Audience Blog

Audience Blog #8: Val Lyle (Knoxville)

Audience Blog #8: Val Lyle (Knoxville)

Progress Theatre’s “Audience Blog” features responses to live PT performances written exclusively by show attendees we meet on tour.

Can Artists Change the World?

I drove two hours each way just to see The Burnin’ because I had seen an excerpt in production a couple years ago. Like the title, it burned into my psyche and I wasn’t going to miss it if it were within driving distance. I could try to describe to you how it felt to be deeply moved by the actors singing directly into the eyes of the intimate audience, or relate the very contemporary way dialogue shifts to chants to songs to a kind of rap that is positively mesmerizing. I could describe my awe at the mastery of the troupe working with no props or set design whatsoever, changing literally in front of you back and forth between two similar narratives set 80 years apart, or the intense physicality of the performances. But, what I am really left wondering at the end of The Burnin’ is “Can Artists Change the World?” And, if so, What can we do? How can we do it?

Living in a predominately White rural area that is capable of pretending it is unaffected by today’s issues, I struggle with understanding what my moral responsibilities are. I’ve decided educating myself independently with the facts of real issues is part of my responsibility, as is showing support with my dollars. Many of us who know in our hearts that things are bad for others, things are wrong, honestly don’t know what to do about it or how to show support, how to help. We like to think of ourselves as “open minded,” but when pressed, how long has it actually been since you allowed yourself the trust and grace to look deeply into your own mirror and perhaps be challenged on a few points?

Attending this performance is something tangible you can do. You can lay down a little bit of money where your mouth is, you can dare to be secure enough in yourself to crack open that comfort zone just a tiny safe bit. In the end it’s not how many petitions got signed or how many marches happened. In the end it’s the hearts of the folk across the nation that need attention, and seeing this performance can change the position of your paradigm compass a few ticks in the right direction.

Conversations with friends and strangers who saw The Burnin’ on my urging need communicated: “I can’t believe I almost missed seeing this! I want to bring so many people to see this! How is it that we didn’t know how great this piece was beforehand?” It still came down to a personal recommendation making all the difference in this time-starved lifestyle we live. Take a tip from a friend: Go see this play.

You see, there are artists who still believe they can touch a person’s heart, affect the way a person’s soul responds to the world with their work. There are artists who believe so strongly in the need for more empathy in these troubled times that they literally dedicated years of their life to growing a theater performance, nurturing the difficult passages, and polishing the harmonies. The Burnin’ is in the top ranks of this courageous movement that shoves back the walls of the comfort zone as we know it to make necessary room for growth in this new America. This crew has chosen to do the hardest work: writing and performing original material that just might accomplish these things. Support the power of art to change the world for good. Support this playwright and troupe. Go see The Burnin’ every chance you get, and tell your friends and colleagues to as well, especially the ones who need a little enlightenment the most. You’ll have something to talk about later. I guarantee it.

Val Lyle is a professional sculptor, visual artist and educator living in Southern Appalachia near Bristol TN where she creates large scale public art commissions and multi-media studio artworks. She enjoys watching fireflies by moonlight while pondering what else can be done towards social justice issues. You can reach Val or learn more about her work at: and

⇐⇐ Read Audience Blog #7: “Ho’oponopono (Healing)” by Jocelyn Maki’ilei Ishihara

Read Audience Blog #9: “Confessions of a Recovering Redneck” by Bill Murrah ⇒⇒

Progress Theatre

September 12th, 2016

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