Modern Production Emphasizes the Importance of Family
June 30th marks the presentation of the production Henry and Lillie: Fabric of a Family, thanks to partial funding by an Arts Build Communities grant from the Kentucky Arts Council. The Arts Build Communities program is designed to encourage partnerships that have the specific purpose of using art to contribute to the community through cultural, social, educational and economic growth.
Fabric of a Family is a unique performance art piece that incorporates many different elements of theater, art and community involvement to illustrate the essence of a family. The piece was written and produced by Joy Carden, who characterizes it as a multimedia production. “That’s the best way to describe it really, it’s not a play, it’s not a concert, but it does involve music, dance, drama, an art installation, mixed visual media along with audience participation,” says Carden.
Audiences can anticipate two things, an unconventional production style and a touching message. The style, Carden shares, came to her in 1983 when reading an article about an arts event that sparked her interest. “The orchestra was on the stage rather than in the orchestra pit,” she remembers “and the focus was not simply on the actors, but on everything.” The concept stuck with her for a long time although it had lacked a focus for a production of her own. 18 years later, during the events of 9/11, two of her five children had families living in the New York area. Emotions ran high and she along with the rest of the country turned their focus to the security of family. That was the catalyst for Carden’s decision to create a production focusing on the importance of family.
Carden’s script was somewhat autobiographical including personal highlights of her parents, Henry and Lillie, but with the key concept being ‘the family’ rather than ‘her family.’ Once the project began to take shape, she shared the script with director Joseph Lloyd. “It was very timely for me. I had just experienced birth of my first child and was moved by the genuineness and sincerity of Joy Carden who was so proud of her family and heritage that she wanted to make it a stage production. I bought in emotionally,” explained Lloyd.
Music takes on a powerful stage presence in this production, expressing the complex highs and lows that a family shares during their time together. Composers, Susan and Jim Ogilvy, Tom Carden, Larry Keenan, use the musical variety of pop, lullabies, techno, rap, classics, patriotic numbers and contemporary styles to represent the blending of life experiences throughout the production.
Last year, Fabric of a Family partnered with the University of Kentucky’s Singletary Center for the Arts to present the work in progress. “The least that an artist can do is to get an emotive response from a viewer and we were really successful in that last year,” described Lloyd. “It was a modest production, but those in attendance had a very sincere response.”
Carden values the concept of developing her message not only by observation, but also by audience participation and in some instances community participation. She connected with Stephen Casals, Manager of Special Programming at Minds Wide Open, an art center for developmentally disabled members of the community operated by Arc of the Bluegrass Inc. Towards the end of the production there was a scene, centering on Christmas, for which the Minds Wide Open artists were asked to make ornaments. “This was the perfect scene to include them in,” says Casals. “Christmas is a big issue around here because a lot of them don’t really have a family.” In that sense, they have become each other’s family.
Casals recalled when the time came, one woman stood back while others were walking past her up the stairs to the stage. “She said, ‘I can’t do it Steve.’ I said, ‘here, stand next to me and after everyone else goes we can hold hands and go up together.’ She said ‘No, I can do it.’ She was overcome by the audience, but got over it. Once on stage a lot of people hugged each other because it’s intimidating to be up there.” It was obvious they were beaming during their participation and it was an emotional moment for the whole audience. The artists from Minds Wide Open will be returning for this year’s presentation.
Like a family, Carden’s story has grown by developing more and stronger partnerships since it’s initial presentation. Five new scenes have been added providing more insight to the family, one of which is a military affiliated scene where veterans and the university’s ROTC have been invited to be on stage and participate. The production has also joined with church groups for promotion and local family-oriented businesses to provide a spirited marketplace outside the theatre before and after the presentation.
When the idea first came about, Carden says that Fabric of a Family was “just a dream, it was just a little dot in my brain and I had no money, no support or sponsors.” Since then she has made partnerships that afforded her the money and support that she needed to share her artistic dream with her community.
Fabric of a Family will be at the Singletary Center for the Arts on Thursday, June 30th at 8PM with the marketplace starting at 7PM. For tickets visit www.uky.edu/scfa or call the University of Kentucky Singletary Center for the Arts Office at (859) 257-4929. Additional information on the production can be found on their website at www.fabricofafamily.org or email Joy Carden at email@example.com.
For further information about other Arts Build Community grant projects funded through the Kentucky Arts Council contract artists contact Community Arts Program Director Amber Luallen toll free at (888) 833-2287 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- ### -
The Kentucky Arts Council is a state agency in the Commerce Cabinet. Working in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, the Arts Council invests in programs that develop vibrant communities, provide lifelong education in the arts and support arts participation. Every $1 in grant funds awarded by the Kentucky Arts Council helps grantees secure $15 in earned income and matching funds from individuals, philanthropic sources and other levels of government.