Living Stage Theatre Company

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Living Stage Theatre Company was the preeminent theatre for social change founded in 1966 by Robert A. Alexander (1929-2008). He served as the Artistic Director until 1995. Located in Washington, D.C., this professional improvisational theater offered participatory and exhilarating workshops to children, youth, teachers, parents, and community members. Living Stage’s main philosophy is based in the belief that every one is born an artist and the act of creation is the ultimate act of self-affirmation. The company's mission was to transform individuals and communities through creative empowerment. The Living Stage dissolved after 36 years and was a venture of Arena Stage.[1]


In order to accomplish this mission, the theatre company created a laboratory in which the workshop participants/audience can experience a transformation by rehearsing for life. Theater as an instrument of art engages the body, the mind and the spirit of the artist and the participants/audience.

The ensemble of artist/educators use improvisation because it is spontaneous. The content of the artwork created arises from the issues and concerns for the participants/audience. The audience becomes creators in the work thus affirming and empowering the self.

The entire performance/workshop is considered a work of art. Every creation, movement and sound is a "performance for the gods" as Tadashi Suzuki [1] has stated. Any creation can be integrated into and transform lives.

Performance Style[edit]

A typical performance consists of many creative forms and broken into three basic sections. Yet, since the artwork is improvisational the structure could change at any time based on the demand of the participants/audience.

The Jam[edit]

Before a performance/workshop begins the actors create a musical "jam" or hook. Using musical instruments and voices, a chorus is created based on themes inspired by the group that is coming to the performance that day. The audience is greeted by this jam and is asked to sing along and/or play musical instruments - drums, claves, tambourines. Improvisational lyrics, poetry and dancing usually ensued. The audience is invited to participate and create their own verses.

The Performance[edit]

After the jam, a transition begins an improvised theater piece performed by the actors. The piece involves poetry, music, movement and song. The theme of the scene is vital to the particular audience that is participating. The action of the scene is frozen at a critical point, where the main character has to make a decision. The audience is asked to give endings to the scene. An actor who is facilitating the day's activities either chooses one ending or puts several together and the actors play it out. Sometimes audience members play one or more of the roles in the ending.

The Workshop[edit]

The performance is followed by an experiential workshop session in which the audience participants are engaged in a range of artistic expression. Including movement, creation of characters, scenes, theatre games and open play environments. The Environment is the most important element of the workshop. Each participant becomes a character and interacts in an imaginary situation. Conflicts are introduced and the group is challenged to make choices about how to respond. The actors stimulate the participants by creating relationships, playing integral characters to aid in deepening their play experience.

Another member of the company Jennifer Nelson is the co-founder of The Mosaic Theater Company in Washington, DC.

Another member of the company, Susan Franklin Tanner, is the founder and artistic director of TheatreWorkers Project (TWP)Inspired by Tanner's 6 year affiliation with Living Stage and her mentor Bob Alexander, the Los Angeles county-based company was launched in 1983 through funding by the California Arts Council. [2] that made it possible for Tanner and collaborating artists to create theatre with unemployed steelworkers from southeast LA.

TWP is dedicated to providing opportunities for working people, the unemployed and youth to tell their stories through theatre by creating and presenting performance pieces about historical and current social and political issues, and transforming the classics, making them accessible to all ages.


  1. ^ "Part 3". Performing Democracy: International Perspectives on Urban Community-Based Performance. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press. 2001. pp. 269–280.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)

External links[edit]

  • A promotional video shows the company in during the late 1970s, working with children, the elderly, teens, as well as, men and women in prison in the Washington, DC area. Another promotional video was made in the late 1990s.
  • The documentary Walk With Me about three women who use theater for social justice features Rebecca Rice, one of the founding members of the company.