The art of theatre is all about living truthfully in imaginary circumstances. It is the dramatizing of the human spirit in the community, and The Artist’s Laboratory Theatre has been raising eyebrows and starting conversations for years. The organization has the Arts on Tour Grant, which allows them to create unique performances such as gameshows and experimental experiences for special events. We sat down with ALT founder and artistic producer Erika Wilhite on the magic ALT has up its sleeves this season.

What is the Artist’s Laboratory Theatre? Is the Civic Lab related?
Artist’s Laboratory Theatre is a social practice company committed to expanding the audience’s role in live theatre. We collaborate in a myriad of ways with community groups throughout the creative process in order to make our work a meaningful exchange with our community. We have offices at the Center for Nonprofit in Rogers, but we produce our work—productions and outreach programs—at site-specific venues throughout Northwest Arkansas. The Civic Lab, a program by Artist’s Laboratory Theatre, is a series of community-input sessions about the civic issues we are exploring in our performances. The project has evolved from the Southside Civic Lab, a two-year play development process that explored housing insecurity and homelessness in the area.

How can interactive theatrical performances like those you have curated and been involved with impact the community? Why is this important?
Theatre especially can create the appropriate conditions for engagement on matters of civic importance, because theatre is about the human experience. We put a face on issues and topics that otherwise are abstract and unemotional, such as public transportation. No matter the topic, we aim to embolden and empower individuals as “change agents” through theatre and storytelling.

Do you have any upcoming shows or events?
Yes, we are collaborating on a script with Venceremos, a worker-based organization in Arkansas whose mission is to ensure the human rights of poultry workers. We will produce readings of the script this spring. Meanwhile, we have several community events coming up this spring and summer through the NWA Civic Lab that will give folks a chance to learn and give input about new public transit developments.

We will host Listening Parties that focus on mobility. In Fall 2020, we are collaborating with Ozark Regional Transit on a weekend of programming on the bus and at the stops. And finally next October, we will produce “Good Person of South Fayetteville,” the play we developed through the Southside Civic Lab. It will take place on the bus routes and at venues within walking distance to the bus stops. Dates for the upcoming season will also be announced soon.