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Beachtown’ Enlists Audience For Live Civics Lesson

Cast members perform in

Credit: Daren Scott

Above: Cast members perform in "Beachtown" at the San Diego Rep in an undated photo.

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San Diego politicos will tell you they see plenty of the same faces and empty seats at plenty of public meetings. Now there's a play that takes pointed aim at that very situation.

The San Diego Rep's "Beachtown" reimagines every member of the audience as a citizen of the fictional San Diego-area Beachtown, creating a packed community meeting. The agenda every night is to decide what items should go into a time capsule for the town's 100th anniversary. San Diego playwright Herbert Siguenza helped adapt the show, which originally ran in Washington DC, to be San Diego-specific.

Rachel Grossman helped create that first version of the show, called "Beertown," centered on a city whose main employer was a brewery that closed 20 years ago. Grossman said the play was developed from 2009 to 2011 and was a response to the Great Recession. One of the first artifacts in that show was a stack of pink slips from brewery workers.

Some potential artifacts in "Beachtown" include a remembrance of a mass shooting or an “immigrant crossing” sign. Actress Lee Ann Kim said many of the items spark conversations about the hot-button issues that are dominating national headlines.

"What we’re asking (the audience) to do is to be vulnerable and trust us enough to stand up and speak and to share their thoughts and opinions where there’s not going to be judgment and in a way that moves this conversation forward," Kim said.

Kim and Grossman join KPBS Midday Edition on Tuesday to share more about shaping a play around civic engagement.

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