Patti Gartland, GSDC President
My husband and I have always been ardent fans of live theatre. After all, it was on a high school stage that we first met. “Brigadoon” and “Guys and Dolls” were the productions that first brought us together. So it was particularly fitting for us to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary this past weekend by attending the Guys and Dolls production at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis.
We’re also big fans of our local provider of live theatre, GREAT Theatre. Founded in 1998, their mission and vision is to bring the community together through shared theatre experiences and provide access to the transformative power of the arts. And they do so incredibly well.
Within the GREAT World Headquarters facility located in Waite Park, you’ll find the Helgeson Learning Lab Theatre. Their website describes this jewel within a jewel as a space “to create an adventurous range of bold, diverse and unique theatrical experiences where the stories of our community can be shared”. And that it does! More than 30 events, including GSDC’s all-investor and innovation awards gathering in late 2018, have been hosted by GREAT Theatre at the Helgeson Learning Lab in its first two years.
I had the good fortune of attending the most recent event hosted in the Helgeson Learning Lab Theatre on July 18 and 19. It was a PLAYlab production done in partnership with the Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project: Birds Sing Differently Here. Wow. It was demonstrative of the power and beauty in the art of storytelling. And it captured the attention and applause of American Theatre magazine who titled the article “Birds Sing Differently Here: Bringing Hope to Minnesota”. The article aptly notes that the production “creates a more truthful narrative about refugees and immigrants”. If you haven’t read the article yet, you’ll find it (here).
Experiencing this performance also surfaced a treasured memory for me of the story told to me and my siblings by our dad. And it’s the story that was told to him by his dad. It’s the story of my grandfather’s immigration journey to the US from Sweden in 1901 at the age of 20. It’s a fascinating story of a rebellious young man born into the impoverished trappings of family farming in Sweden. His future on the family farm was clear. But it was also not acceptable to him. So he made his plan. Only his sister knew of his plan but she was sworn to secrecy. He landed a job on a merchant ship bound for America. And when they arrived in Hoboken, New Jersey, he left the ship and never returned. He instead made his way to Grove City, MN intent on making a new life for himself. He was only able to re-establish contact with his family seven years later when a new King offered amnesty to all who had fled Sweden.
What resonates for me from these stories is that the life and liberties that I enjoy today are rooted in the actions of a courageous and rebellious young man in search of a better life – my grandfather, an immigrant. And then I look across our community into the faces of our many new neighbors who are in search of the very same thing – a better life. And I want that for them too.
We are one community. All are welcome. Let it be so.
Important Calendar Reminders (with links):
Monday, September 9, noon – 1 pm, Boys & Girls Club’s CareerSTART program launch and/or contact Mary Swingle, firstname.lastname@example.org