Building bridges

Sinclair theatre program performs collaborative, Dayton-focused show

By Tammy Newsom

Photo: Sinclair Theatre presents “Building Bridges in Our Town” May 29-30; photo: Patti Celek

One never knows where the next really big idea comes from. Gary Minyard, vice president of education & engagement at The Victoria Theatre Association (VTA) wanted to improve literacy in Dayton and get kids to read. That’s a really big idea.

So he started a project where students and theatre professionals united to learn about their craft, their character and their town. The project became a play, “Building Bridges in Our Town,” which will be performed by Sinclair Community College students May 29 and 30.

“I was interested in doing [a] large, citywide project in January 2014,” Minyard says. “This project combines stories, written and performed by Sinclair theatre students, about their experiences living in Dayton. The project came from a seminal piece of literature, and an attempt to rework and reinvent the script, specific to modern day Dayton.”

Bridges were used figuratively and literally, to purposefully source material and to encapsulate the theme of building bridges in Dayton.

“The unique idea of tying the many bridges leading into Dayton as a symbol of uniting our community began to take place,” he recalls.

The first bridge built was the collaboration between education departments from the VTA to Sinclair’s theater program. Minyard sought collaboration with Sinclair’s theater department with the intent of building a bridge between the two theater communities using devised theater – a form of theater where the script usually originates from improvisation and collaboration, but not necessarily from the performers.

They just needed a jumping off point.

The drama chosen for the collaboration was playwright Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “Our Town,” and his novel, “The Bridge of San Luis Rey.” “Our Town” is a three-act play, set in the small town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, between 1901 and 1913, as told through the lives of its citizens. The play is traditionally performed with minimalist sets and with dry, unsentimental delivery. The business of the script provided a perfect starting point for the collaborative student writing. Minyard continued with the play’s classic three themes, corresponding with each act: Daily Life; Love and Marriage; and Death and Dying. The combined themes from “Our Town” and “Bridge of San Luis Rey” influenced the “Building Bridges” script in that it has incorporated characters from the past, the present and a hopeful future set in Dayton.

“We are excited that they started with nothing and put something together,” Minyard says. “When you devise, you use the creativity in the room to shape the show.”

“Most interesting was the pure, raw, honest reflections through the ten cast members,” says Gina Handy, artistic director of the Magnolia Theater Company, “where Dayton is, in their eyes.” Handy is an actor/singer/teaching artist and writer. She culled the students’ script from a culmination of all the students’ writing, beginning from the summer of 2014 through January 2015. Handy’s role was to provide the students with writing props for inspiration.

“It was a fascinating process for Gary and everyone involved,” she remembers.

“The writing phase began using many exercises and field trips, taking the students’ initial ideas to hone the story down to what they wanted to talk about,” Handy says. “In many ways the story turned into an exploration of humanity, and what that means from those students’ point of view.” The students covered topics from relationships, to school, to life. The themes of daily life, love and marriage, and death and dying continued throughout the piece, and were played out with slight variation, directly related to their lives in Dayton, or other hometowns.

For example, a body image theme came out of the love track, which was started in Wilder’s second act.

“The students were given a particular writing exercise to do some people watching, and then fill in the dialogue based on what they saw,” Handy says. “One story involved two people meeting on in an Internet dating situation, in which one of them was bigger. The complete characterization added to the script and invoked body language and dialogue. This was taken from the idea of love, and falling in love and going on dates.”

Auditions for “Building Bridges in Our Town” were first held in May 2014, and the writing began in six week sessions over the summer, and twice a week in the fall.

“Hearing a play out loud as it is meant to be written is so important,” Handy says. “Once we started gathering the writing and putting it together and put on a page, we found things that didn’t flow or were missing and were able to flesh out.”

The Sinclair Devised Theater Project was sponsored in part by The Dayton Power & Light Company and Sinclair’s Diversity Grant.

Sinclair Theatre will present “Building Bridges in Our Town” Friday and Saturday, May 29-30 at 8 p.m. in Blair Hall Theatre, Building 2 on the downtown Dayton campus, 444 West Third St. Writers and cast include: Shaun Diggs, David Brandt, Woody Hieb, Sara Sadri-Lobani, Jesse MaGill, Ashlee Ferrell, Jessica Zula, Kira Miller, Austin DeVaughn and Erin Waldon. Tickets are general admission and cost $8 in advance and $10 at the door. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit

Reach DCP freelance writer Tammy Newsom at

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