The essential question we will explore with our Connectivity strategy during our 35th season is: How we can better tap into the zeitgeist of our local community? Woolly’s audience members are unique, given our location in the nation’s capital. Woolly patrons are made up of people who are not only local community stakeholders, but also national and international leaders in the non-profit and governmental sectors. The ripple effect of transformation in the mind and heart of an audience member around issues germane to most Woolly productions such as race, class, and gender has the potential to create an intensive ripple effect with local, national, and international implications.
We believe that civic connection is the key to Connectivity here at Woolly, and we want to achieve maximum impact for all of our productions. We work to make the case for relevance in the everyday lives of our audiences with a deliberate synergy of art, analysis, and activism. We hope to not only provoke fresh public dialogue around the work presented on our stage, but we also seek to disrupt habitual ways that Woolly audiences think, feel, and interact with the world.
One of our most recent examples of this synergy is our work around the death of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent George Zimmerman not-guilty verdict. We noticed, and tapped into, a resurgence of local and national dialogue about race relations and the prevalent issue of violence perpetuated against young African-American men, and wanted to provide an opportunity for the community to discuss the outcome of the trail in a way that aligned with our current programming. In association with two shows this season, which explore the historical and contemporary implications of racism—Appropriate by Branden Jacobs- Jenkins and We Are Proud to Present… by Jackie Sibblies Drury—we have created activities that not only facilitate dialogue, but provide pathways for self-directed citizenship after people leave the theater.
Last August we organized a special event,“From Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin: A Town Hall Meeting on Black Bodies and American Racism.” The event was intended to provide a safe space for the diverse sectors of the DC community to process their thoughts and emotions about the Florida verdict, hear from local experts and activists and ask questions during a facilitated panel discussion, connect with other concerned citizens in DC, and to collaborate on imagining and brainstorming action steps in the local community. We partnered with several local organizations including the Washington Peace Center and Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ. Of her experience as Break-Out Session Facilitator at this event, DC-based playwright Jackie Lawton wrote in a blog article:
When I walked into the theatre, the energy of the room was palpable. It was hungry, passionate and urgent. There was a radiant sense of expectation, curiosity, and hope. Howard Shalwitz (Woolly Artistic Director) and Jocelyn Prince (Woolly Connectivity Director and Town Hall Facilitator) welcomed the panelists, facilitators, volunteers and more than 100 guests. We were invited to channel what we were feeling into action and change for the betterment of our society. We were encouraged to engage in an honest, open, and challenging conversation with local activists, academics, artists, policy makers and each member in the audience….More than anything, “the fierce urgency of now” was the real power of the Woolly Mammoth Town Hall event. We all entered the theatre that night for different reasons. We all came from different life experiences. We all have different beliefs for how to solve the problems of systemic racism and injustice. However, we all have a clear understanding that NOW is the time for this work to happen and that we can only achieve great success by coming together as a unified force.
This winter we are taking part in a nation-wide effort to facilitate an artistic response to the Zimmerman verdict, spearheaded by the NYC-based The New Black Fest. In commemoration of the birthday of the late Trayvon Martin, Woolly will join theatres across the country in producing a staged reading of Facing Our Truth: Ten-Minute Plays on Trayvon, Race, and Privilege, a collection of six pieces written by seven multicultural playwrights, each exploring race and privilege in the United States in the wake of the Trayvon Martin case. Following the reading will be a panel discussion to be facilitated by co-presenter African Continuum Theatre Company’s Artistic Director, Thembi Duncan. The theatre will also host an activism fair on peace. We have widened our network of participating organizations in the follow-up event and collaborators include We Act Radio, the DC Chapter of the National Action Network, Hannah Mothers Campaign, the Georgetown University Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics, and the Greater Washington Urban League.
We have found that in order to have the maximum possible impact in our community, we must tap into what is relevant to the lives of our audiences because, of course, we don’t produce plays in a vacuum. However, this requires intensive work outside of our building. Our vision for expanding Connectivity’s footprint at Woolly incorporates the idea of Connectivity Director as ombudsman or community ambassador—someone who represents the needs of the community to the theater. In order to achieve this ambition—by adding an additional staff member—we will be able to take more notice of the local and national zeitgeist by not only building on best practices internally, but also by forging partnerships and nurturing more personalized relationships though aligned goals and shared values. The main challenge will be finding this common ground. However, we believe that this work will be achieved through expanding established practices such as one-on-one meetings with community leaders, special invitations to bloggers writing about issues relevant to our plays, and fundraiser performances for other non-profit organizations working on social change issues related to the content of our shoes. Our hope is that, though support of TCG, Woolly’s Connectivity Director will truly be able to represent the needs and interests of the community from the outside-in.
Jocelyn Prince is the Connectivity Director at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, DC. Jocelyn is a dramaturg, performance poet, and freelance journalist. Recent positions include Artistic Associate at The Public Theater in New York City, where she produced the Public LAB Speaker Series, numerous new play readings, workshops, and audience engagement events. Jocelyn also coordinated the selection process and helped facilitate the 2010 Emerging Writers Group. Freelance Dramaturgy credits include A Raisin In The Sun (Juilliard School of Drama); Black Diamond: The Years the Locusts Have Eaten (Lookingglass Theatre Company); Invisible Man, Raisin and The First Breeze of Summer (Court Theatre); The MLK Project (Writers’ Theatre); My Julliard, Kingdom and Eyes (eta Creative Arts Foundation); Teibele and Her Demon (European Repertory Company);Daughters of the Mock, Spunk, King of Coons, and The House that Jack Built (Congo Square Theatre Company); and Intimate Apparel and Harriet Jacobs (Steppenwolf Theatre Company). Jocelyn has directed at the Bailiwick Repertory Directors Festival, The Movement Theatre Company, Around the Coyote Art Festival, and 20 Percent Theatre, and has assisted Mary Zimmerman on Mirror of the Invisible World (The Goodman Theatre), Eric Rosen on Wedding Play (About Face Theatre), and Hallie Gordon on The Bluest Eye (Steppenwolf). She has also served as a script reader for PlayPenn, and as a playwright mentor for The Ohio University’s MFA playwriting program. Jocelyn is a Co-Founding Artistic Director of NYC’s The New Black Fest. Her social justice and political work includes staff positions with the YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago and the 2008 Obama for America Presidential Campaign. She holds a MA in Performance Studies from Northwestern University and has written forTimeOut Chicago, TimeOut New York, The Chicago Reporter, and the African American Review. She is an alumnus of Bradley University’s National Championship Speech Team, and has performed her original poetry at The Encyclopedia Show Chicago and DC. Jocelyn is currently a proud member of the Board of Social Action at Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ located in DC’s historical Fort Totten neighborhood. She also serves on the Board of Directors of The Welders, a DC-based playwrights’ collective whose mission is to establish an evolving, alternative platform for play development and production.
Audience (R)Evolution is a four-stage program to study, promote and support successful audience engagement and community development models across the country. The Audience (R)Evolution grant program was designed by TCG and is funded by Doris Duke.