Trustus Theatre to shed light on social justice

Trustus Theatre is Columbia’s go-to place for cutting-edge, live-theater productions, but this week is different.

This week, they’ll be doing more than acting out scenes on stage when the venue hosts the local gathering of The Ghostlight Project’s nationwide effort to shine a light on issues of social justice.

This Thursday evening at 5:30 p.m. – on the eve of the presidential inauguration – the community is invited to join with local theater actors, staff, and arts patrons in the parking lot outside of Trustus. USC’s Department of Theatre and Dance will hold a similar program at the same time at the on-campus Longstreet Theatre.

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Why? According to the national Ghostlight Project’s website, this event is intended to “create a ‘light’ for dark times ahead, and to make or renew a pledge to stand for and protect the values of inclusion, participation, and compassion for everyone regardless of race, class, religion, country of origin, immigration status, (dis)ability, age, gender identity, or sexual orientation.”

That’s a pretty ambitious mission statement, but Trustus Artistic Director Chad Henderson said the point is to gather and interact in a welcoming environment.

“This isn’t a march, or a picket line or anything like that,” Henderson said. “It’s just a gathering to stand in solidarity for the values of diversity and inclusion, particularly in theater. We have a duty, I think, to present a brave space for these kinds of conversations, and we know that we have work to do; it’s our place to do better.”

The event has blossomed over the last few weeks via social media channels, and each city and event will be different, though all will be at the same 5:30 p.m. time.

“It’s open to interpretation how to conduct the event but the message is clear,” Henderson said.

One interesting facet of the event will be an interactive one, with signs available that read “I Am ___” and I Fight For ____” that participants will be invited to fill out and hold up, take photos with for social media postings, and serve as their own personal pledge to take away from the evening.

“Terrance Henderson is going to be there and read some of his poetry, and we may have another special guest or two,” Henderson said. “Justice 360, a social-justice activism group, will be there, The Jasper Project, the USC Department of Theater and Dance is participating, and we’ve contacted the other theater groups in the area, too.”

Participants are asked to bring a flashlight or other form of battery powered light (no candles), which the group will light together after the speakers are done, and then Trustus will light its own ghost light.

“Many people don’t know what a ghost light is, in theater terms,” Henderson said. “It’s an old idea to leave a light on in the theater stage area all night. It was originally to ward off spirits, but it had a practical purpose to light the otherwise dark space for safety – so it’s a great metaphor for this project.”

Trustus will light their ghost light in the window facing Huger Street, and it will stay lit – but for how long, Henderson isn’t sure.

“We haven’t determined how long it will stay there – four years, eight, or until the community is seeing the advances that will come from these pledges we make,” he said.

“I hope the community sees us as a unified front of artists and their supporters who value the need for diversity and inclusion. This is our pledge to keep looking at the work we are doing in the community, and who we do it with, and to continue the conversation.”

The national project notes that this is only a single event in the context of a much broader mission and movement they hope to spur.

The website says, in part:

“January 19th is a moment of gathering within a larger resistance to intolerance at all levels. We aim to create brave spaces that will serve as lights in the coming years. We aim to activate a network of people across the country working to support vulnerable communities. This is not a substitution for protests or direct action, but rather a pledge for continued vigilance and increased advocacy.”

For more information on the Ghostlight Project, and to print your own “I Am, I Fight For” signs, visit www.theghostlightproject.com.

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