Guest post: “Giving Beauty Back” by Katie Wilson of Elephant Room Productions

Editor’s Note: From time to time we will feature guest posts from our Artist Teaching staff. We hope to bring you content that is helpful in understanding who the artists are who work directly with our children and youth. In today’s entry we hear from Artist Teacher Katie Wilson who, along with Artist Teacher Phil Czekner, helps lead Elephant Room Productions, a theatre production company dedicated to telling difficult stories. We encourage you to check them out. Post disclaimer: This post mentions the existence of suicide.

Giving Beauty Back: The Heart & Story Behind Elephant Room Productions

                              YACA Teaching Artists: Phil Czekner and Katie Wilson.
     Phil is the Executive Director of ERP and Katie is the Marketing Director of ERP.
                                              (Article written by Katie Wilson)

Art is important: whether you are learning it, teaching it, creating it, or just enjoying it. Art is important to have in our lives. As a young theatre artist, I have made it my mission to surround myself with art that will better the lives of others. This was one of the reasons I was drawn to Yes! And… Collaborative Arts. As an artist teacher and collaborator, I am given the opportunity to enrich children’s lives through music, play, and guidance while learning so much from them in the process. Art is all about give and take. As an undergrad studying theatre at DeSales University, I had the rare opportunity to work one-on-one with the late founder of our department, Father Gerard Schubert. Even in his old age, he was constantly inspiring young artists such as myself. He had a personal tagline that he carried with him from day one: “Give Beauty Back”. This phrase has informed my personal and artistic life more than I can explain, and has led me to companies and collaborations that are living this mission out to the fullest. One of those companies is Elephant Room Productions.

Elephant Room Productions, a bi-locational theatre company, was founded in 2014 by Christopher G. Ulloth and Lauren M. Shover, along with a close group of collaborative artists (including Yes! And… Collaborative Arts’ Phil Czekner.) It began with a simple goal: to create the work we wanted to do on our own terms. Our mission statement is based on our devotion to create work that brings to light the stories and issues that are typically more difficult to face. A couple of our previous projects have included topics such as racism, PTSD, addiction, schizophrenia and immigration. We bring this work to the public in many different ways: producing staged readings through our Elephant Ears Reading Series, participating in local cultural events and fundraisers, and producing full-length productions. We strive to use our art to raise awareness of the issues at hand and in turn create true change.

As mentioned above, a unique cornerstone of ERP is our Elephant Ears Reading Series.  The Elephant Ears Reading Series, or EERS, is a developmental playwriting program of our own design. This program gives a home to original pieces at any stage of development and allows writers and actors alike to hone their craft without the pressure of an audience! EERS is broken up into a few developmental stages that take our playwrights on a journey until they feel overtly confident in the work they have created. EERS is the heart and soul of our company and allows us to choose and develop work that we believe will give the most beauty back into the world.

Due to our success and growth thus far, our herd decided to embark on a brand-new adventure this year. Suicide Stories: Gallery of the Untold, a 2017 Philadelphia Fringe Festival piece, will be our first full-length production! This play features a number of different playwrights who have curated original pieces exploring the topic of suicide from the eyes of a survivor. Each piece incorporates its own specific art medium including painting, dance, mosaic, film, etc. to be performed in an interactive gallery setting. The point of this piece is to humanize this problem without romanticizing it. Suicide is an epidemic. It is taboo and misunderstood. We aim to start a meaningful conversation while doing these stories justice. A portion of the proceeds from this production will go directly to a suicide awareness establishment in hopes to continue the fight against suicide.

Much like our teachings with Yes! And… Collaborative Arts, we believe every story deserves to be told and every voice deserves to be heard. We at ERP are so grateful to have the opportunity to create and produce the art we are passionate about. Please join us for one of our upcoming events or reach out to us today to see how you can get involved and make a difference. Join the herd today and always remember to give beauty back.

WANNA SEE US IN ACTION? Join us for our upcoming, collaborative cabaret that is kicking off Philly Beer Week: A Midsummer Night’s Cabaret: Bottoms Up! This ridiculous, musical, drinking game of a show takes place on Sunday June 4, 2017 at City Tap House University City located at 3925 Walnut Street! Visit our events page for details and tickets!

WANNA LEARN MORE? To learn more about Elephant Room Productions, Suicide Stories: Gallery of the Untold, the work we create, the artists behind it, or how to get involved, please visit our website here!

WANNA JOIN THE HERD? If you believe in our mission and want to help us create art that will provoke inspiration and change, please visit our donation page and donate today!

WANNA COLLABORATE? Elephant Room Productions is always accepting submissions from playwrights, actors, collaborative artists or anyone else who wishes to get involved. Reach out, submit, or just simply say “hello!” at erpsubmissions@gmail.com!

WANNA FOLLOW US? You can find us on all major social media sites (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, & LinkedIn) as well as iTunes with our featured podcast, The Trumpet!

