What is changing about the Legislative Theatre process?

The primary changes in this Housing Works Legislative Theatre pilot are: (1) idea creation structure and (2) composition of the “Policy Advisor Panel.”


Idea Creation Structure


After feedback from former members of the TONYC Legislator/Policy Team and TONYC community conversations, we are piloting a new idea creation structure. The goal of the new structure is to be more transparent and community focused. In the past, the audience wrote ideas on notecards following the play and interventions. Those audience ideas were submitted to the Policy Advisor Team. The Policy Advisors narrowed down the ideas to approximately five. After the narrowing, the Policy Advisors pitched the five ideas to a team of legislators and other government representatives, who in turn selected three ideas and shared those three ideas with the audience for a vote. The approved ideas were given to the government official team to take action on after the event.

For this new Legislative Theatre pilot, the audience will be directed to focus their ideas around three specific topics the actors feel are particularly urgent. The crowd and actors will then join one of three breakout groups corresponding to their idea and that topic. Those breakouts will be comprised of actors, audience, and the invited advocates, organizers, and government representatives. Each small breakout group will share ideas, debate, discuss, and vote on one group idea.

Once the group ideas are set, the invited external advocates, organizers and government representatives will come to the center and discuss each breakout group idea publically. The panel will address questions such as “have you heard this idea before” “what excites you about it” “what worries you” “what steps are needed to make it happen.” This process will help the crowd understand the gaps and opportunities of each idea. After each breakout group has pitched their idea, there will be a vote. Each idea will be voted on. All the ideas with a majority vote will be given to the panel and crowd to take action on after the event. Each group will share a concrete step they plan to take toward change. Given that TONYC does not have the capacity to act on all the ideas that come from each event, the idea with most number of votes will set the TONYC housing organizing priority for the next year. 


Composition of the Advisory Panel


For this pilot, we are aiming to have the panel include the following perspectives: organizer, lawyer, policy advocate, relevant agency, and city, state, and federal representatives. The actors in the Housing Works troupe shared several organizations and individuals they wanted to have on the panel and in the crowd. The office staff and Housing Works Jokers are contributing ideas to that panel as well.


What are the goals of this version of Legislative Theatre? How will we know it was successful?

We will know the event is successful if we get three agreed upon policy/organizing ideas and a TONYC organizing priority. Additionally, if the event is successful, everyone has a clear understanding of the challenges and opportunities of each idea, in what ways there is already action being taken on those ideas, and have engaged in a meaningful issue-based conversation with members of the invited panel.


What motivated this change?

In addition to the conversations about transparency and community engagement, we also want to clarify the distinction between an idea and an official policy proposal. In the past, the audience would submit ideas in sentences and phrases to the Legislative Panel, and what was shared back to the audience were those ideas reformatted into a version of proposed bill language, with sometimes set funding numbers, agencies, etc. We are shifting away from that model and toward more clarity that (1) several steps are needed from our Legislative Theatre event to when an idea is researched and then submitted for consideration to the legislature and (2) that many of the ideas that are created by the audience exist and are in the works, at least in part, by other community groups, advocacy organizations, and legislators. By creating an open dialogue about the ideas, everyone will be more aware of the various stages in the process. Additionally, unlike Legislative Theatre under Augusto Boal, we cannot guarantee that the the ideas we create at Legislative Theatre events will be introduced with the same spirit and language in which they were created by the actors and audience. With this open dialogue, there is more room for discussion around the many ways of moving an idea forward in community if the legislators have to make compromises and edits to the event ideas, which they often do even with ideas they create themselves.


Why is it still called “Legislative” Theatre if we aren’t only discussing legislation?

We are currently continuing to call the process Legislative Theatre as an acknowledgement that creating lasting and equitable proposed legislation requires the work community members, activists, and legislators to become law. With that as our foundation, we are engaging all parts of that process in our conversation about policy change and the organizing work needed to make it happen. Augusto Boal created Legislative Theatre as a tool he found to be productive and equitable within his own community. In order for TONYC to replicate his structure, we also aim to emulate his goals of responding the community needs and using the advocacy tools available to us. Our community is made up of the TONYC actors, Jokers, staff, and New Yorkers engaged in our work and aligned with our ethics.


Long Term Questions


Is this a permanent change to the TONYC Legislative Theatre process?

No, this is a pilot for a new part of the process. We are always brainstorming ways to deepen our work and keep it accountable to our community. This is a step toward those goals with Legislative Theatre. There may be times that the original Legislative Theatre process is a better fit for a particular event or play.

Will the Represent campaign still exist?

Yes! We will still do grassroots fundraising to support creative change in NYC in 2018. Stay tuned for more about the campaign!


How can other organizations interested in structural change engage in this process?

Other organizations interested in using this process can contact the Program and Operations Manager, Sulu LeoNimm at [email protected].