"The Last Firefly" by Naomi Iizuka, at Children's Theatre Company in Minneapolis in 2016. Pictured: Ricardo Vazquez and Luverne Seifert. (Photo by Dan Norman)

TCG Announces Recipients of Audience (R)Evolution Travel Grants

Sixteen teams from TCG member theatres will receive funding to support audience development.

NEW YORK CITY: Theatre Communications Group (TCG) has announced the recipients of the second round of Audience (R)Evolution Travel Grants. Funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Fund (DDCF), the program will award up to $7,500 to sixteen teams of TCG member theatre staff and community stakeholders.

The funds will support audience engagement programs and strategies for theatres to deepen relationships with the communities they serve. To date, the program has distributed more than $2 million in grants to 40 projects in 20 states across the country. This year’s selection panel included Susie Falk, managing director of California Shakespeare Theater; Joanne Seelig, director of education at Imagination Stage; and Michael Develle Winn, community engagement manager at Alliance Theatre.

“From connecting with Deaf and Latinx audiences, from reaching Middle Eastern and Muslim communities to refugees and those in addiction recovery, these Audience (R)Evolution grantees are bridging differences in a time of division,” said TCG executive director Teresa Eyring in a statement. “Thanks to our long-standing partnership with the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, these Travel Grants will empower the peer-driven exchange of innovative audience-engagement models that build community and dialogue.”

The second cycle of Audience (R)Evolution Travel Grants will award $114,470 in total funds to the following theatres:

The 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle will send producing artistic director Bill Berry and ‎director of education and outreach Orlando Morales to visit with leadership, actors, and staff from Deaf West Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, New York Deaf Theatre, National Theatre of the Deaf, and Roundabout Theatre. They will gather lessons learned when featuring deaf actors in performances and creating educational programming for Deaf, hard-of-hearing, and hearing audiences, in preparation for the 5th Avenue’s planned production of Hunchback of Notre Dame (June 2018), which will feature a deaf actor in the lead role.

24th Street Theatre of Los Angeles will send a team to the Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis and the Oregon Children’s Theatre to learn first-hand strategies to increase audience engagement and attendance in the Theatre for Young Audiences market, with the goal of returning home with best practices on how to reach new families, retain families as on-going patrons, and foresee challenges in TYA programming by learning about these organizations’ histories and trajectories as major institutions in the field of children’s theatre.

Alley Theatre of Houston’s staff members from the company’s education and community engagement and general management department will visit the Community Animation and Social Innovation Centre (CASIC) at Keele University in Staffordshire, England and the New Vic Theatre in New Castle in order to explore their methodology of knowledge co-creation and community engagement, entitled  “Cultural Animation.” The visit will allow the Alley to rethink its efforts in community development, specifically as they relate to El Zocalo, an upcoming long-term initiative to engage Houston’s vast and vibrant Latinx majority.

New York City’s Atlantic Theater Company will send associate artistic director Annie MacRae, director of marketing Claire Graves, and manager of institutional giving Nick Luckenbaugh to London to meet with artistic, programmatic, and marketing leaders from the National Theatre, the Royal Court Theatre, and the Tricycle Theatre to discuss and observe each organization’s audience engagement and community development endeavors. Information learned from this research trip will be vital in growing and enhancing community development and audience engagement programming at Atlantic—a leading nonprofit institution operating in a large city with similar populations and potential theatregoing audiences to that of London.

Staff members of the Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis will travel to Washington, D.C. to observe audience engagement strategies at Imagination Stage, Center Stage, and Arena Stage. Guided by the priorities of the company’s platform for access, diversity, and inclusion (ACT One), their goals are to return with an understanding of the investment these theatres are making to invite, welcome, and engage all audiences, and to incorporate the lessons learned into the organization’s next strategic plan.

Cleveland Play House will observe four organizations—two with expertise engaging persons with disabilities and two with expertise in engaging African Americans—to learn best practices in preparation for launching a comprehensive series of access and inclusion programs designed to bridge the gap between the demographics of their community and those who attend their performances.

Cleveland Public Theatre will connect executive artistic director Raymond Bobgan and director of community ensembles Faye Hargate with other artistic leaders across the country who are currently engaged with Arab-American and Middle Eastern populations to gather best practices for cultural engagement. This experience will help the organization adapt and replicate its current model of artistic engagement with local Latinx artists (Teatro Publico de Cleveland), with the goal of establishing a self-led, local ensemble of Arab-Americans and Middle Eastern artists who will create and perform at Cleveland Public Theatre.

