Photo Bonnie Schock
Executive Director
The Sheldon Theatre

This content is excerpted with permission from the Sheldon Theatre's National Dance Project Presentation Grant report of their presentation of Raphael Xavier's work, Point of Interest

Presenting dance stretches our venue, in all the right ways. The technical needs are outside of the usual production operations, and therefore require greater staffing and lighting changeover. It was a challenge (that we anticipated). It required us to find outside skilled staffing support and build new avenues both internally and externally to continue with similar projects in the future. This kind of project helps us to build better muscles in a range of performance modes, to grow our skills to best support all forms. This project did that well, and we were able to meet the challenge and carry off an exceptional, fully professional, concert dance event. 

We were able to carry out all the proposed activities, including public workshop, post-show discussion, and in-depth workshop at the MN Youth Correctional Facility, plus the performance itself. The biggest surprise was just how impactful the Correctional Facility visit turned out to be. Raphael Xavier and another company member worked with the entire facility student population of just over 100 for several hours. The encounter was transformative. Mr. Xavier's authenticity and connection with these young men was immediate and deep. There were tears, and revelations. There was engagement and a commitment to stay connected. The artists shared their stories of how hip-hop and dedication to excellence provided a guidepost in their lives. Several students set up plans to stay in correspondence with the artists. And, the artists and the Sheldon are in initial conversations about how to make a longer, return engagement, focused on the Correctional Facility's community exclusively possible in the future. Without a doubt, this was among the most meaningful single workshop events that we have ever been part of. 

Work of this nature does not regularly come to communities such as ours. In this way, the project was simply a homerun success. While the audience was small, their enthusiasm was unparalleled. (It should also be noted that for a town of 16,000, the audience was not small, but consistent with more challenging, fine-arts events presented on our seasons over time.) Whoops and hollers and applause throughout. Ninety percent of those in attendance stayed for more than 30 minutes of post-show conversation, and then longer chatting casually in lobby spaces. One young man, age 11, shared that he now knows what he will do with his life. Networks were expanded as regional hip-hop artists showed up and found one another. We saw dozens of people who had never been to our theatre before, and who established a relationship with us for the first time.

While this project has not established new connections for the Sheldon, it has deepened existing ones. Our partnerships with places like the Minnesota Youth Correctional Facility and with area service organizations expand every time we can demonstrate the exceptional value of engaging closely with artists from a range of different backgrounds. This particular residency has allowed a greater trust to grow with several regular partners, and the relationship on both sides has been noticeably more collaborative, generative, and enthusiastic.

Noted one audience member, Mike, a 65-year-old retiree, “This is the first time I’ve ever listened to hip-hop or seen a dance performance. THANK YOU for coming to small town Minnesota and for opening my eyes!”

In the post-show discussion, a woman said, "I just want you to know that five minutes in to the performance, my 11 year old son leaned over and said, 'I know what I want to do with my life now.'" The young many then spoke with the company about how to make his dream a reality while living in a small midwestern community. 

Six people seated on a stage in conversation with audience members
Post -show discussion. Photo: Sheldon staff.

Our interactive lobby survey was 100% positive, with patrons enthusiastically filling glass jars with colored pom-poms showing that the performance resonated emotionally, made them think, and that were grateful for the experience. Social media posts that followed also endorsed the event. 

Perhaps most impactful was the workshop that took place at MN Youth Correctional Facility. An authentic connection was formed between the artists and the over 100 youth who participated. Indeed, several youth are now set up to correspond with the performers; and the artists were so touched by the experience that we are in very early conversations with them about how they might return to do focused engagement work at the facility for a longer period of time. The warden told Sheldon staff that this was easily among the most profoundly impactful single visits he has witnessed during his decades long career in corrections.

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