Rhode Island actor, writer, director and Landmark Education graduate Barry Press started Living Literature as a project in his Self-Expression Leadership Program. The project brought actors into schools to ‘perform’ works of literature, involving students and educators in novels and non-fiction in a new and inspiring way. The unique approach brings an author’s words from page to stage. With scripts in hand, Living Literature actors tells a story by acting it out, without changing a word. They give a clear voice to the characters and motion to the events in ways that cannot be experienced by reading it alone.
Back in 1996, Press thought it would be a one-shot project. Living Literature has now moved into its second decade of life, now serving dozens of schools and organizations in New England, and has become a local fixture among actors and educators.
Press got the idea from experimental performances he had done at actor’s workshops at Middlebury College in Vermont. But he was skeptical that the mainstream youth audiences would respond as favorably as his fellow actors had to these unique literature performances. It was taking Landmark Education’s programs that inspired him to go for it.
“From Landmark I got the idea of speaking something into existence,” he says. He shared the idea with fellow actors and there was enough interest that an initial performance got arranged. But there was a massive snowstorm that day. Press thought it wasn’t going to happen. Somehow, a dozen actors made it through the blizzard to perform to about 30 students and teachers. The response was very positive, and Living Literature began to thrive.
Beginning in Rhode Island, his home state, Living Literature soon became a way for local actors to network and get to know each other. Actors that belong to a company already have a community of sorts, but for the many freelance and part-time actors it was a way to stay connected. And the idea was a hit with students and teachers. There are a few dozen schools that now regularly have performances.
Meanwhile, Living Literature has grown and expanded its performances. In 2008, there will be three workshops for educators. The group has branched into non-fiction and poetry. They have special programs for different groups of people. For instance the ‘Phenomenal Women’ program was sponsored by the League of Women Voters.
Funding has even become relatively easy. From annual fundraisers, they now have a regular donor group and state assistance that keep the non-profit group running smoothly.