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From the Twentieth Anniversary Report November 2004
4. EcoTheater and Community Awakenment
We discovered EcoTheater through an article written by its founder, Maryat Lee, in a 1984 issue of CoEvolution Quarterly. Her idea of theater as a mirror and a window for seeing one’s own home was captivating. (Eco = Home, Theater = a place for seeing) She had come upon the method which she later termed EcoTheater in 1951 in Harlem, when, as a student at Union Theological Seminary (and coincidentally, of Paul Tillich), she created a play called “Dope!” from interviews with residents and using local non-actors. Performed on the streets for thousands (many on fire escapes), it was featured on the front page of Variety and in Life magazine. Lee went on to develop SALT (Soul and Latin Theater) in the 60s, which played in New York City streets from a hay wagon. In the 70s Lee returned to her native Appalachia and directed a number of productions featuring the life of the people there. By 1984, Lee had incorporated EcoTheater and was beginning to teach others to be playwright/directors and to use her method of showing local people how real, significant, and precious their life experiences are.
Joyce was fortunate to do the full training (6 week-long workshops) with Lee before her death in 1989. Since that time Joyce has led a number of workshops (locally & continentally) to train others to be playwright/directors and has also directed local performing troupes in Dallas and Bonham. The troupes have performed at churches, in parks, and in various settings about the North Texas area, as well as across the continent at bioregional meetings. Entire evenings of dinner theater have been conducted in Bonham and Celina, Texas. Audiences of EcoTheater are moved to laughter and to tears. The aim of an EcoTheater performance is to create moments when we realize our connectedness with each other and with our home place, and thus experience our common humanity.
The performer's task is to allow the truth of his/her own being to be revealed through the role. Rather than preSENT, we make PREsent the life of a place. There is a be-here-now quality that is like Buddhism. And, like Bible stories, these simple dramas occasion moments of Awe.