Theatre of the Oppressed NYC has been alive and growing for 5 years. Our growth more closely resembled a garden of wildflowers than a garden of roses: that is, energetic, organic and without much pruning! We’re grateful to be a healthy organization today, working with hundreds of actors and thousands of spect-actors each year, while providing our team of staff and artists with fairer wages and health insurance. This fall, we are entering our 6th season.
In and outside our rehearsal rooms, worsening structural racism and oppression threaten communities and steal lives daily. In this bleak climate, returning to the office and to the constant struggle of keeping a small nonprofit alive can feel particularly empty. I am forced to stop and reflect: what progress towards social justice are we making in New York City right now? We shouldn't simply march on into a 6th year if we cannot point immediately to our impact, not only to satisfy our funders but also to satisfy our community and ourselves.
One of the reasons I love working with TONYC is that we prioritize reflection and have shown a willingness and flexibility to change what we’re doing and how we’re doing it, throughout our short life. Over the past year, we’ve learned that TONYC is good at forming partnerships with community-based organizations, city agencies and elected officials. This builds on our strengths in play-making with “popular theatre troupes,” and producing free Forum and Legislative Theatre events for diverse crowds. These programs have increased awareness, sparked critical dialogue, moved politicians to action and made a lot of people joyful. But we’re still not satisfied with the impact.
Theatre of the Oppressed is a tool that grew out of the needs of a movement, specifically a land-rights movement in Brazil, and continues to exist within movements (check out the great work of Jana Sanskriti in India). Our shows, addressing homelessness and affordable housing, homophobia and transphobia, rights of undocumented workers, HIV/AIDS stigma and other urgent social issues, all exist within the context of thriving social movements in New York City and across the globe. TONYC realizes that our impact lies in amplifying the efforts of these movements. We pledge to spend the coming year Tuning In and Turning Out. We will Tune In to the work that’s being done by grassroots groups like Picture the Homeless, VOCAL-NY, Make the Road NY and others, and focus our plays around their campaigns whenever we can. We will Turn Out our troupes and our audiences to attend, support and add power to those movements. We will offer our tools of fun, creative problem-solving and storytelling to their town halls, rallies, lobbying days, City Council hearings, and more – responding to the needs of our community organizing and advocacy partners.
In the coming weeks, we will be putting our energy into supporting the Vera Institute of Justice at several NYCHA developments, undertaking a creative campaign to engage residents in dialogue around NYCHA’s Family Reentry Pilot. This month we’ll also be building theatrical interventions based on experiences of oppression on Rikers Island, to help JustLeadershipUSA turn out thousands of New Yorkers for the March, Rally & Vigil to Close Rikers on September 24th. We’re honoring JLUSA and its founder, Glenn E. Martin, at our benefit celebration in October, to inspire TONYC supporters to tune in to their wonderful work.
As we’re turning outward, we’re also turning inward. TONYC’s first ever “Huddle” on September 10th will bring together all our stakeholders - actors, jokers (facilitators), admin staff and board – with an outside moderator, to address two big questions: how to strengthen our partnerships – or how best to Tune In and Turn Out – and how to support leadership opportunities across the organization. The findings will inform our 6th season and beyond.
Thank you for being part of our community in the past 5 years, and for taking on this experiment with us, towards our collective goal of creative, concrete social change in NYC! Tune In for more opportunities to Turn Out, coming soon.
Guest post by Katy Rubin, Executive Director, Theatre of the Oppressed NYC