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Using Performance Art to Alert Drivers to Look Out for Pedestrians

Susan Bence

A series of three street performances taking place this Thursday and Friday carries a simple message - remember to see and stop for pedestrians.
UWM Professor Anne Basting has built a career blending performance that reaches out to and folds in older adults, more specifically people facing issues from memory loss to isolation.  Her latest venture, The Crossings, sets out to illustrate the ability to navigate city sidewalks and cross streets safely is critical to everyone's safety - including older adults.

By performance time, props had been significantly modified.

During a rehearsal just days before the performances, Basting leads a cluster of mostly college performers. They’ve assembled on a Sunday afternoon in Mitchell Hall on the UWM campus. Some play tinkling triangles, others hold long white PCV pipes. And then, there are the flag bearers and a couple of guys hoisting what resembles black plastic trays that might have been plucked from the school cafeteria.

UWM theater major Donald Kozinsky is one of the tray carriers. He explains that the prop represents a bridge.

“I am one of two bridges among the group. We have to stay on both sides of the crosswalk and when we raise our bridges, that’s the signal for all our poles to be on the guard so we can get the pedestrians through safely,” Kozinsky says.

He says it took a while to come up with a workable performance plan. “We originally thought we would link our arms like a human guardrail but that didn’t really work out too well, as we found out in St. Francis,” Kozinsky says.

He says drivers kept trying to drive through to make a right or left turn. Kozinsky says he understands how terrifying it can be for older adults to navigate a busy street, even with lights and a crosswalk.

“The three street that we’re working on are within Bay View, Cudahy and St. Francis, I actually live on that side of town and know some of the fears that these pedestrians feel. I don’t drive; I walk a lot and these streets can be very, very dangerous,” Kozinsky says.

Credit S Bence
James Hart (left) shares ideas with The Crossings' cast members

James Hart is taking in a rehearsal for the first time, but he has a connection to the production.

He’s part of the national Sojourn Theatre group, whose members are spread around the country. It’s not the first time it has collaborated with Anne Basting. This however, is a brand new performance experience for Hart.

“I’ve attempted to do theater in odd, weird places, but never with moving motor vehicles and not just the potential, but there’s actual danger," Hart says. "It’s extremely challenging; a cool challenge."

He wants the performers to have 100 percent more fun. Ann Basting couldn’t agree more.

“We’re inviting the crossers to be part of a performance, and it should be so memorable and fun for them; not just like the release of fear of crossing an intersection, which it probably will be," Basting says. "They’ll probably be thinking, ‘I don’t have to worry about this car because there is this giant PVC pipe blocking the way for me."

Anne Basting (far right) rallies the troupe.

She says her troupe is just now prepared to let down their guard and have some fun with the performance.

”I think it’s taken us this long to move beyond the fear to get to the funny; we’re ready for it,” Basting says.

Carrie Schaefer has a unique take on The Crossings project. She’s a researcher from the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom and specialized in community performance.

Schaefer learned of the project and came up with grant money to travel here. She’d arrived a week earlier. What she found most compelling, and what brought her across the pond, was that Anne Basting brings performers face to face with community.

Observing from the outside in, Schaefer thinks the project has potential even beyond making motorists aware of pedestrians during performances.

“I hope that it grows from these three ‘Crossings’ and that it kind of spreads throughout the city and that people pick it up and do it themselves to start creating broader awareness," Schaefer says. And it would be great if it went right through to getting a decent public transport system here in Milwaukee."

Schaefer acknowledges rethinking an urban transit system is complicated.

“At least if it doesn’t change that in some way, can it make people more aware that walking is really good for you and you need to give way to walkers as a driver, so that cars and walkers and drivers can coexist a little bit better,” Schaefer says.

Note: Since the weekend rehearsal, a sea shanty and sails have been adding to the production.

Credit S Bence

Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.<br/>