Crystalyn Donavan guides Brandy Johnson, Summer Teegarden and Ivy Teegarden to create a spoken-word poetry performance piece. Credit: Josh Truett

At a small cafe packed with stacks of books just west of downtown Columbus, local teenager Cheyenne Fife tells a story about a tension-filled game of Monopoly her family recently played.

As the details unfold, she is joined by two other teens who are being guided by Ohio State doctoral student Aubrey Helene Neumann to create a group performance piece inspired by the story. One of Fife’s teammates improvises sound effects to the story’s events, and the other provides a visual accompaniment with hand movements.

Fife’s “Family Game Night” is an example of what audiences will see at “Be the Street” this weekend at Third Way Cafe. The event will be a collaboration between four university departments culminating into a weekend of theatrical workshops and performances.

The “Be the Street” project began almost two years ago as a collaboration between six Ohio State faculty members in the departments of Theatre, Spanish and Portuguese, Dance and Comparative Studies.

“The whole idea is to work with people who don’t necessarily have any training and to use their stories to devise performances,” said Ana Elena Puga, principal investigator for “Be the Street” and associate professor in the departments of Theatre and Spanish and Portuguese. “We make the performances; we don’t start with a script beforehand.”

At the event, five groups of three to eight local participants will present performance pieces they began working on this past winter. Groups include members of various ages who live in the Hilltop and nearby areas who were recruited by Ohio State researchers at locations such as the Hilltop branch of the Columbus Public Library.

Under the leadership of Ohio State graduate students enrolled in the Devising Performance in Partnership with Local Communities theatre course, each group of participants created original pieces that tell stories about their lives. Mediums through which different groups perform include storytelling, spoken-word poetry, music and on-the-spot storytelling.  

To create the pieces, Puga said the graduate students — referred to as devisers — played dozens of theater games with the participants. After breaking into pairs, they were given instructions to tell each other a story, such as “Tell us how you came to live in the Hilltop,” that fit with the project’s theme of migration, mobility and placemaking.

“And people will tell you, ‘Well, I started out in southern Mexico, but then my grandfather died, and my mother decided that there wasn’t anything left for her there. So then we came to some other city, and then something happened there, and then we came to the Hilltop,’” Puga said. “And those stories are often really interesting; how people’s life circumstances led them to the Hilltop.”

Neumann, a doctoral student in performance, history and theory, explained that after she spent a couple months having her participants share stories, they began to mold the tales into a series of vignettes. They then broke up into smaller groups, where Neumann and her co-devisers guided them to form more structured pieces

“And now we’re at a point where we’re trying to refine those pieces and eventually string them together in a single performance,” she said.\

Caption: Aubrey Neumann (seated, front), an Ohio State Theatre Department deviser, leads a group of performers for the “Be the Street” project. Credit: Josh Truett

Puga said one group of students from West High School worked on a poem about a recent lockdown that occurred at their school after there was a report that someone was armed in the building.

Other serious themes have come from the group named “Warriors/Survivors,” who Puga said has been through many adverse experiences, including domestic abuse and addiction.

Additional groups who will perform include the “YMCA Seniors” and a group from the Our Lady of Guadalupe Center, a Hispanic community organization.

Puga said the event’s theme ––  placemaking –– was chosen due to the great deal of migration occurring across the globe today.

“This is a time with a lot of refugees, where there’s a lot of displacement all around the world,” she said. “And also because Hilltop has a lot of migrants, especially from Latin America and Africa, we thought that might be a good subject to explore with people in Hilltop.”

Neumann said the fact that the participants come together from different parts of the city fits with the project’s theme of forming one’s community.

“We’re bringing people together who wouldn’t be together otherwise to join in the creative endeavor,” she said. “That is allowing them to communicate things about themselves to their community but also make their own little, mini community amongst each other, which I think is really valuable.
“Be the Street: A Performance Studies Project on Human Mobility and Placemaking” will take place Saturday and Sunday at Third Way Cafe, 3058 W. Broad St. Admission is free. For more information, visit