Ashley Hanson believes in the power of performing arts to bring communities together. After all, she has seen that happen up close.

Her organization, PlaceBase Productions in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, uses “radical playfulness” to stage events ranging from bonfires and singalongs to tongue twisters and town-square theater productions. The group’s productions and scripts address local culture, history and community issues.

In her experience, community leaders need not worry about whether folks will participate.

“The fact I’m most proud of: we have 100% participation from mayors of each community we have worked with,” Hanson told participants of the 2018 National Rural Assembly in Durham, North Carolina, this week. “Let me tell you, it is something powerful to be in a kick-line musical number with your mayor.”

The responses from communities are overwhelming and cathartic, she said.

“Because once we have been playful with each other, we can be vulnerable with each other. We can have compassion for each other. We become friends. We fall in love with our people and our places. It is then that we can really start to address the systemic issues we are facing together.”

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