Playwright Lynn Nottage creates performance piece for Reading

     Actor Michael Puzzo performs

    Actor Michael Puzzo performs "This is reading" created by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage. (Annette John-Hall/WHYY)

    Nottage spent two years researching Reading and its people and developed a deep bond for the city that held the dubious distinction as the poorest in the nation.

    “Sweat,” the timely story of displaced factory workers in Reading, won playwright Lynn Nottage a slew of awards and nominations, including the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for drama. 

    Nottage spent two years researching Reading and its people and developed a deep bond for the city that held the dubious distinction as the poorest in the nation.  

    While there, she noticed the city was “very much fractured along racial and economic lines,” she said. “People were quick to pass blame but I found when I came here that people weren’t sitting down and having a meaningful dialogue.”

    Nottage’s idea was to create “This is Reading,” a performance piece that mixes dance, music, acting and film, based on the stories of the people of Reading. And she decided to stage it in an unlikely place — the Franklin Street Train Station in downtown Reading, abandoned for 32 years.

    “We wanted to create a space where people could come in and recognize they all share one narrative,” Nottage said.

    As for occupying the train station? “We wanted to reclaim the space and bring people back into it,” she said.

    this is reading 02

    Audience members wait for “This is Reading performance” at the Franklin Street train station in Reading, Pennsylvania.  (Annette John-Hall/WHYY)

    Photographs of Reading residents were projected onto the outside of the train station while inside, the performance unfolded in six movements — “Reading Was,” “Reading Behind Closed Doors,” “Reading Now,” Reading Soars,” “Reading Speaks” and “Reading Moves.”

    The actors told stories based on interviews Nottage did with residents over the past two years, including some she had conducted over the past three weeks.

    The performance ended with a troupe of energetic young dancers symbolizing a Reading that is on the move. They danced down the aisles of the train station, urging audience members to join them — which they did.

    “I hope they leave feeling more connected to their neighbors, that they recognize them in a deeper way, as opposed to walking past them,”  said the playwright, who has almost completed writing a sequel to “Sweat.”

    Performances continue at the train station this weekend.

     

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