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Jan. 28, 2013

Play about ‘Urbandale’ melds art, activism and community

At 7 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 1, the premiere performance of "Urbandale: A place, a people, a story" will take place at Michigan State University’s Residential College in the Arts and Humanities Theater.

A year in the making, the play is about the character and significance of the Urbandale community, an eight-square block neighborhood bounded by East Kalamazoo Street on the north, I-496 on the south, I-127 to the east and South Clemens Avenue to the west.

"Although this play is specifically about Urbandale, the issues and characters portrayed here are familiar to neighborhoods across the country," said Anita Skeen, director of the RCAH Center for Poetry.

To research and create the play's script, RCAH students incorporated interviews, newspaper articles, photographs, ongoing dialog with Urbandale residents and other historic and contemporary materials.

"This project is a marvelous example of the intersection of art and activism. We learned about real people and real social issues and how to represent them in a dramatic performance," said RCAH professor Laura DeLind.

The development of "Urbandale: A place, a people, a story" is part of Hearing Voices, a project focused on the art and application of story and storytelling, funded in part by a grant from the Michigan Humanities Council.

With the direction of two RCAH faculty members – Laura DeLind, anthropologist, and Anita Skeen, poet – and with the assistance of Kate Snodgrass, award-winning director of Boston Playwright's Theatre, RCAH students created scenes, developed characters and crafted dialogue that  represent the people and geography of Urbandale.

Jenny Crakes, RCAH sophomore, reflected on the experience, saying, “We hope that we were able to express the beauty of Urbandale and the changes and complexities in the lives of its residents, whose history has been shaped by the Red Cedar River, long-standing houses, and community gardens."

"Urbandale: A place, a people, a story" will be performed twice, once on Feb. 1 and once on Feb. 8 at Foster Community Center in Lansing's Eastside neighborhood. An audience discussion will follow each performance. Both performances are free and open to the public.