According to “A Home on the Lake” co-author and Director Tim Rhoze, his new production – mounted in a collaboration between Piven Theatre Workshop and Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre – is about two issues that have long been significant for city-dwellers: race relations and real estate.
The play flashes forward and back between the 1920s and contemporary times, addressing a relatively little-discussed episode in Evanston’s history. According to Piven’s description, “In 1920, as the Great Migration begins to change the demographics of Evanston, two entrepreneurs – one white, one African American – make business deals that will result in the relocation of black residents to what will become, for generations thereafter, the city’s ‘black district.’”
A number of conversations that Mr. Rhoze had with senior citizen Evanstonians formed the basis for the play, which he co-authored with Stephen Fedo.
Those residents, he recalled, “talked about the moving of homes from one section of Evanston to a different part. These specific homes were occupied by African Americans. This was around 1940 that it was happening. There were many homes moved for many reasons; many had to do with zoning or industrial purposes. … I shared that with Stephen and we thought that was an idea worth investigating.”
Mr. Rhoze credited Nina Kavin of Dear Evanston, a local organization implementing story-telling and bridge-building to address inequality and violence, for compiling much of the research he and Mr. Fedo needed to complete the play.
“She did a phenomenal job interviewing and chronicling the people of Evanston and their experiencing growing up here,” he said.
Mr. Rhoze and Mr. Fedo discussed commissioning various playwrights for the production but settled on a course of action Mr. Rhoze said was previously “unthinkable” to him: collaborating on the play themselves.
“We each sat alone for about a month, after deep conversations about what the story was, how we wanted to address it, and where it would land eventually,” Mr. Rhoze recalled. “We had talked about who the characters would be and made different choices about those sorts of things. … But we went to our own separate vacuums for about a month and then, when we came out of it and put our two pieces together, they fit and intertwined rather beautifully.”
Jennifer Green, Piven’s artistic director, said that “A Home of the Lake” is a pivotal part of a season focused on the theme of home.
“We hope that the audience sees that there are many strands to that theme – whether it is immigration, a home in the world, a home in a body – and that this is both a profoundly political and a profoundly personal play,” she added. “This is the capstone to the season. We’ve produced lab performances throughout the year and two different youth series based on these themes. We really wanted to see
a capstone that allowed Evanston to reflect back on itself, both its history and its present.”
Ms. Green recalled that one participant in an early reading mentioned living in the houses depicted in the play, and told her they never knew under what circumstances they were built.
“The way that our homes open up to who we are, and who we are in the community, and this will offer up a great mirror to that,” she added. “…This piece welcomes all community members to have a seat at the table.”
Ms. Green looks forward to audience members seeing the fruits of collaboration between her company and Fleetwood-Jourdain
“I don’t think that this has happened in recent memory, wherein all that is unique and authentic about Piven, and all that is unique and authentic about Fleetwood-Jourdain, is binding this medium together,” she explained. “… I don’t often see these kinds of powerful collaborations in the arts. It’s really the way of the future.”
“A Home on the Lake” runs April 21-May 20 at Piven Theatre Workshop, 927 Noyes St. More information is available at piventheatre.org or 847-866-8049.