Commentary: How a UK theater is creating social change and a new arts model

Wayne Ingram, guest post on The Guardian's Culture Professionals Network blog, 9/20/12

Social enterprise is rapidly expanding, and the creative sector is one of the fastest growing in the UK -- it contributes 6% of GDP and employs over 2 million people. So when my colleagues and I formed Tap The Table Theatre it made logical sense for us to form as a social enterprise and in many ways it has allowed us to step into a rather unique position. Our desire for social change is pushed to the forefront of what we do. Most theatre companies are looking to create social change. But for many it's all about putting on a show, and social change is often a by-product. What we do differently is make social change the sole driving force behind what we do. One of the issues we're dealing with currently is youth unemployment and we've been creating workshops and development programmes to help tackle that issue. This means other organisations outside of the arts -- businesses, county councils and universities -- are showing a keen interest in our projects and looking to back what we do both financially and in other ways as well. It means that we don't have to rely on charitable donations or public funding in the way that other arts companies do. In fact, we have found a significant number of organisations are looking to solve issues that we are also looking to solve. The solution to many of these issues has been for the organisations to provide some sort of performing arts programme, but they often struggle because they don't have the facilities to provide it. This is where a theatre company like ours can bravely step in. The projects that keep our company moving along are those most heavily centred on making a social impact. These are the projects that garner interest from the larger organisations and it is these contracts which allow the company to grow to a larger extent. If more artistic companies create a business model around social enterprise, the creative sector could become less fragmented and far less reliant on public funding.


Commentary: Best-kept secret to creating social change is... improv

Marc Evan Jackson, Good blog, 9/22/12

I hold the secret to the fastest, widest ranging, longest lasting, and certainly most fun path to positive, global social change: Everyone in the world should take an improv class. I have never been more serious about anything in my life. If more people improvised, there would be no war. 

Improvisation is the art of making it up. Winging it. Often used in theatre, it is the creation of a scene or tiny play that arises from a suggestion from the audience, a tiny play for which the script is made up on the spot. If all you can think about right now is "Whose Line Is It Anyway?," then please allow me to elaborate. In order to be good at improv, you must adhere to a few pretty stringent rules. You must listen to others. You must agree with what's going on, and respect those you're working with. You must: Get along. Work together. Be fearless. Show up with energy. Be willing to look silly and even fail. Your job, while improvising, is to put yourself in the other person's shoes, and make them look good, and more than anything you must learn to obey the precept: Don't be a dick. As a result, a completely delightful by-product of improv is a set of unbelievably great skills for citizenship. Those who improvise become nicer, more informed, more interesting, more interested people. Full disclosure: There is a down side. Improv will make you realize how awful we humans are to one another. It will point that out to you every time someone begins speaking while someone else is already speaking, and make vivid who in your life is or is not listening. You will see the fear-driven, selfish, self-aggrandizing motivations behind what everyone is saying and doing as they interrupt one another. Once you are exposed to improv, Thanksgiving dinner with your family will become more unbearable than it has ever been.  I am an actor. I make my living improvising. But improvisation's beneficial impacts can and will help anyone, in any profession, of any age, in any circumstance. Seriously. We've taught this to prisoners - prisoners in prison - and they have raved about the good it's done in their lives. Surely it can help you too.


In Los Angeles, creating social change through classical music

Heart of Los Angeles blog, 9/17/12

In the fall of 2010, Heart of Los Angeles forged a partnership with the Los Angeles Philharmonic to bring a youth orchestra to the Rampart community. Now in its third year, Youth Orchestra Los Angeles is inspired by El Sistema, the Venezuelan music education system that nurtured the Philharmonic's Music Director, Gustavo Dudamel. El Sistema uses music education to help kids from impoverished circumstances achieve their full potential and learn values that favor their growth. At its core, El Sistema is about together­ness, a place where children learn to listen to each other and to respect one another. The founder of El Sistema, Jose Antonio Abreu, states:

"Music has to be recognized as an...agent of social development in the highest sense, because it transmits the highest values -- solidarity, harmony, mutual compassion. And it has the ability to unite an entire community and to express sublime feelings."

YOLA at HOLA has taken Maestro Abreu's philosophy and adapted it to the needs of our community. Building from 80 students the first year, [the program] is now 220 strong. When the students join they make a serious commitment, dedicating 15 hours per week after school and on weekends to intensive music education and academic tutoring. As students progress, regardless of their age, they are tasked with mentoring other students. The impact of the program can be felt well beyond the orchestra room. In a community with limited resources, YOLA at HOLA has brought classical music into neighborhood centers and the homes of hundreds of families. When asked what they like most about the program, many students respond they enjoy performing at such world renowned venues as Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Hollywood Bowl. Many dream of becoming professional musicians. But what comes out more often is the understanding that there is something much greater than just learning to play music. In the words of one student "It's not so much about being a great musician, but being an inspiring musician so I can improve my community with my music."


Actors Equity to sweat equity: B'way stars help Habitat for Humanity build houses

Jeanine Ramirez, NY-1 News, 9/25/12

Armed with a compactor and shovels, scrapers and paintbrushes, a group of Broadway's best went to work off-Broadway: Way off. Theater directors, actors, producers and writers all traveled to Bedford-Stuyvesant to take on the role of construction worker Monday as they helped Habitat for Humanity build affordable homes for New Yorkers. "To feel like we're making a physical difference in someone's life is a great thing," said actor Andrew Keenan-Bolger. This is the first time the Broadway community has teamed up with Habitat New York City. The event was called Broadway Builds and the dozens who took part say this role is not such a stretch. "Most of us have done Summer Stock in the past and have built sets and have painted sets and so it feels a little bit like that," said actress Laura Linney. Typically, Monday is a day off for the talented group but they came together at 386 Jefferson Avenue to help turn a four story building into eight condos. It's one of 79 buildings in the area that Habitat New York City is renovating. "We're identifying vacant and dilapidated buildings and some that are in pre-foreclosure and saying we want to transform and strengthen this community by revitalizing these particular buildings," said Rachel Hyman of Habitat for Humanity of New York City. The goal is to finish 100 homes in Brooklyn by 2014, most of which are located in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Ocean Hill and Brownsville. The homes will go to families who demonstrate a need for affordable housing and have also worked on them as part of their sweat equity. Broadway Builds says it will play its part by making it an annual event. "It just feels the best. It's addictive," said actress/organizer Emily Bergl. The home is scheduled to be completed in November with the new families moving in in the new year.
Please consider the environment before printing out this email.  Thanks.
YOU'VE COTT MAIL is a free service for professionals in the arts.  Emails are sent most weekdays. 
If you are not already on the distribution list and would like to sign up, please click here:

Join Our Mailing List      Follow me on Twitter     
Click here to view an archive of recent past editions of "You've Cott Mail."