You can’t live in Arroyo Grande without hearing it:
“Oh, well, that’s A.G. — you know, nice town, normal people.”
Now a group of Arroyo Grande High School graduates have taken the de facto town motto a step further.
“Nice Town, Normal People” — a play devoted to exploring the experience of Arroyo Grande, through the words of those same “normal people” — will open Aug. 17 at the Clark Center for the Performing Arts.
It’s produced by Rhizome Theater Company, a nonprofit founded by Arroyo Grande High School graduates Kyle Berlin, Ashlin Hatch and Makulumy Alexander-Hills, and funded by a grant from the Davis Project for Peace.
Hatch, who conducted many of the interviews that make up the fabric of the play, said she, Berlin and Alexander-Hills were interested in exploring their hometown, and what makes Arroyo Grande, Arroyo Grande.
“Kyle and I and Makulumy and a lot of our other friends have had conversations over the past several years since we left about what kind of a place Arroyo Grande is, and what kind of place we’d like it to be, and how those are two separate things,” Hatch said. “If we’re sitting around having these conversations and we’re a bunch of artists, a bunch of theatre-makers, the next logical step would be to come home and make this happen.”
The script is pulled directly from just under 100 interviews with past and present Arroyo Grande residents and members of the surrounding communities, touching on everything from the iconic roosters wandering throughout the Village, the rise of traffic on Highway 101, the popularity of Friday night football games and the 2011 cross-burning incident that rocked a small town devoted to its “nice town, normal people” image.
All of it is an effort to answer one question: What does home mean in Arroyo Grande?
“I think that it is particularly timely,” Berlin said as the trio prepared for a rehearsal of the show at Lopez High School. “I think our country in general is asking questions about who are we home for, who are we not home for, what kind of country are we, who belongs, who doesn’t?”
It’s not a line, it’s not a linear narrative. It is a story composed of a lot of different people’s ideas.
The play format is anything but traditional.
Rather than fictionalizing the story of Arroyo Grande, Berlin and Hatch (who perform the entirety of the production, with Alexander-Hills providing the original score) jump back and forth between “thematic segments,” reciting snippets from their interviews, overlaid with audio clips from the interviews and a ball of yarn tossed across stage to show the connections between stories.
“I sometimes call it a collage of text,” Hatch said. “It’s not a line, it’s not a linear narrative. It is a story composed of a lot of different people’s ideas.”
The show will vary night-to-night depending on feedback from the audience during question-and-answer segments, as well as different music each night courtesy of Alexander-Hills. The audience will also help the trio decide which organizations to donate proceeds to at each performance.
They said they hope people will leave the production with more insight into their neighbors and how, even with different experiences and viewpoints, they all make up the fabric of Arroyo Grande.
“It’s fascinating because what is a nice town, what is normal people?” Berlin said. “In some ways it seems really true, but in other ways, how can it be true? So if you come to the show, we’ll hopefully flesh that out a little bit.”
If you go
“Nice Town, Normal People,” will run from Aug. 17 to 20 at the Clark Center for the Performing Arts. Show begins at 7:30 p.m. Admission: free. For more information, visit RhizomeTheater.org.