The Art of Social Change

Posted by Patricia Nugent, Jan 21, 2020

One can only wonder what Marshall McLuhan, who coined the phrase “The medium is the message,” would have thought about the Rest Stop Theatre Project, a novel outdoor mobile experience that takes place in the back of a beat-up pickup truck.

Produced by Benjamin Rexroad and Kyle Jozsa of Wandering Aesthetics (an Akron, Ohio-based storytelling theatre company), Rest Stop Theatre featured a cast of four actors running through compelling non-partisan scenes designed to increase local voting participation in the 2016 presidential election. The rollicking performance included a bit of improv, sketch comedy, and audience participation—which Wandering Aesthetics has earned a reputation for.

“We have always been interested in the power of social change and engaging with the community,” says Kyle, who has a degree in political science and government. “Performing from a pickup truck allowed us to challenge the notion that voting, like theatre, is a luxury only relevant to some.”

The effort was made possible through a grant from Citizen University in Seattle, a nonprofit that promotes and teaches the art of powerful citizenship. It’s also a collaboration between Kyle, who acts in the show, and other local actors: Katie Beck of Gum-Dip Theatre, John Dayo-Aliya from Ma ‘Sue Productions, and Mercedes Littell. They put on 10 performances across different parking lots and neighborhoods in Akron, exploring the many facets that make up the culture of voting.

Five scenes, transitioned with song, included physical comedy and a clownish debate between the characters Ima B. Voting and Don T. Matters. And woven throughout the content, audiences were treated to the facts and history of voting.

At each performance, a volunteer was on hand offering audience members the opportunity to register to vote.

At one of the performances, Kyle recalls there was a group of people who had just been released from prison. “They were not registered to vote, and weren’t even sure if they could register, but we explained they could, and they did. It was pretty powerful.”

In addition to the dynamic Rest Stop Theatre Project, Wandering Aesthetics inspires the Akron community through youth and adult classes; the award-winning Electric Pressure Cooker Cabaret, which spotlights local artists from musicians to comedians and dancers; the variety show Bigger than a Breadbox; and Full Circle Storytelling, a monthly event for community storytellers.

Benjamin says the Rest Stop Theatre performances were inspired by a sort of vaudevillian boisterousness, bringing the audience into the action, creating a meaningful dialogue and moving experience.

“Socially engaging people’s minds is the heartbeat of what we do, all seen through the lens of storytelling,” says Benjamin.