Going into the process, the students weren’t sure what they were getting themselves into. They knew that Allison was an inspiring person, and were excited to learn from her, but also had no experience with community art, and so went into the process very uncertain. Julian says, “It’s like that feeling when you go to a stranger’s party, but everyone’s sober, and it’s morning, and everyone there is forty-five.” During one of his first meetings with the sewage plant crew, Isaac unknowingly sat down in someone’s seat who had been working there for nine years. “It was so awkward,” he says.
Despite the uncomfortable hurtles, Allison gave the class resources such as readings of other community artists and a showing of her own film, Trash Dance. She also encouraged the students to rely on one another as their support group. Juliana comments on the effect of this, “The equal levels of the class is also helpful. Talking with my classmates helped me because we’re all going through the same thing.”
I asked the students if the process ever ended up surprising them, and I got some really dynamic answers:
“I thought it was going to be super awkward, but once you got into HQ…everyone wants to be vulnerable, but it’s hard to be in that environment when everyone is used to crude, blue collar humor. So once we were one on one, they really opened up to me in ways that I didn’t think were possible.” -Julian
“I thought they would always want us to not be there, but last week, Mike [one of the employees] said ‘No one ever cares about us. But when I go to the kindergarten and they call me Mr. Waterman, and now you guys come and ask us about what we do. Little things like that make the job worth it. We don’t get many visitors, so it’s nice to have you guys come by.’” -Isaac
The students are now excited to for the employees to take ownership of the performance. Right now, the employees are still quite adamant about staying out of the performance, although they are enthusiastic about offering ideas.
One thing that Julian said to me during our meeting really warmed my heart. He said, “When we were leaving, the employees used to just say ‘Bye,’ but now they say, ‘When are you coming back?’”