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Katie Hill
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This Friday marks the unveiling of the groundbreaking community engagement and participatory theater project, Public Works Dallas, that is designed to deliberately blur the line between professional artists and Dallas community members. Literacy Instruction for Texas (LIFT) – a nonprofit organization that aims to enhance lives and strengthen communities by teaching more adults to read – is one of five Dallas community organizations that have participated in workshops throughout the year.

The project, which includes Jubilee Park and Community Center, Vickery Meadow Learning Center, Bachman Lake Together and City of Dallas Park and Recreation, culminates in the Public Works Dallas participatory musical theater production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, directed by Dallas Theater Center Artistic Director Kevin Moriarty at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre in the Dallas Arts District.

LIFT President and CEO Lisa Hembry, one of 13 staff, board of directors, volunteer and student participants in the community ensemble, said, “Our students have been given the opportunity to overcome their struggles with literacy by bringing literature to life on stage.”

“Involvement in this play has exposed members of our LIFT team to a body of literature they may not have known about. Some of our students have never heard of Shakespeare nor ever participated in the making of a musical. This additional dimension of learning to navigate the printed word is an amazing experience and honor.”

LIFT Chief Development Officer Dan Thompson revealed how each student’s involvement has come in a dynamic form. “This is one more practical experience for our students to learn. From reading a script or lyric sheet to processing verbal and printed direction, each of us is expected to function within a theater world. This means being on time, reading signs to ensure safety and following backstage directions.”

“DallasTheaterCenter and Public Works Dallas has fostered an environment for each and every person to work together with a new level of confidence. This is the confidence we hope empowers our students in everyday life as they learn to read throughout adulthood.”

The themes of The Tempest offer a parallel to the challenges LIFT students face. The Tempest is set on a remote island. People who struggle with literacy can feel isolated from their peers, alone in their struggle, because they lack in an area where many do not. Prospero, the powerful magician, manipulates his enemies by creating a tempest. Those who are illiterate may try to avoid shame and escape rejection by creating the illusion that they are able to read. Prospero and Miranda teach Caliban their religion and language. Learning the language of where one resides is necessary to survive.

Illiteracy is a critical issue. The Dallas/Fort Worth area is the sixth largest economy in the nation. Corporate and public policy conversations focus on the lack of a work-ready labor force, the high number of unfilled middle-skill jobs and the rapidly increasing concentration of poverty in the region. Both workforce and poverty gaps tie directly to adult low literacy. By 2030, it is estimated that one in three adults, more than one million DallasCounty residents, will be functionally illiterate.

LIFT offers Adult Basic Literacy Education (ABLE), High School Equivalency Preparation (GED) and English Language Acquisition (ESL) courses. LIFT’s model utilizes trained and dedicated volunteers to provide classroom instruction, supplemented with one-to-one tutoring and self-paced study.

LIFT Dallas community participants in The Tempest include:

Lisa Hembry – President/CEO

Dan Thompson – Chief Development Officer

Felisha Blanton – Student

Siera Mitchell – Student

Joy Reemstma – Program Coordinator

Damon Richardson – Student

Caryn Steine – Student

Doris Black Hubbard – Volunteer Coordinator

Lincoln Hogg – Student

Bradley Hall – Student

Martha Heimberg – Volunteer

Melanie Ferguson – Board of Directors

Julie Sheeder – Volunteer

Performances of The Tempest will be held at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theater at the AT&T Performing Arts Center March 3-5. Stand-by tickets may be available. Click here to get more information.

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