What do you really want?

by Seema Sueko and Victor Vazquez

in Audience (R)Evolution

Post image for What do you <i>really</i> want?

(Community meeting on May 13, 2014. Community, arts and business leaders grapple with the question, “what do you really want?” Photo by Seema Sueko. This post is a part of the Audience (R)Evolution grant program and blog salon.)

What do you really want?

We want to revitalize our town, and we feel art is key. Andrea Moreno, a creative strategist and writer, shares her answer with us and her colleagues, Dino Tadiar (architect), Bryan Coreas (educator), and Ruben Hoyos (urban planner).We are introducing ourselves and our organizations to one another.

They are La Puente residents and representatives involved with the La Puente Artwalk Committee, a new start up project which aims to revitalize Old Town La Puente through a quarterly Artwalk engaging local businesses, artists and residents. In this meeting, The Pasadena Playhouse staff and the La Puente Artwalk Committee listen as we all answer this question.

Today, the question of the audience seems to be the most important and difficult one to face. The Pasadena Playhouse is asking individuals, community based organizations and businesses in the San GabrielValley the question, “What do you really want?” This is the core question of Consensus Organizing for Theatre*, the methodology behind The Playhouse’s Audience (R)Evolution project. It can be phrased in other ways to surface the true needs, wants, and agendas of potential community partners and audience members, such as:

What are you currently working on?
What are your organization’s current objectives and goals?
I read xxxx on your website, which made me think that perhaps your organization is working on xxxx. I wonder if that aligns with what our theatre is working on.
Here are OUR goals and self-interests…. Do you think these interests also serve your interests?

Similar to when an actor works to mine a script for her action and intention on every beat, Consensus Organizing for Theatre is a labor-intensive art. The process requires research of the target community / organization / individual, intentional conversations, self-awareness of one’s own self-interests and those of your organization, deep listening for opportunities to connect the dots across self-interests, and creativity, imagination and flexibility to organize projects once an alignment across self-interests is discovered, named and agreed upon. It’s a process that requires that we, as artists and arts administrators, slow down and ask, rather than assume what others want in relation to our organizations. Consensus Organizing is a dialogue, where an introduction leads to the question that is asked of all of us, “What do you really want?”

The goal of our Audience (R)Evolution grant is to re-imagine our Theatrical Diversity Project and build a new model of artistic co-creation between our institution and Latina/o adults, artists, and communities in the San GabrielValley. Our intentional and in-depth Consensus Organizing conversations have surfaced the following three primary projects:

Three Projects

International artist Hector Aristizábal, based in the San Gabriel Valley, knows the transformative potential of Forum Theatre. His organization, ImaginAction, was introduced to The Pasadena Playhouse by Brian Biery, the Director of Community Organizing at The Flintridge Center in Northwest Pasadena. Upon hearing the goals of our Audience (R)Evolution project and understanding the Consensus Organizing process, Brian shared his self-interests: To provide Theater of the Oppressed workshops to the communities of the San GabrielValley his organization serves.  Brian had previously worked with Hector, and therefore proposed that The Pasadena Playhouse and Hector’s organization, ImaginAction collaborate to co-create a community play devised through Theatre of the Oppressed and Forum Theater techniques. We will launch this process in September, with culminating performances in the community in March 2015.

Pasadena City College
Our Consensus Organizing conversations with Pasadena City College (PCC) have led to a robust partnership with the College that expands beyond the boundaries of our Audience (R)Evolution project and is making significant impact on our 2014-2015 season. We discovered that PCC and The Pasadena Playhouse have many mutual self-interests. Both our institutions are grappling with changing demographics and are recognizing areas where we need to improve to serve our communities.

To address this matter PCC will present the exhibition Jaime Escalante: A Life Con Ganas! during this academic year. The exhibition honors the life of Mr. Jaime Escalante, a PCC alum. The multi-media educational environment features Escalante’s personal paraphernalia, educational components highlighting math and engineering, oral histories, as well as movie objects from the film about his career, Stand & Deliver. The Pasadena Playhouse, PCC, and its students will co-create a production of a staged reading of the play STAND AND DELIVER as a core component of PCC’s public programming next March.

