When most of us think about attending a play, we have a particular type of experience in mind. We imagine curtains and spotlights, buying a ticket and finding your seat in a theatre. But this isn’t the only way to experience theatre. Every year in Phoenix, Rising Youth Theatre partners with Valley Metro on Light Rail Plays, a completely original theatre experience that puts brand new plays on trains and platforms for commuters and theater-goers alike.

While the plays and the performers change every year, the idea remains the same – when we put theatre in unexpected places it has the potential to bring our community closer together. And there is nowhere that brings a cross-section of the community together more effectively than our public transit spaces.

When we start creating Light Rail Plays, we start by creating teams. We pair one youth artist with one adult artist who become equal partners in creating a new, five-minute play. These plays are rehearsed and performed on station platforms and trains between Roosevelt/Central and Camelback/Central. When we start rehearsing, we have no idea what the project will look like, but we bring in amazing artists that we trust to create interesting, dynamic and resonant theatre that will both tell a story and fit the performance space. We’ve seen clowns and puppets, comedy and tragedy, realism and fantasy. We’ve introduced live music and stilt-performance. Every year we learn something new, and we know that 2017, our 4th year on the project, will be no exception.

Light Rail Plays are a public art experience, in the same way murals and sculptures at most Valley Metro Rail stations are a public art experience. You can seek out these art experiences as an intentional audience member. We’ll publicize start times and send you out with a tour guide so that you can see the whole thing from start to finish. Similar to any public art, most people will experience it accidentally by stumbling across it. You’re on the train, and suddenly, a play is happening! Sometimes people join us for more of the experience, sometimes not. Sometimes they love it. Sometimes they are confused. Sometimes they just want to continue with their commute. And honestly, all of these responses are great! Our goal with this project is primarily to create an invitation to participate in a theatre experience. Once the invitation is made, the choice to engage is up to you.

The cool thing that we’ve learned from this is that when you make theatre in a theatre space, the vast majority of the people who will show up tend to go to theatre all the time. But when you make theatre in a public transit space, the majority of our audiences don’t go to see theatre that often, if ever. In fact, when we surveyed our audiences at the end of performances over the past couple of years we found that people told us one of two things. Either they take public transit all the time, but rarely or never attend the theatre or they attend the theatre frequently, but almost never take public transportation. So, when these audiences get to experience a play together, they are all experiencing something new! Everyone is stepping outside of their comfort zone, just a little bit! And, it makes that shared experience that much more powerful. 2017 performances are scheduled for Feb. 17-19 and Feb. 23-26. For more information on Rising Youth Theatre and Light Rail Plays, you can visit our website risingyouththeatre.org or check us out on social media: facebook.com/risingyouththeatre, Twitter & Instagram @risingyouththea.

Sarah Sullivan
Rising Youth Theatre Co-Founder and Artistic Director