As part of its PlayLab program, Passage Theatre is hosting a closed reading of The OK Trenton Project by David Lee White, Richard Bradford and the members of The OK Trenton Project Ensemble and directed by C. Ryanne Domingues. The reading will take place on February 12, 2021 in preparation for the show’s premiere in Passage Theatre’s 2021-22 season.

Members of The OK Trenton Project take a break during a January 2020 workshop session.
From left to right: Richard Bradford, Alexandra Kostis, Kara Jonsson, Ryanne Domingues, Sol Madariaga, Felicia Liecht, and Kevin Bergen.
Photo courtesy of Passage Theatre

The OK Trenton Project is a documentary-style play about the reaction to a sculpture entitled “Helping Hands,” which was designed and built by local students and installed on a vacant city-owned lot in Trenton, NJ. Following concerns that the sculpture too closely resembled a gang symbol and could send the wrong message to residents, the piece was removed. Told through the words of Trenton’s law enforcement, city officials, artists, residents, and students, this play tells the story of what one piece of art can mean to a community.

Though still in development, the play has already caught the attention of our surrounding communities. This spring, Princeton University is offering the course “Race and Arts in the Invisible City” in partnership with Passage Theatre Company. Taught by Passage Theatre Board Member and Trenton resident Vance Smith and playwright Nathan Alan Davis, and in collaboration with The OK Trenton Project team, students will examine the historical and contemporary racisms that have shaped Trenton through conversations with activists, policy makers, politicians, and artists. Students enrolled in the class will attend the February 12th reading to experience the artistic process and ask questions as the team prepares to share the piece with the wider Trenton audience.

When asked about what he hopes his students will learn from experiencing The OK Trenton Project, Vance Smith responded, “This class will give students the amazing opportunity to watch and work with a top-notch community-facing/centered theater program. They’ll learn how plays are written, how collaboration works, how to translate experience and archival knowledge into interesting and relevant forms. But above all, they’ll be learning how a theater program based in the community works with and for the community. The OK Trenton Project will be one of the stories a community tells about itself – but the play will also be a story that Trenton will tell to the communities around it.”

During the February 12th workshop of The OK Trenton Project, the artistic team will be reading the newest draft of the script and identifying the play’s core themes. We will explore adding elements that relate to current events and making a list of additional interview material that still needs to be gathered. The artists will continue to explore the role of symbolism as they grapple with questions pertaining to the definition of “artistic intent.” Passage Theatre looks forward to sharing this show with Trenton audiences next season and receiving their feedback on the play’s content and story.

Passage Theatre’s season is made possible in part by the N.J. State Council on the Arts, a partner agency of the NEA; the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; The City of Trenton; Trenton Downtown Association; WIMG 1300; The Curtis McGraw Foundation; PNC Bank; Trinity United Methodist Church, Ewing, NJ ; First Presbyterian Church of Ewing; New Jersey Manufacturers (NJM); New Jersey Theatre Alliance; Janssen Pharmaceuticals; NJ Economic Development Authority; I Am Trenton; Otsuka Pharmaceutical; Mathematica Policy Research; Thomas Edison State University; The Bunbury Fund of the Princeton Area Community Foundation; The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey; The Shubert Foundation; The MAP Fund, and Mary G. Roebling Foundation.