For nearly 40 years Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater has garnered critical acclaim for its compelling and poignant performance work, and commitment to education and community inclusive programs. The company’s programs give voice to those populations who typically do not have an opportunity to see their lives as the focal point for arts exploration. SPDT has been recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts for “Best Practices” in the field of Arts & Health and The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts as a “national model” for community programs.
In addition to performance work, SPDT offers programs that engage communities around the world in transformation and healing through the arts. These projects range in length from one-day workshops to long-term residencies. Each project is unique and customized to the needs of the community. Past residencies have engaged people impacted by illness, veterans/active duty, and justice-involved individuals.
Our Country’s Keepers / Stories of Active Duty, Veterans and Those who Care for Them
This 2022 project, supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, engaged a diverse array of military-connected individuals at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Over the course of three weeks, participants shared their stories of both challenge and resilience throughout their military careers. Through the direction of Suzanne Costello, these stories were woven into a public performance for the Walter Reed community. Family and friends throughout the country attended the performance in-person and via livestream. An audience member described the work as “powerful and thought-provoking” and commented, “Though this was a first performance experience for a good number of the participants, they embraced their identities as performers wholeheartedly.”
Raising our Voices / Stories of Cancer Told Through Movement Music & Voice
Raising our Voices engaged 30 community members in Birmingham, AL who had been impacted by cancer in expressing their stories through movement, music and voice. The project originally began with a two-week residency in February 2020. The performance sadly had to be cancelled due to COVID-19. Through the support of UAB Arts in Medicine, SPDT returned in October 2021 to reconstruct this stage work alongside the community members. Almost every original cast member returned in 2021 to complete the project. Raising our Voices was performed for a live audience at the Aly Stephens Center and received with warmth from the wider Birmingham community. One participant remarked,
“This experience is one I will cherish forever. It gave me strength.”
-ROV Community Participant
LISTEN / Stories of Cancer told through Movement, Music, and Voice
The LISTEN Project began in June, 2016 with a series of Listening Sessions to meet the Gilda’s Club Twin Cities community, hear their stories, and invite them to participate in creating an original performance work. These were powerful gatherings made more so by the poignancy, vulnerability, and individuality of each person’s experience with cancer. There was a common theme that arose in those initial meetings – so often people who have not been affected by cancer “just don’t get it.” The loss of normalcy, the effect on family and friends, the avoidance of asking about someone’s illness, the sense of isolation, the exhaustion, the change of identity – all are seldom fully grasped by those who have not dealt with cancer. The stories from those sessions became the framework for the creation of the performance work.
The cast of 22 Gilda’s participants and eight SPDT performers worked together over three months to develop the final work. At times the rehearsals were difficult because of physical and health limitations or emotional challenges but the remarkable community that was formed through this experience supported each other through the process. The result was a shining testimony to both the strength of the LISTEN cast and each individual’s tenacity and generosity of spirit.
International Project: SPDT in Mexico City
In 2013, SPDT was presented by the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), the American Embassy in Mexico City, and the Centro Cultural Roberto Cantoral. During this two-week residency, SPDT set Ways to Be Hold (2008) on Mexican performing artists and presented Arts & Health and Arts & Education workshops throughout Mexico City with doctors, nurses, university students, and local community members.
(if viewing on mobile device, turn screen horizontally to view Temporary Shelter book)
Temporary Shelter – Tales from the Minneapolis Tornado, a Community Connections Program from Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater (SPDT), collected personal stories of those affected by the May 22, 2011 tornado that struck North Minneapolis. The purpose of the project was to hear what hadn’t been said, give voice to those who hadn’t been heard, and raise the public awareness of the challenges faced by those affected.
This project was structured around community conversations and workshops in which residents were invited to write, speak, and share their voices responding to the impact the storm had. The conversations focused on three key points: the event itself, the aftermath, and the help received. These stories were compiled into a book (shown above) that was released during a public celebration at the Capri Theater in North Minneapolis.
Cast from the Water’s Edge (2011) situated the artists of SPDT in Ely, Minnesota a tourist community located on the American-Canadian border. A particular geographical attraction in Ely is the Boundary Waters, a protected area containing hundreds of miles of remote lakes and portages. SPDT in collaboration with Ely residents created a film and performance work that mused on the historic and contemporary tensions that exist between local residents and visitors.
Undercovers (2007) was a collaboration between SPDT performers and a Twin Cities cast of people living with life threatening illnesses. This work explored the poetics of sleep and dying as the tender places of having one’s eyes closed. Undercovers, commissioned by Pathways, was broadcast on Twin Cities Public Television where it continues to be seen.
Moving Inquiries (2002) was commissioned by Pathways and the The Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis and presented on site in conjunction with the national exhibit Hospice: A Photographic Inquiry. The cast included fifteen community members from a variety of backgrounds and livelihoods.
Out of This World/The Life After Life Project, (1997-2001) was originally commissioned by the University of Arizona. This project was one of only six national projects supported by major funding from The Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Arts Partners Program in 1998. OOTW was recreated in cities across the U.S. such as Pittsburg, PA, Gainesville, FL, Columbus, OH, and the Twin Cities for casts of 30-50 local artists and caregivers. The community outreach component of OOTW included workshops at hospitals, hospices, nursing homes, veteran’s homes, retirement villages, Native American reservations, AIDS support groups, local public schools, universities, and other community locales.
Rest/Stop (1994) was commissioned with support from the American Dance Touring Initiative and the University of Florida. Over a three-month residency, SPDT created a traveling performance work that transported audiences on school buses to five different outdoor locations, including a 1950’s art-deco motel and swimming pool, a retirement home housed on a former plantation, a nature center, and a public parking lot transformed into a beach. Each location was selected because of its unique historical or cultural significance for the City of Gainesville. The cast included 35 community performers, ages 10-85 years old.