(This post is part of a TCG Circle salon series connecting themes of Audience Engagement & Community Development, led by TCG’s Audience (R)Evolution program. If you would like to participate in any of these series, please email Gus Schulenburg.)
When I tell people that I work at the Capshaw/Spielberg Center for Arts and Educational Justice which houses the Ann and Jerry Moss Theater, which is part of the Herb Alpert Educational Village at New Road School, they generally ask me two things: 1) how do I get all of that information on a business card? and 2) do I hang out with Steven Spielberg?
Three years ago, New Roads School, which is a K-12 independent school with campuses in Santa Monica and Los Angeles, opened a new building which houses a 350 seat state of the art theater, a 2000 square foot community room, classrooms, and offices. I was hired to manage the theater, which eventually lead to much more due to the mission statement of the The Herb Alpert Educational Village. Let me explain…
The Village houses offices for non-profit partners who specialize in the performing arts or social justice fields. The concept of The Village is that non-profit partners would occupy office space in the building and in doing so, be close to and work with New Road School’s students. In fact, our non-profit partners, both on and off campus, would work with the school to provide programming that advanced the school’s mission statement of diversity and in doing so, present new and exciting performing arts and social justice themed events.
In 2013 before I was hired, our Director of Strategic Partnerships, Nancy London, got to work! She formed partnerships with KCRW, KPCC, Human Rights Watch, Livetalks LA, Writers Bloc, My Hero and LA Doctor’s Symphony. She exchanged theater space for curriculum for the students from Human Rights Watch, airtime with KCRW and KPCC, and guest speakers from Livetalks LA such as Nicholas Kristof, Eric Bogosian, and Malcolm Gladwell!
However, the realities of funding the brand new shiny building set in, and we quickly realized that we would have to rent the theater out as much as possible in order to pay the bills. It is hard to justify barters, producing or even presenting when you have a new building with a mortgage. However, last week I attended a workshop at the Pasadena Playhouse which gave me hope that we could change that!
The workshop was on Consensus Organizing and was facilitated by the new Associate Artistic Director of the Playhouse, Seema Seuko along with one of her Community Organizers, Victor Vasquez. Seema used to run the Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company in San Diego which is where she developed her system based on a book by Michael Eichler. The basic idea is to build audiences for sustainability using the idea of consensus organizing, yet modifying it for the arts.
The roots of Consensus Organizing are in politics (remember it was the thing that Obama was known for before his Presidency?) but as Victor Vazquez explains “the basic methodology in which the organization builds stake in pockets of communities and those communities build stake back in the organization works well for the arts due to the organizing around mutual self-interests.” The process begins with the art and its needs from the community which of course, center in ticket sales and the development of community relationships. The art then finds community organizations or members who have an interest in the subject matter of the art and who also have needs that they think the art can fill.
The Playhouse has had success with this method, particularly with their production of REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES. As a result of the work they did out in the community, they sold 2,183 tickets and earned $64,370 in income. But equally as important, they formed relationships with 170 organizations, individuals or college classes who might come back and see a show at the Playhouse. This is a methodology that you can MEASURE which is music to my left brain ears!
Perhaps New Roads School can produce events in the near future and not lose money? I am eager to find out! I think this method would work particularly well with a six year project which begins next year whose subject matter is WAR AND ITS EFFECTS ON WOMEN. The project is part of a partnership that we have with USC and Ryerson University. The partnership involves a possible $2.5 million Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) grant which will be used to create art pieces around the world regarding this powerful subject. There are 50 other partners involved in the project from diverse fields such as medical, social and art professions. The Moss Theater is in good company with other performing arts venues such as the Stratford Festival, the National Theater in the UK, Tarragon Theatre in Toronto and Hydrama Theatre & Arts Center in Greece.
I look forward to taking what I learned from Seema’s workshop and implementing it within our community. The possibilities are endless with the WAR… project ranging from seeking out medical professionals who work with female soldiers who have PTSD as well as Military Veterans consultants and organizations.
It is possible that consensus organizing could solve our trepidation regarding producing our own shows? Reaching out to our community in this way, we not only educate audience members about the New Roads School mission but also about how it applies to our programming. We also form relationships with organizations and members of our community that we ordinarily may not have created otherwise. In doing so, we fulfill one of New Roads Schools most important goals which is to behave responsibly and honorably as an institution and serve the larger community.
Che’Rae is an arts advocate, theatre director/dramaturge and arts administrator. She is the Director of Operations and Programming for the Capshaw-Spielberg Center for Arts and Educational Justice in Santa Monica which houses the Ann & Jerry Moss Theater. She has been the Producing Artistic Director of the LA Writers Center since 2006 where she develops new work with local writers. She specializes in the development and direction of solo plays, and her work has been seen at the Downtown Urban Theater Festival, The National Black Theater Festival, and The Comedy Central Space. She is a proud Steering Committee Member for the Director’s Lab, West held annually at the Pasadena Playhouse.