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Advancing Strong Theatre

Theatre Forward is pleased to announce the inaugural recipients of its Advancing Strong Theatre grant program, an initiative focused on funding and promoting greater access and opportunity in the American Theatre.  Advancing Strong Theatre seeks to accelerate change in the areas of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) by providing the resources for recipients to explore, initiate or deepen collaborative relationships with those from a group currently under-represented in the activities of the theatre as audience members or participants in other programs.

Through a highly competitive independent grant-making process, Theatre Forward has awarded Dallas Theater Center, The Guthrie Theater of Minneapolis, MN, The Old Globe of San Diego, CA, and Seattle Repertory Theatre in Seattle, WA, grants of $50,000 each for artistic projects that advance each theatre’s holistic plans for achieving Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. Recipients were chosen from among the nineteen eligible Theatre Forward member theatres.

Funding for Advancing Strong Theatre is provided by Lynne and James Turley, Stephanie Scott and the Schloss Family Foundation, Citi, Bank of America, Steve and Joy Bunson, Patti and Rusty Rueff Foundation, and the Theatre Forward Board.

“Our theatres asked us to help them accelerate and deepen the work they are doing to increase the equity and diversity within their institutions, as well as the inclusion of key communities in their programs,” said Executive Director Bruce E. Whitacre. “Advancing Strong Theatre is a response to this request and the priority of our field. We look forward to learning from this inaugural cycle of projects, and to deepening our support for these kinds of initiatives in the future. Advancing Strong Theatre exemplifies the ways theatres are taking on a more intentional role in building communities through their art.”

Theatres & Programs

Dallas Theater Center – Public Works Dallas

Public Works Dallas is produced by Dallas Theater Center, in collaboration with Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts and AT&T Performing Arts Center. Public Works Dallas is a groundbreaking community engagement and participatory theater project designed to deliberately blur the line between professional artists and Dallas community members. Public Works Dallas is affiliated with Public Works, an ongoing initiative of The Public Theater that seeks to engage the people of New York by making them creators and not just spectators. Public Works presented The Tempest in 2013 in New York, directed by Public Works Director Lear deBessonet, who was awarded the SMU Meadows Prize in 2015 to bring the program to Dallas, and is a mentor for the Public Works Dallas project. Public Works Dallas is one of two pilot sites to be affiliated with Public Works, along with Seattle Repertory Theatre.

Five Dallas community organizations participate in Public Works Dallas, including Bachman Lake Together, City of Dallas Park and Recreation Active Senior Adult Programs, Jubilee Park and Community Center, Literacy Achieves, and Literacy Instruction for Texas. All participate in workshops throughout the year culminating in auditions for roles in the Public Works Dallas participatory musical theater production of a Shakespeare play. This year’s production will be The Winter’s Tale, and will feature 200 cast members, only five of whom will be professional actors, including members of Dallas Theater Center’s Diane and Hal Brierley Resident Acting Company. The remaining actors will be residents of Dallas, 100 selected from the five community organizations and 95 from select community cameo groups.

Cast members of Public Works Dallas The Tempest. Photo by Karen Almond

The Guthrie Theater – Stories from the Drum

With Stories from the Drum, the Guthrie Theater—alongside partners Ty Defoe (Giizhig) and Larissa FastHorse (Sicangu Lakota) from Indigenous Direction and local Twin Cities Native artists Jaida Grey Eagle (Oglala Lakota) and Marisa Carr (Turtle Mountain Ojibwe)—seek to serve local Native communities by supporting an indigenous-led, indigenous-driven, indigenous-decolonized practice of working in community. Stories from the Drum will take shape via three forms of engagement. First, Stories from the Drum will create a series of community engagement workshops hosted in the community itself and focused on celebrating and amplifying Native voices through storytelling processes that de-center storytelling tropes grounded in Western writing methodologies. As these workshops take place, Guthrie Theater staff will also receive anti-colonialist equity, diversity, and inclusion training. Next, Stories from the Drum will address and work to ameliorate barriers to access that stifle Native community members from participating in Guthrie season programing. Finally, Stories from the Drum will create a Native community performance driven by collaborative and communal artistic practices. Across all three branches of engagement, Stories from the Drum will continually focus upon how the culture of artistic practice created throughout the project might best serve the art, artists and, audience members of local Native communities, in particular the local Dakota and Anishinaabe-Ojibwe peoples.

