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On Friday, May 1 and Saturday, May 2, history will be made at the Cape Fear Regional Theatre when DOWNRANGE Voices from the Homefront is read on the theatre’s stage. The play, written by Mike Wiley, is the first original play commissioned by the CFRT in its 53-year history.

DOWNRANGE: Voices from the Homefront began as an outreach program by the theatre to reach out to one of its most underserved communities: the military. Putting an emphasis on embracing the military as a central part of the community, was one of the major goals for Tom Quaintance, the theatre’s artistic director. When Quaintance interviewed for the job at the CFRT, he was asked to name the greatest challenge facing the theatre. His response was, “You are underserving the your community.”

Quaintance quickly learned that a large part of that community was comprised of military families, many of whom were separated by ongoing deployments. He heard stories from these families. Stories he has referred to as “stories of bravery, of community, of heartbreak and joy, of the everyday and the extraordinary.” He knew this was a story that needed to be told.

The theatre looked for and found funding for that project through the Audience (R)Evolution grant, a four-stage program to study, promote and support successful audience engagement and community development models across the country. The Audience (R)Evolution grant program was designed by the Theatre Communications Group, or TCG, and is funded by the Doris Duke Foundation. The grant gave the theatre the means to refocus its community engagement model to put the military center stage.

DOWNRANGE has been a year in the making, beginning with the collaboration with Wylie, whose acclaimed play The Parchman Hour: Songs and Stories of 1961 Freedom Riders, wowed CFRT audiences, as well as audiences in Chapel Hill, where it premiered. Another key partner in creating the show is Hidden Voices, a Chapel Hill-based nonprofit, that has been collaborating with underrepresented communities since 2003. The group’s mission statement, “To challenge, strengthen and connect our diverse communities through the transformative power of the individual voice,” meshed with Quaintance’s vision. Wiley, along with theatre volunteers,  volunteers from the military community and members of Hidden Voices, began the story telling process by first listening to the stories of those who have been impacted by the deployments: military spouses. The grant paid for the workshops, childcare for participants, community outreach, the commission of the work and the staged reading.

Downrange: Voices from the Homefront focuses on the families of deployed military men and women, and will develop a piece of documentary theatre, the staged reading and a visual art installation, which is designed to give the participants a non-verbal mode of storytelling. 

The stories collected through the workshops have been woven into a play that is moving, funny and inspiring by Wiley. 

Immediately following the reading, a talk-back session is planned to allow the audience to discuss the play and to ensure that the theatre is on the right track moving forward to a full production in the 2015-2016 season. 

Quaintance noted, “It is one of the largest projects we have ever undertaken, and I’m excited, and energized and terrified. I feel a tremendous responsibility to do the stories of these men and women justice.”

For tickets and information, visit www.cfrt.org.

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