With our 2014-2015 Artist-Investigator program, Cal Shakes paired four local artists with four community-based nonprofits to learn what can happen when the powerful skills of artists are deployed outside the rehearsal room.
We asked artists to lead our investigation into what the performances of the future might look like and what can happen when the arts are more deeply integrated into community life. The result: four projects engaging 75 clients/members in participatory art-making that furthered each nonprofit’s mission. Beyond the participants, these projects engaged 646 community members in 3 Bay Area cities.
Each Artist-Investigator project featured different methods and outcomes depending on the needs and desires of the participants. Playwright and poet Paul Flores worked with Causa Justa::Just Cause, which organizes low-income tenants around housing justice, to create a performance based on members’ experiences with eviction and other struggles. The piece was performed at Causa Justa::Just Cause’s annual gala.
Storyteller and playwright Dr. Ayodele Nzinga worked with Green Life, a re-entry project led by former prisoners that provides healing circles and job training for formerly incarcerated individuals. Through story circles with men recently released from San Quentin State Prison, she developed Beyond the Bars: Growing Home, which presented the men’s stories of heartbreak and healing around the topic of “home.” A free staged reading of the project was produced at United Roots Oakland in collaboration with the youth group DetermiNation and The Lower Bottom Playaz theater troupe.
Playwright Elizabeth Gjelten led portrait-and-writing sessions with residents of DISH (Delivering Innovation in Supportive Housing), which operates six facilities housing formerly homeless individuals who also have other physical or mental challenges. The project resulted in photographs incorporating residents’ writing on what home means to them—and this portrait series now enlivens the lobbies of DISH’s SROs in San Francisco.
Choreographer and theatermaker Krista DeNio collaborated with the resident chaplain at Berkeley Food and Housing Project, which works to ease and end the crisis of homelessness in our community. They worked for nine months with male veterans in BFHP’s transitional housing project, exploring how performance work can help heal moral injury: traumatic grief over the moral transgressions inherent in war. Together they created a performance ritual performed by the veterans at BFHP’s annual Client Success event.
Cal Shakes is continuing our Artist-Investigator project this year as well, partnering with AYPAL, Transgender Health Services, and the Rysing Womyn project to learn more about how theaters, artists, and communities can work together to ignite change. We believe that through deep collaboration, artists and community members can lift up each other’s work—starting conversation, sharing stories, bridging difference, and activating deeper civic participation.