That is what Joseph M. Paprzyck thinks. He is the artistic director & playwright of the South Camden Theater Company. The theater company has been performing in the basement of the Sacred Heart Church in Camden, New Jersey. Recently ground was broken across the street to build the Waterfront South Theatre which will house the theater company. The theater is being built across the street from Sacred Heart. The location was formally a bar that Mr. Paprzyck’s grandfather owned. That piece of information hooked me. It shows that this theater company is embedded in the community. Mr. Paprzyck comes from a family tradition with roots in the community and therefore has been able to create a professional “community” theater. His motto is Art Will Save Us. By being a playwright and artistic director he can bring stories that connect directly with the issues facing the community of South Camden.
. . . the beauty of live theatre is the communal aspect of the shared entertainment experience. Sure, we can sit down to watch television with our friends, and we can certainly enjoy the same movie with an audience of strangers. But live theatre is the one singular opportunity we have to enjoy the telling of a story that evolves from one night to the next, often due to the audience’s response to the magic and artistry being performed live and in front of us.
Many regional theaters try to do this with a newly hired artistic director from another big theater. Along with actors, directors and writers flown in from across the country who will be there for six weeks and back to New York or their next gig. Paprzyck is doing it in a small way and seems to be a cornerstone in his community. Not a cornerstone because the theater does eleven shows a year and draws in all the tourists, but because the artist of the theater company grew up in the community and lives in the community. As the local bartender the grandfather served the community. Paprzyck has taken that tradition and is serving the community in a different way. Not by creating a one stop theater shop, but as an on-going, communal, missional theater experience. The communal experience is an easy comparison to a religious community. One that seeks to bring the community together from within, to heal wounds, celebrate triumphs and by doing this all together as one. In that sense art might just save us or at least South Camden.