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February 08, 2013

Speaker Announcement: Bruce Livingston, Playing With the Edge
Category: 2013 Event, News, Speaker Announcements

Bruce Livingston

The edge is where the best stuff comes from. Creative people drive themselves towards it, sometimes out of desperation, hoping to find something worth bringing back to the world. But getting there is difficult, and even the most gifted of us need a push now and then. A mentor, a coach—someone who cares. Such people encourage us, giving us the motivation to push on and keep going. They force us to figure things out for ourselves, but they also make sure we don’t give up.

Since 2003, Bruce Livingston and the staff, coaches, and creatives at PlayWrite Inc. have been collaborating with “youth at the edge.” The phrase itself represents a number of experiences, but at its heart is the idea of possibility. Though participants arrived at “the edge” after being at-risk, underprivileged , underserved, or out-of-place, they learn how to creatively reflect their experiences, and the results, by all accounts, are transformative. Participants leave knowing more about themselves and their potential to create something beautiful.

Beauty, however, doesn’t come easily. The PlayWrite Inc. experience consists of a three week workshop that begins with a lot of writing. Though participants craft characters and narratives that eventually come to life on the stage, they begin by learning to be honest and vulnerable. Coaches work one-on-one with students, challenging them to explore their characters as well as their own experiences and beliefs. They’re pushed to understand each character’s point of view and to think carefully about each character’s hopes, dreams, and fears. The process is difficult and emotional. Creating honest art exposes you, and many participants have spent years building up defenses against such things. What the coaches and staff provide, however, is a respectful space in which to work, create, and grow.

Seeing their plays rehearsed and acted out also helps the budding playwrights. By the third week, the writers have become directors. They direct actors who give a professional reading, reciting lines the writers wrote and taking the characters seriously. By the time performance day arrives, the writers have seen a once loosely held idea become a fully realized work of art.

The PlayWrite experience is a concentrated burst of focus and creativity, yet the playwrights quickly learn to slow down and pay attention to the nuances and rhythms that are vital to understanding characters. Such details are easy to gloss over in our daily lives, but for founder Bruce Livingston the process of slowing down brought about a realization.

Sixteen years ago, Bruce was asked to interview a young girl named Spree, then write a play about her, but he was struck by the interview itself.

“Spree and I talked for a couple of hours, sitting in a pew in a church in North Portland. Shy at first, we gradually got comfortable with each other, and shared stories of our lives. I found myself listening deeply, attending to the prosody of her voice, her body language. I had never really listened to a child before—not in such a fully present way. Although I didn’t figure it out at the time, Spree opened my mind and I’m eternally grateful. She set me on a path that I’ve been exploring ever since.”

Bruce has always been interested in exploring new paths. He worked as an anthropologist for a number of years in Iran, he worked in the French culinary world, he’s watched a grey whale’s eye absorbing him from a kayak’s length away, and he knows what it feels like to reach terminal velocity as a skydiver.

“No straight trajectory for me, more like a pinball bouncing from one fascination to another.”

It’s clear that right now Bruce is fascinated with the power of loving and healing members of our community through art. On March 23rd, come hear him speak about all of the wonderful work that comes out of the edge.

Sean Wheaton

Sean Wheaton is a teacher and writer who lives in Portland, OR. He’s a lover of ideas both big and small, and he is thrilled to be a part of this year’s TEDxConcordiaUPortland planning team. He’s one of several storytellers who will be sharing write-ups, interviews, and perspectives on the many extraordinary people from our surrounding community.