San Francisco’s Golden Thread Productions will send founding artistic director Torange Yeghiazarian to visit Pangea World Theatre, Mu Performing Arts, and the Arab American National Museum, all organizations who focus on serving communities of color, to observe, listen, and learn best practices to improve audience engagement at Golden Thread. This travel will work towards building a national coalition of theatres serving the Middle Eastern and Muslim communities.

Long Wharf Theatre of New Haven, Conn., will connect managing director Joshua Borenstein, community and engagement manager Elizabeth Nearing, and Will Kneerim, director of employment and education  for integrated refugee and immigrant services, to Seattle Rep and Arena Stage to observe, research, and experience the company’s community engagement programming. They will learn best practices for teaching and engaging community members in participatory programming that will inform the expansion of Long Wharf Theatre’s community engagement programming through partnerships with organizations that support refugees and individuals in substance abuse recovery during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons.

Mixed Blood Theatre Company of Minneapolis will send key staff and personnel to visit ArtsEmerson in Boston. They will meet with the staff and leadership to learn about how the organization advances community/audience engagement with their theatre work and gain firsthand experience to explore how Mixed Blood can replicate ArtsEmerson’s best practices effectively and sustainably for both the organization and the communities it serves.

Northlight Theatre in Skokie, Ill., will send selected staff to visit the Guthrie Theatre to learn best practices on developing civic-minded projects that connect art with diverse populations. In anticipation of its construction of a new theatre within the Evanston community, Northlight anticipates the visit will help them learn how to more intentionally connect with the many social service organizations, education centers, and arts organizations in the extremely diverse community.

New York City’s Ping Chong & Company will travel to three communities and three arts organizations in Alaska, to observe deeply rooted and culturally specific audience engagement strategies and to collaboratively design engagement approaches for their upcoming production Where the Sea Breaks its Back (working title), which will tour Alaska and the U.S. beginning fall 2017. Led and facilitated by PC+C artistic collaborator and community projects associate Ryan Conarro, this observership and research and development period will allow the organization to create audience engagement models that integrate with presenting organizations’ missions and the production’s aesthetics. This work will support the ongoing development of PC+C’s long-range strategies for weaving audience engagement into future interdisciplinary performance works.

The Studio Theatre in Washington, D.C., will send staff to visit ArtsBoston and its member organizations including A.R.T to explore research-driven strategies employed by Boston arts organizations following their work with Clarity Campaign Labs, a political campaign analytics firm. Studio hopes to explore how to use their own research from Clarity Campaign Labs to implement successful audience building strategies, increasing demand for the arts among younger, more inclusive audiences.

Denver’s Su Teatro will send staff to Los Angeles Theater Center/Latino Theater Company in Los Angeles, Teatro Pregones/Puerto Rican Traveling Theater in New York City, and Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland to investigate the unique strengths and challenges that influence the audience development strategies used by each theatre. Su Teatro seeks to expand the definition of mainstream theatre by nurturing a truly diverse space for cultures to come together. Visits will reveal creative strategies to both broaden and deepen the commitment of audiences which the team will adapt to honor the complexity of Denver’s local community.

Trinity Repertory Company of Providence, R.I., will build on their two-year relationship with Rhode Island Latino Arts by sending staff, artists, and board members of both companies to visit two organizations creating theatre at the intersection of Latinx and non-culturally specific work: Cleveland’s Cleveland Public Theatre/Teatro Público de Cleveland, and Borderlands Theater Company in Tucson, Ariz. Their travels will explore engagement between produced performances, producers, and artists to better understand the organizational structures surrounding the work, which will assist the two organizations in developing a future model for their collaboration.

Two River Theater Company in Red Bank, N.J., will send artistic director John Dias, director of marketing Courtney Schroeder, education assistant Amanda Espinoza, and community relations officer Gilda Rogers to visit Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) and Borderlands Theater with the goal of further developing Two River’s Latinx audience and building a long-term dialogue between theatre and community. During their travels to OSF, they will learn about the organization’s internal diversity and inclusion structure and its work with community ambassadors. While at Borderlands Theater, they will observe the company’s Barrios Stories Project and learn how Two River might better serve the community as a resource center.

“TCG’s Audience (R)Evolution Travel Grants give practitioners the rare chance to step out of their own theatre and right into the physical space of their peers to learn firsthand the different ways they are working and connecting with audiences, both in the U.S. and abroad,” said Maurine Knighton, DDCF’s program director for the arts, in a statement. “There is no better way to garner such high-quality knowledge than through these on-site, real-life conversations. The tools and ideas that the participating theatres exchange will ultimately support the field at large by enriching the theatre-going experiences of audiences nationwide.”

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