Everyone is doing it. From graphic designers creating free artwork to winemakers creating speciality wines. Celebrities frequently make guest appearances to raise awareness for good causes and the fashion industry has made endless amounts of apparel with all the proceeds going to a cause they believe in. These industries have all caught on to the hottest trend: linking a product to a specific social activist cause. The theatre world is not far behind as it too has begun to partner with social service organizations to not only promote their plays but to excel the work of certain organizations as well.
One play in particular that was featured in the May/June 2011 addition of American Theatre Magazine published by Theatre Communications Group is State of Incarceration. Put on by Los Angeles Poverty Department and featured this past June at the Radar L.A. festival, State of Incarceration is a real life taste of what it’s like to live in prison. Unknowingly the audience is forced to sit on mattresses next to ex-convicts who proceed to stand up and tell their stories of imprisonment. Besides being surrounded by prisoners, the audience also witnesses beatings by guards and even gets to indulge in gourmet “prison food.” Yet the point of the play is not solely to showcase the talents of the actors or live a day in the life of a prisoner but rather to promote awareness about prison reformation. Prior to and after the play, audience members have a chance to talk with activists dedicated to end the poor conditions in prisons across the nation.
Additionally, in a video submitted to the Theatre Communication Group’s “I Am Theatre” channel, actor Vincent Chandler from San Francisco said it perfectly. “Theatre helps [start] the conversation…to help us collectively as a society discover what we need [to do] next.” Chandler’s point is that theatre can help ignite a flame that is burning inside people that they may not even be aware of. Communication on important aspects of society can be brought out in the open with the assistance of theatre.
This affiliation between theaters and activists is ultimately a win-win situation. The activists and social organizations get an opportunity to have their message understood in a different way than it would normally be presented. Audience members can literally experience and emotionally connect with some of the harsh realities of this world. Ideally, their emotions then tug on their heart strings urging them to get involved with the activists and make change happen around them. For the plays themselves, it is an opportunity for them to market to an entirely new audience. Many times when people see that a theatre is paring up with a local charity group/organization they are more inclined to go and support it. Therefore, the two combined help theatres reach a new target market and increase the size of their audience base. With a trend that seems so helpful to each side of the equation it’s no wonder that it’s catching on quick.
Nicole Younger, Marketing Intern