THE PORCHES PROJECT
University of Scranton theater program gathering Hill Section stories
SCRANTON — Jennifer Rhoads laid down the ground rules.
Keep your stories to five minutes.
It’s not a performance. Don’t talk over each other.
No speaking from notes. “Spontaneity is part of it,” she said.
University of Scranton theater directors gathered personal stories Sunday from a dozen Scranton residents for a project they’re calling “The Porches Project: The Hill Section of Scranton.”
It’s a dramatic production set for early May when student and resident actors will put on a collection of short plays on neighborhood porches in the city’s Hill Section.
On Sunday, at the Greenhouse Project at Nay Aug Park, they held one in a series of storytelling events, open to the public, to collect real memories from the people who live on the Hill.
The production likely will resemble a walking tour in which audience members will get maps that show where the porches-turned-stages are located, theater program Director Hank Willenbrink said.
The event will coincide with Marywood Universi-
ty’s Jane’s Walk, an event that honors the late urban theorist and Dunmore native Jane Jacobs.
Jacobs might be best known for her “eyes on the street” concept, which suggests communities are safer and stronger when more people are out.
Not everyone who spoke Sunday lived in the Hill Section, though most had strong emotional ties to it.
Some were transplants. Some moved there recently. Some arrived generations ago.
“I thought when I came here that it was an illustration in a children’s book,” said Trish Spalletta, who moved to the Hill 35 years ago.
Maina Shankar fled worsening political conditions in her home country of Bhutan when she was 8 years old, she told the group. Like many Bhutanese refugees, she fled to Nepal and lived in a grassroof hut in a hilly area with a climate similar to Scranton’s, where she moved in 2010 amid worsening conditions in Nepal.
Prabhu Shankar, her husband, recalled around the time they bought their home, a blizzard dropped 18 inches of snow. Plowing contractors told him he’d have to wait two weeks for someone to come dig him out. Hardware stores were sold out of snowblowers, so, after hunkering down for two days, they decided to dig out on their own.
A neighbor spotted the whole family digging and pushed away the snow withaplow.
“I asked him, ‘How much do you charge?’ ” Prabhu Shankar recalled. The man wouldn’t take his money. “People are so helpful.”
Willenbrink said the story-gathering events (three more are planned this month) are held for a couple different reasons.
“One is finding source material for students to write plays that are inspired by the stories that they hear,” he said. “We may also have community members who want to write. It’s meant to be a generative experience.” Contact the writer: jocon[email protected]rock.com; 570-348-9131; @jon_oc on Twitter
Scranton resident Maureen Watson, second from left, tells a story Sunday about living in Scranton as fellow residents, from left, Alex Wasalinko, Terry Edwards and Jane Risse, react during a discussion with Hill Section residents led by University of Scranton guest theater Director Jennifer Rhoads at the Nay Aug Park Greenhouse.
Scranton resident Maureen Watson laughs while telling a story about living in the Hill Section of Scranton.