Posted on June 18, 2022 by Sonoma Valley Sun
During Pride Month, the Sun’s Anna Pier sat down with Eric Jackson, director of the Sonoma Community Center’s Exploratory Arts division.
You grew up in the Midwest, Ohio and Michigan. Yes, and I studied musical theater at the University of Michigan.
And then? I spent fourteen years in New York City in musical theater. A little bit of everything – Broadway, Off-Broadway, international tours. I was ready for a change. Some friends had started Transcendence Theater so I came out to work with them. First as a performer while performing in New York. Then I took on an administrative role and developed costumes and props for them.
How did you come to the SCC? First I worked on costumes and props for Sonoma Arts Live. And then the Fiber Arts manager left SCC, so it was a natural fit for me.
And trash fashion? It was born from a wonderful marriage between my experience in costume design and sewing and my previous experience directing theatrical events. I knew how to oversee the experience you are going to give to a person.
You now have a new role. From that year I was tasked with building a new department, the Live Exploratory Arts department, which is just a fancy term for music, movement and theatre. Not “Performing Arts” because I wanted it to be accessible to everyone. Not everyone wants to be a star, but everyone can participate.
And do they? If you build it, they will come. We have begun a playwright residency with Jenna Brady, who will write an original play that will premiere at the SCC October 14-16. Along the way, she’ll receive community input on her ongoing work, including a staged reading with questions and answers on July 23. Jenna also hosts really exciting workshops every last Monday. People log in the Friday before and get the prompt. Like “a failed lover, a candlestick and the Bahamas”. Readers come and read what participants have written. It is so much fun. It’s about demystifying the art of theater writing. This is an example of how I try to make space for people to try things on.
What else? dolls. We’re about to partner up with a puppeteer who worked with Jim Henson. She will give workshops on puppetry, stage puppetry and screen puppetry. I forgot to mention an improv class for theatre. And a unique adult class, Star in Your Own Story, combines storytelling, improvisation and healing. It’s like an adult summer camp. Why should kids have all the fun? But we have a theater camp for children from 11 to 17 years old. In two weeks they will be ready to perform a version of Seussian! And Queer Camp again.
And music and movement? We have bilingual guitar group lessons and West African drums lessons coming soon. And Open Mike Night, “Summer Salon in the Secret Garden”, every first Wednesday. We offer bilingual mindfulness yoga classes as well as a hybrid gentle class – yoga, pilates and stretching. One of my dreams is to offer group music lessons for young people, where we can also provide the instruments. Like ukuleles. I wonder how do I invite opportunities? Fun ballroom dancing, like a square dance night for the whole community. I’m less concerned with the actual art form than with the fact that it is a channel to discover yourself, to build community, to value others.
Biggest challenge? Marketing how to let everyone know. There is so much going on behind those red brick walls. I always try to be conscious, to let people know that this is a safe place, everyone is welcome. I think it’s only fair that some of our programs are entirely in Spanish.
Talk about Self-Expression Camp. Yes, the queer camp. It came from asking ourselves, what communities do we serve? We thought about the queer community, how to give people the opportunity to express themselves without judgement. To offer a wonderful variety of skills. We’ve partnered with Positive Image to make this easier. We have received wonderful financial support so that it can continue in the last school year. This year’s camp is in July. We also have a queer clothing and book exchange open to all ages, seniors and high school students.
Was there something like that growing up gay in the Midwest? no The Midwest in the ’90s before Will & Grace had no spaces for queer youth and teens, aside from support groups that health clinics might have. And it wasn’t accepted yet to have a gay/lesbian club in high school.
They live in Sonoma Valley? Yes. I moved here because of the wonderful community spirit and the surprisingly open and caring nature of everyone.
Sonoma has such a small black population. Any challenges for you with that? Now, coming from an upper-middle-class family in the Midwest, I’m used to being a minority or lone black person in white rooms.
Then you were little, what did you want to be? I didn’t know and I still don’t know.