Q&A With Joanna Taft

The Harrison Center executive director shares what to expect at this Saturday’s PreEnact Indy: Monon 16.

Indianapolis Monthly: How would you describe PreEnact for someone who knows nothing about it?
Joanna Taft: At a re-enactment, you see people acting out the way things used to be, and you try on an old-fashioned way of living. PreEnact is the exact opposite. We’re acting out the way things ought to be, with an interactive performance of the neighbors’ hopes and dreams for a world where there’s justice and mercy.

IM: What inspired you to start this project?
JT: I’ve been trying to figure out how to revitalize a neighborhood and still be inclusive. There’s a lot of conversation about gentrification in our country, so I want to strengthen the neighborhood and bring it back to life in a way that benefits everyone. I thought, what if theater could help us? What if we could act out an end result that we don’t really know how to get to? We act out a healthy and inclusive neighborhood, which gives us something to work toward.

IM: What do you think made last year successful?

JT: Everything was grounded in the story of the neighborhood. It’s important to understand your past before setting goals for the future. Hopes and dreams are informed by the pain of the past. Having that as our script made neighbors feel proud and visitors feel inspired. Those who grew up in the neighborhood were honored by the way we respected its story.

IM: Why are you bringing it back this year, and what’s new or different now?
JT: We initially planned to just do this once, then wait a few years before doing another one. But we received feedback saying we’d been very successful in sharing the story of the neighborhood and starting that idea of an inclusive and revitalized place. With anything, you need repetition to form a habit. So we decided to continue pre-enacting the community and working toward justice and equality.

This year’s script will be different from last year’s, with a new performance based on the stories of people who used to live in the neighborhood. PreEnact Indy will also be expanding to a fourth block, anchored by a gospel fest featuring music from several local churches.

IM: How do you hope people respond to attending PreEnact?
JT: I want people to feel like they know the story of the neighborhood. I don’t want them to see it as a blank slate, but as a place with a story that they can be a part of. They aren’t rewriting or erasing the story. I also want people to think personally about how they can pre-enact. How can businesses become more inclusive? How can people love their neighborhood? If we want our neighborhoods to change, it won’t happen until our hearts change. We can’t have more inclusive neighborhoods until we as individuals decide to be more inclusive.

IM: How do you gather ideas for this picture of what the neighborhood could be?
JT: Through interviews with neighbors, we gathered about 80 common things that people said again and again. It was everything from nice sidewalks, to a candy store, to people sitting on their porches and being a community. We realized people are all the same. Everybody wants community, health, happiness, financial security, good education, and affordable housing. We made to integrate those hopes and dreams of the neighbors into the script.

IM: Since the first PreEnact event last year, have you seen the community make any progress toward this vision of what it ought to be?
JT: There are stronger relationships. For example, leaders from Monon 16 have teamed up with a nearby neighborhood, working together to make sure their areas are represented in certain issues. I think it’s really cool how those neighborhoods were working by themselves before, and now they’re working together. There have also been more porch parties in both communities.

PreEnact Indy: Monon 16 takes place 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, October 6 along 16th Street between the Monon Trail and Dr. Andrew J. Brown Avenue. Visit preenactment.org for more info.