Project Empathy | Green Acre

Jul 23, 2021 | Events, Green Acre, News + Announcements, Peace, Project Empathy, Race Unity, Social Justice

If you glance around the room during a gathering of the cast for the forthcoming Project Empathy performance you may be inclined to focus on their diversity—their age range, their ethnic differences, their political/social views. What you might not realize is that these eight individuals are unified in genuine empathy building—striving to embody each other’s experiences through a process of active listening and first-person storytelling.

Project Empathy | Green Acre – participants are guided through various empathy exercises

Seacoast Rep | Tue, 8/3 @ 7:30pm | IN PERSON | LIVESTREAM
Green Acre | Wed, 8/4 @ 6:30pm

Project Empathy began as an idea that Catherine Cote had in 2017 while studying abroad at the University of Melbourne in Australia. “I was meeting literally hundreds of people per week,” Cote says, adding that she “was missing the deeper conversations and connection I had with people at home in the US.” Watching the social and political issues unfolding in the US while abroad Cote “felt like everyone was screaming their opinions, which were shaped by their own life experiences, but no one was listening to each other.”

Rooted in her love for theater and longing for deep conversation, her idea to create a space where people were not only dedicated to listening to each other’s stories but were equally committed to telling the other person’s story began to take shape. Cote reflects, “I was so interested to see how the process would feel when the ‘character’ was a real person; someone from your community who you could ask questions, build a relationship with, and develop a mutual trust and understanding. Add to that a purposeful diversity and the intent of reciprocal empathy, and it’s a space of huge potential.”

Green Acre’s Project Empathy production will be the sixth time Project Empathy will take the stage. What makes this iteration of the Project unique is that it is the first non-university production and the director, Najee Brown, has hand-selected the cast from his connections in the local community to represent diverse ages, ethnicities, occupations, and upbringings. “Najee is an established director, artist, and activist in the area, so to see him take my vision and run with it has been amazing,” says Cote. 

Brown, Green Acre’s artist-in-residence, reflects, “ I care about relationships and souls, not the performance aspect, which is only one part of this entire process. My aim has been to bring together diverse individuals from the community, introduce them, and provide space for them to tell their stories so that perhaps they will come away from this experience differently than they started, with deepened relationships that flourish and impact the community for the better.” 

Guided by Cote’s Performance Package, Brown is leading the participants through various empathy exercises, prompting them to share their own stories with their partners through questions like “what is your earliest memory” and “what is your proudest moment,” and providing space for them to practice telling their partner’s story in the first-person. 

Robert Sapiro, one of the participants in this iteration of Project Empathy, shares, “these exercises provide a deeper glimpse of a larger story. While listening to an older white woman share the first memory of her Project Empathy partner, a young African American man, I felt like it was her memory. I knew it wasn’t her memory, but the emotion was there. As we went through each pair I had a similar experience. Because there was switching of who was articulating the story, it was like we all have these shared stories. Speaking in the first person enables a true expression of emotion and each story becomes our story, a shared story, an embodied story.”

Cote notes that, “just as the cast brings their stories to Project Empathy, so do audience members. Everyone views the performance through their own lens. My hope is that the cast members will feel seen, heard, and held,” adding that she hopes “audience members’ eyes will be opened to the depth and breadth of stories held by members of their community.” If nothing else Cote hopes this experience “plants the seed of ‘I wonder what this person’s story is?’” in everyone’s daily interactions.

Brown hopes the participants and audience members are able to recognize a shared humanity. “I hope participants are able to find commonalities in laughing at the same things and crying at the same things, that we can see we are all human,” adding that “five years from now, if there is a problem in the community, perhaps through the relationships that have been created people can call on each other, turn to one another, and identify ways to support each other instead of spreading more divisiveness.”

Sapiro shares that in the process of striving to do justice to another’s story “there is an acknowledgement of being born noble, so we can’t help but see the inherent worth in each other. Part of our goal is to talk with our higher selves; that is the basis of what we are doing, really striving to look across and see the humanity in those around us who may outwardly represent things that we are strongly adverse to or frightened of, and look deeper and see the points of unity and connection. That is what this process is really about; this is what we hope to demonstrate in action. If these eight people can do it, why can’t we all?”

Seacoast Rep | Tue, 8/3 @ 7:30pm | IN PERSON | LIVESTREAM
Green Acre | Wed, 8/4 @ 6:30pm

Green Acre’s production of Project Empathy is funded by Artists Building Capacities as World Citizens. Visit the Project Empathy website to learn more about the Project and Catherine Cote’s work.