After two incredible years with Theatre of the Oppressed NYC, I am transitioning out of my position as Community Engagement Coordinator and moving to Chicago to pursue a Master of Fine Arts degree in performance. It is bittersweet, though it is heartening to have been able to witness so much of this organization’s growth and movement and its ability to adapt, learn, unlearn, respond, and make creative change.
I was drawn to TONYC organically; with a background in community organizing, performance, and film, I had personal stakes in the organization’s work. I began my journey with TONYC in Summer 2015 just after returning from Detroit for the Allied Media Conference where I had the privilege of facilitating a workshop on creating performative femme-ifestos. This was a moment of putting energy out into the world towards sustainability in both my personal and professional practices. I was ready to be home and make change in ways that pulled from my various passions, skills, and interests. In many ways, TONYC was that opportunity.
I began as TONYC’s Program and Communications Assistant, creating our marketing strategy for shows and events and generating multimedia content to support our programs. It became clear quite quickly that our marketing needed to be more than just numbers, more than just people in seats; there was an intentionality missing in our marketing that needed to be cultivated and brought to life parallel to the organization’s growth and commitment towards creative civic engagement. How were we already feeding into and collaborating with movements existing all around us? How could we do that better? How could we incorporate the activism and organizing on the ground in more concrete ways? How could we be rapidly responsive to the ever changing landscape of NYC across the scope of our work – from plays to workshops to communications? We needed to be seeing marketing through a lens of community organizing, to understand community engagement as a form of base building – a contact sport.
We took cues from the Legislative Theatre Festival. The annual event was the only time we had dedicated to having key stakeholders in a room together working towards policy change around the real stories our community actors were telling on stage. How could we not only bring these stories from the stage to the streets but also continue to engage the organizations, policy partners, and legislators passionate about this work? This was a time for us to think about the relationships we’d created up until this point and envision those relationships outside of the festival, in our everyday processes – to think about communications in a more holistic way in order to create a mutually supportive ecosystem of art and change in NYC. In Adrienne Marie Brown’s book Emergent Strategy, she notes “Together we must move like waves… The waves are not the same over and over–each one is unique and responsive. The goal is not to repeat each other’s motion, but to respond in whatever way feels right in your body. The waves we create are both continuous and a one-time occurrence. We must notice what it takes to respond well. How it feels to be in a body, in a whole–separate, aligned, cohesive. Critically connected.” We cannot think about forum theatre separate from the movements work throughout this city and beyond, we are simply one part of this vast ocean of change – in tune, active, flowing.
I’m leaving TONYC with a heavy but full heart. I am humbled to have spent the last two years with such a vibrant team and to have learned to hone my ambition, while remaining grounded and realistic. I am grateful for every single advocacy partner who has been so willing and excited to collaborate with us and I am thrilled to witness from afar the new relationships TONYC will build, the plays they’ll create, and the movements that will be fueled by fun, innovation, and accessibility. I’m taking what I’ve learned into this next chapter of my life – to grow, reach, experiment, and in the words of Grace Lee Boggs, to "transform [myself] to transform the world."
Thank you & see you in action,