Putting Olneyville on the MAP

As more arts programs disappear from academic curricula, the Manton Avenue Project (MAP) is fighting back to educate and inspire Olneyville area students. Some 200 local theater professionals from the Gamm, Trinity, the Wilbury Group, and other companies that might ordinarily vie for theatrical greatness, have combined their talents and volunteered their time to mentor kids in the ways of theater.

MAP encourages grade-school children from the Olneyville area to write their own plays. The young playwrights are paired with adult actors and directors in the company, and from there, they put on spectacularly creative productions. “One of our 4th grade playwrights wrote about an ax whose job is it annoy lumberjacks so that they won’t cut down trees. The ax ends up being tossed into outer space by an irritated lumberjack and meets an alien starfish on a comet,” explains MAP artistic director Meg Sullivan. Now that’s good theater.

It must be emphasized that MAP actually puts on shows. It’s not just some study group. In collaboration with William D’Abate Elementary, MAP guides kids through the entire creative process, from written inception to staged fruition. Audiences end up with an oddly unique opportunity to see a part of the world through the lens of an elementary school student’s experiences.

The point of all this? Fostering creativity and instilling confidence. “Letting kids be creative is the single most important role we can play in their education and development as human beings,” Sullivan says. “Creative practice enables important problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, as well as encourages empathy and the ability to see multiple perspectives … we are doing what we can to bring the arts into under-resourced kids’ lives so that they can unleash their creative voices.” That’s commendable. No, that’s perfect. That’s a notion more beautiful than any professional theater can stage.

The most charming aspect of MAP is the unconventional, ultra-imaginative stories the kids come up with. In a way, witnessing adult actors at the beck of grade schoolers is so anti-theater that it actually elevates the art form. Like punk rock. Like guerilla theater. In the muck of formulaic nonsense and inflated self-importance that comes with play writing, the Manton Avenue Project is letting kids riff, letting them jam using theater.

The future is bright for the Manton Avenue Project. Rehearsals used to be held all over Providence, with space provided from the courtesy of William D’Abate Elementary. But now MAP has its own clubhouse. As part of the Olney Village initiative, the Olneyville Housing Corporation donated a facility on Putnam Street, complete with furniture donated by Citizen’s Bank and computers from WGBH. The clubhouse will serve as an after-school haven, rehearsal space, and all around home base for this ambitious group of theater do-gooders.

In February, Manton Avenue will stage Be MAP’s Valentine. The show will include a full-length play, collaboratively written by the MAP kids on the subject of love and showing concern for others. On top of that, the kids will perform their own sonnets.
Be MAP’s Valentine runs Feb. 15-17: Fri. at 7 pm, Sat. at 7 pm, Sun. at 3 pm, at the Met school in the Media and Arts Center, 325 Public St. in Providence.

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