Presented in collaboration with Indigenous Direction as part of the Guthrie’s Happening Series, Water Is Sacred was curated by award-winning Indigenous artists Ty Defoe and Larissa FastHorse. The performance combined ceremony, music, text, dance and discussion to honor and celebrate water and to recognize the ways it has been threatened on Indigenous lands. Photo by Rich Ryan

The Old Globe – Globe For All

The Old Globe’s Latinx Initiative will expand its reach to and deepen connections with Latinx communities throughout San Diego County. Currently, 33 percent of County residents are Latinx, but this population comprises only 7 percent of the Globe’s audiences. As a theatre that serves the public good, the Globe is dedicated to making theatre matter to more people. Theatre Forward’s Advancing Strong Theatre Program will support the Globe’s efforts to engage more Latinx community members.

The Globe for All touring program, The Old Globe’s cornerstone arts engagement initiative, was launched in 2014 by Erna Finci Viterbi Artistic Director Barry Edelstein and has since brought free professional theatre to 7,338 diverse, multigenerational people in communities throughout San Diego. With support from Theatre Forward, the Globe will work with community partners in four Latinx neighborhoods (Chula Vista, Lemon Grove, Oceanside, and Otay Mesa) to provide three free Globe for All tours and additional arts engagement programs.

The Globe’s Latinx Initiative will begin with the summer 2018 Globe for All tour of accomplished Latinx playwright Karen Zacarías’s Native Gardens, followed by tours of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in November 2018 and a fall 2019 Shakespeare tour. A rich array of free arts engagement programs will also be offered, including Behind the Curtain (workshops that provide a hands-on introduction to the technical side of theatre); Community Voices (beginners’ playwriting), coLAB (community-based theatre projects created by residents and artists), Breaking Bread (community dinners), and other activities.

The Old Globe is a public institution standing on public land in the middle of one of the nation’s greatest public parks. Theatre Forward’s support will allow the Globe to broaden its public service by providing more programming for the communities in the San Diego region.

Jennifer Paredes as Viola/Cesario in the Globe for All production of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, touring San Diego October 31 – November 19, 2017.  Photo by Jim Cox.

Seattle Repertory Theatre – Public Works Seattle

Launched in 2016, Public Works Seattle is Seattle Repertory Theatre’s major initiative to establish strong, long-term partnerships that put community at the heart of its theatre, and theatre at the heart of its community. Working deeply in collaboration with five local human services nonprofits, this free program invites a stunning diversity of people to participate in weekly workshops in their own neighborhood (tailored to each organization’s interests and led by professional teaching artists), attend monthly shows and events at the Rep, and join in creating an ambitious work of professional, participatory theater. This program seeks to advance equitable arts access and build the Rep’s relationships in the community through free, ongoing theatre-based classes and events serving Seattleites of all ages and backgrounds, including youth, seniors, longtime residents, recent immigrants, women and families in poverty, and individuals recovering from homelessness, trauma, and addiction. Founded on the values of equity, imagination, and joy, Public Works Seattle blurs the lines between artists and spectators to create theatre of, by, and for the people of Seattle.

Advancing Strong Theatre funds will support expanded Public Works Seattle workshops and programming with Seattle Rep’s community partners during the 2018/19 season, as well as the next Public Works Seattle mainstage production in September 2019. The production will feature a community ensemble of 60-80 citizen artists joined by Equity actors and local performing arts groups, all working in collaboration to stage a musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s As You Like It.

A Public Works Seattle rehearsal COURTESY SEATTLE REPERTORY THEATRE/JIM BENNETT