In addition to this project, The Pasadena Playhouse will collaborate with PCC’s Jackie Robinson Arts and Humanities Lecture Series, the nursing program, and the LGBTQ student organizations to encourage their students to attend performances and participate in talkbacks of our 2014-2015 productions of KISS ME, KATE and STOP KISS.

La Puente Artwalk
Through our Consensus Organizing process we learned of an Artwalk taking place in the small San GabrielValley city of La Puente. By visiting the Artwalk event in June 2014, we discovered a community of emerging and established Latina/o artists and arts advocates striving to bring more art to the region. After in-depth conversations and site visits, The Pasadena Playhouse will co-create with the La Puente Artwalk Committee with a play reading within their community during Women’s Awareness Month in March. This play reading will follow one of their scheduled quarterly Artwalk events, where an exhibit consisting of 25 local Latina artists will link the Artwalk and play-reading together by displaying their work in an exhibit titled, “Overcoming Adversity”. The play reading (title yet to be announced) will be followed by a discussion where residents are encouraged to discuss topics and themes pertinent to the play and how they connect to the city of La Puente. A local artist will also curate a public art installation that asks residents to engage the summer after the reading by answering the question, “What is your vision of La Puente?” The Artwalk Committee aims to revitalize their OldTown neighborhood, introduce local residents to the quarterly Artwalk event and engage local businesses and residents with artists.  The Committee and its partners are thrilled to introduce theatre to the community and utilize this medium as a way to create events that lead to discussion and engagement through this partnership.

Pic 2-La Puente Art Walk team

 (La Puente Art Walk team meeting with Seema Sueko, July 29, 2014. Photo by Dino Tadiar.)

Beyond the three projects listed above, we are in conversations with the University of Southern California’s Latino Alumni Association and LURN (Leadership for Urban Renewal Network) about possible partnerships.

We look forward to reporting back to you in July 2015 on the outcomes of these projects and the next steps for our work to revolutionize our audiences…. which is what we really want.

thumbnail 1- VazquezVictor Vazquez is a Community Organizer in the Artistic Department at the Pasadena Playhouse in Pasadena, CA. He is a writer, and a PEN Center USA Emerging Voices fellow, and a LAMBDA Literary Emerging LGBT Voices fellow. As a playwright, he holds two commissions for 24th Street Theatre’s Teatro del Pueblo Initiative working with the community of University Park in South Los Angeles. He is a recipient of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund McNamara Creative Arts Grant in which he created the Santa Ana Institute of Sound, a pilot music and arts program for Santa Ana public high school students to explore new technologies in music. He has worked at Center Theatre Group as a Program Associate in Education and Community Partnerships, and as a Co-Company Manager for Cornerstone Theatre Company’s Summer Institute (i7, Pacoima). He lives in Los Angeles.

San Diego, CA, USA. Friday, December 07, 2012._ Portraits of Co-Founder and Artistic Director of Mo`olelo Theatre, Seema Sueko.  PHOTOS BY CRISSY PASCUAL/©2012 INFINITE MEDIA WORKSSeema Sueko serves as associate artistic director of The Pasadena Playhouse. For the past nine years, she served as the executive artistic director of Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company in San Diego. In addition to directing at Mo`olelo, Seema developed Mo`olelo’s greening initiative, consensus organizing methodologies, and led the company to its selection as the Inaugural Resident Theatre Company at La Jolla Playhouse and awards from the American Theatre Wing, National Endowment for the Arts, Actors’ Equity Association, NAACP San Diego Branch, among others. Other directing and acting credits include The Old Globe, Yale Rep, 5th AvenueTheatre, Indiana Rep, San Diego Rep, Native Voices. She was the recipient of the inaugural TCG/Andrew W. Mellon Foundation “Leadership U[niversity]” grant, which took her to Arena Stage in 2013 as a Visiting Artistic Associate in mentorship with Molly Smith.


Consensus Organizing for Theatre (Theater) is licensed by Seema Sueko under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License


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.

  • Patricia Garza

    Bravo Victor and Seema! I really LOVE these questions that are outlined here. So often we brainstorm these beautiful programs but we also need to take a beat and breathe and dialogue with those we are hoping to serve. Love it.