Courtney Surmanek            

The Civility Project and  The Race 2020 

Co-Creator & Co-Director with Kendall Payne (Co-Director), Taylor Wood (Co-Director) Tacie Jones (multiform artist), Todd Schenk (Civility Project Lead), Keith Patrick McCoy (Choreographer), and additional collaborators TBA. 

civility (noun)
1 he treated me with civility: courtesy, courteousness, politeness, good manners, graciousness, consideration, respect, politesse, comity.
2 she didn't waste time on civilities: polite remark, politeness, courtesy; formality.

While the global pandemic and the enduring harm of white supremacy magnifies challenges that lie ahead, the power of art promises to uplift, unite and disrupt. What can we build together in this immense time of culture shift? What can we build together when we contend seriously and healthily with our hopes, dreams and fears?

The Civility Project is a hub for inquiry, skills-sharing, and experimentation in civil dialogue and community trust building. We are exploring the possibility of social repair that emerges when we engage in healthy deliberation. Through best practices in civility and associated skills like active listening and non-violent communication, we seek to foster opportunities for healthy interactions that better equip people and communities to make decisions and build consensus around polarizing topics. This project will develop a set of technologically-enhanced theatre and visual arts interventions meant to promote civility. The project is informed by best practices in building empathy and understanding from the social sciences, and how storytelling and human communication functions in digital and virtual environments.

As part of The Civility Project, we will present The Race 2020, an online creative adaptation of a play originally created by Michael Rohd of Sojourn Theatre that uses theatre to provide space for civic inquiry and civic dialogue. The production blends performance, call and response, question and answer, a global skype chorus, dance and karaoke into a participatory, highly choreographed and at times improvised exploration. Together, we'll explore the shared hopes, dreams and fears that cut across the United States’ increasingly polarized society. We’ll metaphorically and literally take a walk in each other’s shoes, learn from each other, and develop the capacity to share what we’ve learned with others. We’ll create a unique theatrical experience promoting civic dialogue and civic inquiry. And we’ll collectively seek to answer this question: Who are the leaders we need right now?

To learn more about these projects discuss opportunities for involvement email buildingcivility [at] gmail [dot] com. These projects have been made possible in part by a grant from Virginia Tech’s Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology.