Leveraging Theatre for Social Good

Before it was fashionable to be an advocate or activist, my acquaintance Jessie Fahay invited me to join her very new theatre group. She had a vision to pair advocacy with theatrical productions, taking on socially relevant topics.

Jessica Jennings, Development Director of Ripple Effect Artists proudly talks about how they have stayed attuned to the most relevant issues pulling on the collective social conscience of all Americans:

That was in 2010. Seven years later, I could not be more proud of our endeavors and accomplishments at Ripple Effect Artists. Aside from the administrative feats, like becoming a 501(c)3 and earning grant funds, I mean that I am proud that we have stayed tuned to the most relevant issues pulling on the collective social conscience of all Americans. For example, we presented Tea & Sympathy, a play from the 50s about the bullying of homosexuals, and raised funds for the Trevor Project’s suicide prevention call center.

With each of our productions we both raise awareness with our audience, and make a financial donation toward an advocacy organization. We have worked with 11 different organizations on issues of heath care, suicide prevention, hospice, marriage equality, women’s rights, technology unemployment, sex trafficking, and now we will be looking at racism.

Our productions are paired with audience engagements such as talk-backs. While our dramas are wonderful for getting people curious about issues, real-world information and solutions from experts leave the audience empowered, informed, and pointed in a direction of taking action. Our audiences have reported taking these actions after our events: volunteering, signing petitions, conversing about these challenging issues in their own communities, and ending their participation in buying sex.

I am honored to have my work with Ripple Effect Artists as part of my artistic legacy. I like to say, in the spirit of Martha Graham, that there is no higher calling than to be fully used by our art.

Please get to know us better! We have a FREE event on May 11th, and a fundraiser on May 30th. Details and links are below.

Guarding the Bridge

May 11th @7pm

250 Park Ave., People’s United Bank.

FREE reading of Chuck Gorden’s GUARDING THE BRIDGE

Click here to RSVP

The Edge of Everyday

May 30th @ 8pm

Elektra Theatre, 300 W. 43rd St.

$45-$60 Tickets 

Rippleeffect.Jennings@gmail.com

 

Here’s What You Can Do To Protect National Arts And Culture Funding

Claire Fallon Culture Writer, The Huffington Post

In just six easy steps.

<> on January 21, 2017 in Washington, DC.

Amanda Edwards via Getty ImagesAn arts-inspired sign, painted by artist Panhandle Slim, at the Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 21.

Champions of the arts bristled last week at a report from The Hill that President Donald Trump’s agenda might include axing the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) ― along with many other severe budget cuts.

A report, however, is not a budget plan, and a president’s proposed budget is not a final policy. Citizens remain a crucial part of government; vocally and energetically supporting or opposing specific policies can sway elected officials. (Not sure about this? Check the NRA’s influence over gun control, backed by millions of highly mobilized members.)

So what can a mere individual do to save national arts and humanities funding? We talked to a few organizations working in the trenches to advocate for cultural institutions, and here’s what they said:

1. Know the stakes.

Suzanne Nossel, the executive director of PEN America, pointed out that though the budgets of the NEA and the NEH are small, “the impact is significant. They fund things that can’t attract for-profit dollars. Even more than that, the signal [axing these institutions] sends … is dangerous in a way that reaches far beyond even the impact of these important agencies.”

“The NEH … has a national mandate,” said Stephen Kidd, the executive director of the National Humanities Alliance (NHA), in a phone conversation with HuffPost. “So it’s supporting humanities work in small towns all around the country … there really aren’t other funders out there that are supporting that kind of work on that kind of scale.”

He pointed to support for local museums, educational access to historical newspapers, and even veterans’ programs that use the arts and literature to help veterans grapple with the traumatizing experiences of war as they return from combat.

2. Sign a petition.

“The most important thing will be signing petitions so it’s a real show of force in numbers,” Nossel told HuffPost.

And don’t stop at one, as issues may arise. The Independent reported Monday that the official White House petition to save arts funding did not appear to be registering signatures. At the time of the article’s publication, only 27 signatures had been counted despited hundreds of tweets from self-proclaimed signatories. Today, the count stands at only 42, and the link to “share with others” leads only to a landing page inviting users to sign up for updates from President Trump.

Not to worry: PEN America launched a petition on Tuesday, addressed to Congress, which urges representatives “to reject any budget brought before Congress that eliminates funding for the arts and humanities.”

A Change.org petition addressed to NEA Chairman Jane Chu, Trump, and several other lawmakers specifically pleads for the NEA, stating, “These great organizations must be spared and should not go quietly into the night.”

3. Call your representatives.

Not sure how to contact your congressional representative, or even who that is? Find your representative by zip code here, and other elected officials here. The best bet is to call your own representative ― even if they already hold your own position, to ensure that support is being shored up ― as well as congresspeople from relevant committees.

When lobbying one’s representatives directly, “the most important thing is to talk in specific terms about what’s going on in their own communities, in their own districts,” said Kidd. “That’s what members of Congress are really most concerned about.”

Nossel suggested that voters “talk about the value of arts and culture in their lives, for the economy, for education, for tourism.” She added, “The fact that really from a fiscal perspective, this makes no sense. These cuts are far too small to make any dent in the federal budget, so it can’t be justified as an austerity measure.” That’s because the NEH and the NEA budgets each make up a fraction of one percent of the federal budget ― not to mention that their dollars have a stimulating effect on the artistic economy.

Arlene Goldbard, chief policy wonk of the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture (USDAC) (which is not a government agency, but a grassroots-oriented national arts advocacy organization), argued in a phone conversation with HuffPost that the practical angle might not be the strongest. “What we need to argue is for cultural values […] for what we stand for and how we want to be remembered,” she said, noting that pushback against NEH and NEA defunding would work “if people are successful in connecting arts funding with arts education for kids in the community, with freedom of expression, larger expression of cultural rights.”

4. Go see your representatives in person.

Phone calls, as seasoned political activists know, make a stronger impression on politicians than emails. Pages of angry emails simply don’t have the same direct impact as phone lines clogged by voters, each waiting to have the same forceful conversation with their representative’s staff.

So it makes sense that talking to representatives (or their staff) in person would have an even stronger effect. In a November tweet thread immortalized on Lifehacker, writer and former Congressional staffer Emily Ellsworth pointed out that often the same few people would come to town halls. “If you want to talk to your rep, show up at town hall meetings,” she tweeted.”Get a huge group that they can’t ignore. Pack that place and ask questions.”

You may be able to join forces with an organized effort. For example, Kidd told HuffPost, the NHA is heading to Capitol Hill in March for Humanities Advocacy Day, an annual excursion which may have extra significance this year. The event, he said, would be an opportunity to personally lobby congresspeople to support the NEH.

5. Organize an event in support of cultural institutions.

A peaceful march, a rally to restore sanity, a flash mob to save arts funding ― coming together to publicly show solidarity and support can build force behind a political initiative.

If you have thoughts about the state of culture in America today, the USDAC offers one outlet: their third annual People’s State of the Union, a national event that seeks to elevate people’s voices and give an alternative vision of America.

“What we do is make free training, and a lot of free ancillary material, available to anybody who wants to host a story circle in their community that gives people the opportunity to reflect on their own perception of the state of our union,” explained Goldbard. “People upload their stories to a portal, and those are available both for everybody to peruse and for people to base their cultural policy on.” (Plus, the resulting insights on American culture are transformed into a lyrical, collaborative address by a team of poets.)

6. Remember that your voice could make a real difference. 

“These efforts have failed in the past,” Nossel said. “It’s far from the first time these cuts have been proposed, and every time they’ve failed.”

Goldbard agreed. “This is a total reprise of something that’s been tried before and not succeeded.” She also argued that the NEH and NEA cuts, floated just as Trump’s administration geared up to take drastic steps on other controversial issues such as the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, might merely be a distraction for activists. “It may just be a tactic,” she said, noting that it’s important to contextualize possible arts cuts within a constellation of other urgent issues. “But if it’s not just a tactic, it’s important for groups like ours to hold the line.”

Victoria Hutter, a spokesperson for the NEA, told HuffPost via email that the NEA “is operating under a Continuing Resolution for FY17, which goes through April 2017,” much like other federal agencies. She added. “We look forward to participating in the usual budget process for the FY18 budget with OMB [Office of Management and Budget] and The White House.” As that process goes forward, anyone concerned about the arts ― or other parts of the budget ― can make their voice heard by contacting their representatives.

As the Trump administration moves forward, with a flurry of executive orders and proposed budgetary measures, there are a lot of moving parts for progressives to keep their eyes on. Should changes to the NEH and NEA actually be among them, at least the game plan for saving them seems clear: Dial early, dial often.

 

 

Our Mother’s Brief Affair: LI Premiere

I will be performing the role of Anna Cantour

in

OUR MOTHER’S BRIEF AFFAIR

by Richard Greenberg

Studio Theatre will be the first Long Island theatre to present
this off-Broadway drama about a woman who stuns her family
by revealing a secret about her past. But how much of it is true?

Hope you can make the show!

January 13th through January 29th

 

mymothersbriefaffairfinal

Fridays @8:00PM – 1/13, 1/20, 1/27

Saturdays @8:00PM – 1/14, 1/21, 1/28

Sundays @2:30PM – 1/15, 1/22, 1/29

Thursday, @8:00PM – 1/19

Directed by David Dubin

Edward Cress as her son, Seth

Lauren Duffy, daughter Abby

David Rifkind, her Lover/Dad

Tom DeAngelo, Stage Manager

Ticketshttp://www.studiotheatreli.com

For industry seats:  franceslmcgarry@gmail.com

Directions to Studio Theatre LI:

From the Southern State Pkwy: Take exit 35 south (Wellwood Avenue). Pass Route 109. Then pass Sunrise Highway (Route 27). Studio Theatre is on South Wellwood Avenue, 100 feet south of Hoffman Avenue (LIRR train trestle overhead). Theatre is on the right, above Bridal Shop.

From Route 27A : North on Wellwood Avenue. Theatre is on the left, just before the train trestle overhead. We are above the Bridal Shop.

Finding Home: Migration, Exile, and Belonging

Theatre Communications Group Essay Salon

 

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Lady Liberty’s Worst Day Ever:  J.Dolan Byrnes (Vinnie) and Frances McGarry (Lady Liberty)

 

 

BY MONICA BAUER

On the last day of the run of the “three plays against Islamophobia”, Aizzah Fatima called me to come down from the audience to share our final bows together. She told the story of this crazy Christian woman who called her out of the blue months earlier to brainstorm ways to use theater to confront Islamophobia. At that moment, we both felt “mission accomplished.” We had met each other in common cause, to do our jobs to tell the truth in front of an audience.

In May of 2016, I watched with horror as Donald Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee for President. Back then, we all knew what he’d said about Muslims. Still to come would be the horrendous attack on the Khan family after Khizr Khan, father of American hero Captain Humayan Khan, spoke at the Democratic National Convention. Ever since I graduated from playwriting school at Boston University in 2004, I had been sharpening one tool for communicating to the world; theater. I knew I wanted to say something theatrically about Trump, particularly about his fanning the flames of Islamophobia.

Much of my passion to fight against Islamophobia comes from my personal history: I spent a year teaching at the American University in Cairo, in the 1990’s. I didn’t just come for a weekend seminar. I was there for a year, living in the suburb of Ma’adi, having serious conversations with my students, some taking up the hijab out of devotion, some proudly wearing their hair in the latest styles and wearing the tightest jeans they could buy. And I was teaching in a delicate area- Political Science. So I had good reason to lead some very sensitive discussions with my students about politics. I had one student, a serious looking young man, whose answer to everything was “Islam is the answer.” As often happens, they taught me more than I taught them.

When I came back to the U.S., I was changed forever. I was attuned to the problems of the Middle East. When 9-11 happened, and Bush turned to bomb Iraq after Afghanistan, I felt like I was a tiny voice screaming at the top of my lungs “Saddam Hussein is Sunni and secular and Osama bin Laden is Wahhabi and they hate each other!” And I knew right away there’d be a wave of Islamophobia washing over America. I was pleased when George W. Bush refused to use Islamophobia as a political weapon, but furious he was taking us into Iraq. By 2016, I had seen Trump use Islamophobia to gin up hatred against an entire world religion that he obviously knew nothing about. And I was pissed.

When you’ve lived in another culture, “they” are no longer “the other.” They are your friends and neighbors. They have names: Mohammed, Kareem, Fatima. Majidah. So when Trump turned his toxic spotlight on the Muslim community, I had to do something.

 

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Dirty Paki Lingerie, Aizzah Fatima

 

Luckily, one of my playwright pals is Aizzah Fatima, a Pakistani-American artist I first met at the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I was over there producing a play of mine, “Made for Each Other,” and doing some blogging for the Huffington Post. They wanted short pieces from Americans doing their first Edinburgh Fringe, so I signed up, and decided to review Aizzah’s show, “Dirty Paki Lingerie.” Her one woman show blew me away– I felt I suddenly knew six different Muslim-American women, each with an important story about being Muslim in America. The show was theatrical, well-written, funny, poignant, and Aizzah was perfect in all six roles. That’s how we became friends.

In May of 2016, when I wanted more than anything to hit Trump’s Islamophobia full force with theater, I knew exactly who to call.

I put up the money from my retirement savings, rationalizing that if I lost it all I’d just have to die a few months earlier. Aizzah put up her talent and connections with the Muslim, Arab, and Middle Eastern theater community in New York. I wanted to showcase her performances in “Dirty Paki Lingerie”, which I knew she had just toured to the UK and Pakistan. She’d already done several runs of the show in New York as a solo show artist, and she said we needed to do something more to get audience and press. At first we wanted to call it “A Theater Festival Against Trump,” but our landlords at Urban Stages Theater said that was too political. They’d help us promote our show, but only if their Board didn’t deem it “too political.” That’s when we came up with the title, “The Lady Liberty Theater Festival.” I wrote a short play as a curtain raiser called “Lady Liberty’s Worst Day Ever,” a two-hander between Lady Liberty and her agent Vinnie, who gives her the bad news that Trump wants to buy her and rebrand her as “Lady Trump.” I even managed to create a rap based on the Emma Lazarus poem on the statue’s base!

We had a 60 minute show (“Dirty Paki Lingerie”) and a short curtain raiser. If we didn’t add anything else, it would be a short lopsided night of theater, with no intermission. So I expanded a short play called “No Irish Need Apply,” which had just been done at the Kennedy Center’s “Tiny Plays for Ireland and America.” The play is about a Syrian refugee looking for a job, and an old Irish-American woman who may or may not be prejudiced. Now we had one play by a Pakistani-American, and two short plays by me. We needed more diversity.

Could we expand into a real festival with numerous plays by a wide variety of playwrights? It was just the two of us, Aizzah in New York and me currently based in Tucson, Arizona. We quickly realized we didn’t have the organization necessary to run anything approaching a real festival. But we could manage one day of staged readings! We made the connection that our rental at Urban Stages included September 11th, so we began to plan for a two-fold event: an evening of three plays against Islamophobia running nightly from September 7th through the 25th, and a day long festival of staged readings against Islamophobia, showcasing the work of a diverse group of writers, actors, and directors for the 15th anniversary of September 11th.

On September 11th we produced staged readings collaborating with a diverse group of actors, directors, and writers: Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Zoroastrians from Iran, plus the usual theater percentage of agnostics and atheists. Participants included director Kareem Fahmy, from an Egyptian family that settled in Canada, and Ali Andre Ali, an actor whose background is half Palestinian and half Irish! The playwrights included Mona Mansour, Maximillian Singh Gill, Emma Goldman-Sherman, and me. Aizzah Fatima played two roles in the reading of my play “Anne Frank in the Gaza Strip.” We asked for donations for the International Rescue Committee for Syrian refugees.

On the last day of the run of the “three plays against Islamophobia”, Aizzah Fatima called me to come down from the audience to share our final bows together. She told the story of this crazy Christian woman who called her out of the blue months earlier to brainstorm ways to use theater to confront Islamophobia. At that moment, we both felt “mission accomplished.” We had met each other in common cause, to do our jobs to tell the truth in front of an audience. We had gone beyond just talking about creating theater to actually creating theater, putting up money and talent and time. Not everyone is able to do these things. Most of us are living day to day and can’t spend the time and effort to do this sort of work. It was a joy and a privilege for Aizzah and me to actually roll up our sleeves and get it done, during the most important election season in our life times, in the home town of Donald Trump.

bauer_smallMONICA BAUER
Full length plays produced Off Broadway, Off-Off Broadway, regionally in Denver, Boston, Providence, Omaha, Detroit, Tucson, and internationally in London and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Brighton (England) Fringe Festival. Education includes a B.A. from Brown,
M. Div. from Yale, M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska. Monica was the 2004 Teaching Fellow in the Graduate Playwriting Program at Boston University, where she received an MA in playwriting. Short plays produced in the Boston Theater Marathon, National 15 Minute Play Festival, and many others. Conferences include Sewanee, Great Plains Theater Conference (twice), Kennedy Center Summer Playwriting Intensive, and Kenyon Playwrights’ Conference. Outstanding Playwriting of a New Script, for “The Higher Education of Khalid Amir,” Midtown International Theater Festival, 2008. Her musical, “Lighter”, for which she wrote book, music, and lyrics, was presented at the New York Musical Theater Festival in 2009. Her full length play about race, “My Occasion of Sin,” was part of the 2014 season of the Detroit Repertory Theater. Her play for one actor, “Made for Each Other” has been in various production since 2009. In September of 2014, “Chosen Child” was given two staged readings in New York as part of the Indie Theater Now/Stage Left Studio Reading Series, directed by Austin Pendleton. “Chosen Child” was also part of the 2014-2015 season at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, where it was nominated for an IRNE (Independent Reviewers of New England) award for Best New Play. Heideman Finalist for multiple award-winner “Answering,” published by Heuer. Winner, Emerging Playwright Award, Urban Stages. Winner, Kennedy Center’s Tiny Plays for Ireland and America, 2016, for “No Irish Need Apply.” Plays published by Heuer, Brooklyn, and online at Indie Theater Now. Proud member, Dramatists Guild and League of Professional Theatre Women. Full production history at www.monicabauer.com.

ruthsmallBLOG SALON CURATOR

Ruth Margraff is a playwright and writing program chair at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Margraff’s plays, poetry and opera works include Anger/Fly; Three Graces; Temptation of the Fresh Voluptuous; Cafe Antarsia Ensemble; Seven; Stadium Devildare; The Cry Pitch Carrolls; The Elektra Fugues; Night Vision; Deadly She-Wolf Assassin At Armageddon, Voice of the Dragon 1,2,3; Judges 19: Black Lung Exhaling; All Those Violent Sweaters; Red Frogs; Night Parachute Battalion; The State of Gristle; Centaur Battle of San Jacinto; Wallpaper Psalm. Her work has been performed at various festivals and venues throughout USA; UK; Canada; Russia; Romania; Serbia; Hungary; Ireland; Italy; Greece; Turkey; Slovenia; Czech Republic; Croatia; France; Austria, Sweden; Japan; Egypt; India, Azerbaijan. She is recipient of numerous awards from institutions including Rockefeller Foundation; McKnight Foundation; Jerome Foundation; National Endowment for the Arts; Theater Communications Group; Fulbright; New York State Council on the Arts; Illinois Arts Council; Arts International; Trust for Mutual Understanding of New York, CultureConnect.

Arts as a solution – let’s start a movement!

Posted by Shoshana · Thursday, November 10th, 2016

Shoshana Fanizza
Chief Audience Builder, Audience Development Specialists

shoshana-fanizza

“The arts can be a healing agent and a solution to what we are experiencing. We need to heal the fear and create a more loving experience for all considered and for our planet.”

I woke up this morning realizing that major changes are coming to my country and to the world. We are all super connected now. What affects one will affect another. We are a global community.

The choice is ours to build from where we are. There are people that are afraid to move forward in our evolution of humanity, to be super inclusive, super kind, super supportive to others. They rather take time back when people did not have equal rights. What do we do with this fear that seems to have overtaken history once again?

We, the people that want to move forward, can still be who we are and continue our journey regardless. We can create art that speaks, music that emotes, theatre that connects to our souls, and dance that moves us.

The arts can be a healing agent and a solution to what we are experiencing. We need to heal the fear and create a more loving experience for all considered and for our planet.

Let’s use this moment in our history to strengthen us and launch a new movement of arts as a solution! People need arts to not only escape from their troubles, but to allow themselves to express and alleviate the pains of their lives. The arts matter more than ever now!

Arts as a solution! We got this!

Cheers to happy and loyal audiences,
Shoshana