find anyone on stage to identify with.
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Elliott hopes to change that. She’s going through a new facilitator training program aimed at increasing inclusiveness, equity and diversity in theater arts.
The program, called artEquity, is through the famed Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.
It includes web sessions and two in-person retreats in Ashland. Elliott recently took part in the first retreat; another is planned in October.
Before she left for the first session, she talked about her excitement. She’s one of about 35 theater artists from across the country participating, with others coming from programs such as Yale University School of Drama and the La Jolla Playhouse.
Elliott was the only person chosen from Washington.
“Hopefully, I can come back with information to help our community,” she said. “I want to make sure the performing arts are accessible to everyone in our (area).”
A $145,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is supporting the program.
Participants are set to “explore core competencies needed to facilitate diversity and inclusion issues on an interpersonal, group and organizational level,” a news release said, adding that sessions will address issues of identity, privilege, structural power and ally-building.
The participants also will experience plays and attend seminars “that connect theory with practice, addressing issues such as color-conscious casting, gender diversity, accessibility, audience engagement and other topics that inform equity-based theatre making,” the release said.
Bill Rauch, Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s artistic director, said he is proud that the festival is playing host to the program.
“As a field, we must be better equipped to have the difficult, necessary and joyful conversations that are part of a commitment to true equity,” he said in a statement.
Carmen Morgan, who started and directs the program, added that, “Our goal is to give participants tools and resources to explore where they have personal agency and how they can continue to use art to transform and confront structural and systemic barriers.”
Elliott attended Kennewick High School, graduating in 1998. She went to Central Washington University and holds a master’s degree in theater production.
She has taught theater for years, including a long tenure at Richland High School.
She recently helped start The Rude Mechanicals, a local theater company dedicated to Shakespeare and Shakespeare-inspired works.
Its next production is Othello, to open in January at the Uptown Theatre in Richland. Auditions are in October.
Elliott said the performing arts help people connect. Even centuries ago, people told stories to enlighten and entertain.
“When theater is done correctly, we’re kind of going back in time to when we all sat around the campfire sharing stories. But now we’re all in this theater sharing this experience,” she told the Herald. “It’s something very special.”