Guest post: “Putting Art to Work to Make a Difference” by Belle Alvarez (Artist Teacher)

Editor’s Note: From time to time we will feature guest posts from our Artist Teaching staff. We hope to bring you content that is helpful in understanding who the artists are who work directly with our children and youth. In today’s entry we celebrate with Belle as she shares about an exciting new opportunity with the Painted Bride Art Center. Belle has been an Artist Teacher with us for a few years teaching in Summer Camps and Studio classes. We encourage you to follow along with her during this amazing opportunity on her website or her Facebook page.

  Artist teacher Belle Alvarez leading campers in a movement exercise

When I’m not teaching movement at Summer Theatre Camp or Imagination Camp, I love to use dance and movement in projects that bring together art, civic engagement, and activism. This spring, I applied to and was selected for a residency with the Painted Bride Art Center called BrideNext, which is “a citywide collaboration with people in their 20s and 30s who want to put art to work making a difference in Philadelphia.” My project will be looking at the experience of immigration, becoming American, exploring themes around sanctuary and family, and creating space for immigrants from different cultures to share their stories and celebrate what makes each culture unique.

Here are 3 ways that some of Yes! And… Collaborative Arts’ values appear in the process:

Collaboration

For this project, I am supported by an advisory board of individuals who are artists, community organizers, youth workers, city workers, and entrepreneurs. Their insight and connections will play an important role in connecting with the wider Philadelphia community. A gentleman who works for the city’s office of immigration affairs offered to introduce me to organizations who work with immigrants. I will also be seeking collaboration in dramaturgy, sound design, and composition to add texture and depth to my vision for the performance.

Developing a Story

On November 17 and 18, BrideNext will have two evening length performances of the artists’ work. Like a good session at camp, there is a lot to explore in this “story.” I will spend a lot of time looking at the different nuances of the immigrant experience, how it has shaped the history and culture of our city, and what we as a society can do to create a world that welcomes and honors people who come from cultures that are different that ours.

Mentorship

At Yes! And… Summer Theatre Camps, campers get to work alongside professional artists as they develop their collaborative and artistic skills. As an artist with BrideNext, I am being mentored by artist-activists who have a wealth of knowledge for me to learn from. I am learning from my project advisor about a big artistic and civic project she did 20 years ago in New York City, long before I became a professional artist. I am reading articles and chapters on the history and legacy of artist-activists, and reflecting on where my role is in the movement in 2017.

I hope to see you at the Painted Bride this fall after camp! In the meantime, look out for updates on my website and Facebook page.

-Belle

Thomas and Joseph: Words from our participants

Editor’s note: At times we will feature some stories, testimonies, or words of affirmation about our programs straight from the mouths of the folks who participate: our kids, youth, teens, and parents/caregivers! This first installment is a transcript from our recent Winter Sort of Thing: 10 Year Anniversary Celebration. Joseph and Thomas both shared to the audience what participating in Winter Sort of Thing and Yes! And… Collaborative Arts’ other programs has meant to them. Currently, Thomas is working for us as an After School Group assistant teacher and Joseph is part of our high school Shadow Company in their Core Leadership. We are proud to have them speak on our behalf!

Thomas and Dave in this year’s Winter Sort of Thing: 10 Year Anniversary Celebration

Joseph:  I’m a sports guy.  I like to play.  And when I was 12 (and taking myself pretty seriously) my mom sent me to theatre camp instead of basketball camp… This was not my kind of people.  They made messes.  And imagined.  And danced.  They were silly.  But geez could they wear a man down.  They were relentless, and not just the teachers.  The other kids too.  They forced me to become friends.  To join in, to make my own messes.  I learned to act and dance and sing.  They basically gave me no choice but to join Winter Sort of Thing. And this is where I learned how to work hard.  I thought I already knew what practice was from sports, but I had no idea.  And what I figured out is: I really like to work hard.  I like trying again.  To get back up.  I learned I don’t want to settle.  And how to be myself, and who “myself” really is.  

Thomas:  Good evening.  I hope you have enjoyed the show thus far.  My name is Thomas and I am currently in school to become a video game designer.  When I was a kid my dream was to the first black president.  Someone messed that up for me.  I’m not complaining too much.   Also when I was little, my mom found Yes! And… Collaborative Arts. I started going to camps and in a few years joined Winter Sort of Thing.  I blame them entirely… (I mean I loved epic stories before Yes! And…)  but i didn’t realize that could be me.  That I could author.  That I could shape.  My story,  a story, the story.  And then I could give that to others – I could inspire.  Spark.  I have a long way to go, and bunch challenges I still have to face.  But when I am a millionaire, I’m going to park a truckload of money on these people.  It will be the sweetest revenge.  Until then, I’m counting on you.  

Joseph:  I have to work hard. Harder than others. But most of the time. (Most of it.) I don’t mind, because I’m with my people.  Doing this.