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I wish I were talking about opening International City Theatre again and not just survival of the theatre — survival of all the arts. It is the arts that feed our souls, our spirits and our minds.

They make us curious, ask questions of ourselves and our world, and give us hope. They help us connect. We need the arts. We will need them more as we move beyond Covid-19 to provide hope and healing for our community.

Having studied all the arts at some level, it was theatre that I chose as my field of concentration because it combines so many art forms. So let me focus here on what I know best and why theatre must survive.

History has always fascinated me. Theatre history is an extraordinary study of society at any given time. Read the plays for any period and you can better understand the issues and concerns of the people at that time. All the more reason we need to make sure our current issues and concerns are given voice by today’s playwrights. It is our legacy for future generations to better understand the world in which we now live from a very personal perspective. Theatre to me is the most human art form — people to people, actor to audience.

That’s our gift to the future, but we need theatre now to get outside ourselves, to gain perspective on the world, to better understand each other. How do we serve our community when we cannot gather together to hear stories and be entertained? International City Theatre is committed to providing virtual productions during this, our 36th season. There is no substitute for live, human communication and connection. However, in the meantime we must find ways to keep connected and engaged with our communities until we can come together safely for artists, audience and staff.

ICT is putting artists and teachers to work. ICT is still telling stories. We can still learn and still connect on some level. Through the shared experience of virtual or live theatre, audiences are brought into another's world and are made to see the human side of someone who may be different. It is in this identification of people who are "different" that we discover how much all people, everywhere are alike.

It can begin a dialogue for understanding. We open minds and hearts; we make people think and feel. If we can make a difference in someone's life today through his or her theatre experience, we can make a difference for tomorrow. We can work towards a more educated and more harmonious society.

Education is a large part of ICT’s focus and ICT will continue to find avenues of engagement for our youth. ICT’s Summer Youth Conservatory will continue last year’s online training in acting and playwriting if gathering together for classes is still not possible. Currently ICT’s third grade Performing Arts Classroom Teaching (PACT) Program has been revamped for a virtual platform and is connecting with our third grade classes thanks to support from Miller Foundation and others as well as the Port of Long Beach. It was created almost 20 years ago at the request of the school district for this underserved grade level. It is a sequential, curriculum-based program to reinforce literacy and language while also teaching creative and analytical thinking.

Long Beach is blessed with wonderful professional and caring arts organizations. Art that can lift up our youth and our community. Arts education can broaden and deepen learning with skills needed including creative thinking, analysis, discipline, teamwork, and others to pursue any field of study. This is an investment in our youth and our nation. It enhances our ability to compete in the world.

We must ensure the survival of the arts in Long Beach! But let’s not just think about our ability to survive, but our opportunity to thrive! 

caryn desai is the producing artistic director of the International City Theatre, the resident theater company at the Beverly O'Neill Theater.

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