David Bradley is nothing less than a cause-driven creative whirlwind. The theater director, arts educator and consultant is a 23-year company member at People’s Light and Theatre in Malvern, where he directed Jessica Dickey’s Row After Row, which ended Nov. 9. Bradley is also cofounder of LiveConnections, a nonprofit effort that creates innovative music programs for kids, adults and special-needs populations with partner venue World Cafe Live. At the National Constitution Center, Bradley is the artistic director for Living News, a Larry Loebell play in its ninth season. He’s also directing A Fierce Kind of Love, a play commissioned by Temple University’s Institute on Disabilities that tells the story of the intellectual-disability rights movement in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania. And there’s more … much more.
MLT: Are you a juggler, too?
DB: I’m working in different realms, but I like to create whatever can expand communities and civic engagement. I pitch a big tent, but it’s big enough to bring a lot of people under it. Lots of these collaborations cross over and pollinate each other. But it’s really about how arts can engage a community.
MLT: Is there an overall theme to the hybrid nature of your work?
DB: It’s the way the arts help us to cross boundaries, connect us, and even connect us beyond ourselves. It’s about the kinds of stories that can be told and who can take part in their telling, and who gets to experience it and how broad we can make that group. I’m moving among many arenas, where theater is the catalyst for an exploration of the larger issues.
MLT: How did you get started in theater?
DB: By high school (at Episcopal Academy), I was involved in plays. I loved sports, but my casts and crews were my teams. I first worked in college (Yale University) with a kids’ theater company that toured New Haven’s public schools. Then, in the summer, we’d be at the YMCA and in the housing projects in New Haven. Out of college, I started to travel with a company that toured rural areas in Pennsylvania. We put on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a coal mine in Ashland.
MLT: Who needs the arts the most?
DB: That’s hard to put a finger on, but it’s important that our young people have the arts as part of their growing up and part of their education—but the arts are getting cut in city school budgets. What’s needed is the ability to step outside your own shoes and experience something where you can find your way. Every segment of the population deserves the opportunity to be engaged in the arts, but it’s tricky to say that anyone can get it if they want it.
MLT: How key is storytelling?
DB: I like the stories about those no one else is paying attention to. A Fierce Kind of Love does that. We’re telling an untold civil rights story that will broaden the category.
MLT: What about the bridges between the past and the present in your work?
DB: LiveConnections puts a newer style next to an older (classical) style. Those concerts are about how music connects with culture—how we can move from what we know to what we don’t know. A lot of plays explore the past and connect it to the present. Row After Row is set in a bar in Gettysburg in present day, but the three characters have just finished a Civil War re-enactment.
MLT: How does our area rank in the arts?
DB: Philadelphia has really exploded in the last 10-15 years as a place of hybrid artists-directors-writers creating across boundaries. There’s a lot of cross-pollination.
Visit www.peopleslight.org and www.liveconnections.org.