National funding for arts-based community dialogues in Arlington, MA

Arlington, MA, May 10, 2018 – The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has approved True Story for a grant of $25,000 to use applied theater for civic dialogue on timely community issues.  True Story is one of 60 organizations nationwide selected for this prestigious award.  The National Endowment of the Art’s “Our Town” program supports creative projects that help “transform communities into lively and resilient places with the arts at their core.”

Christopher Ellinger, founding director of True Story Theater said, “I’m thrilled that our talented improvisational theatre ensemble has been recognized for what we do best: helping people listen to each other with deep empathy and respect around challenging issues.”

The two-year project is called: “The Listening Project: strengthening civic dialogue through storytelling theatre.”  True Story will do 24 events working with eight community partner groups.  Each event will illustrate a different way that theatre can support civic dialogue:  to help a wide range of people feel heard on civic issues, to reduce stigma and increase respect for difference, to reduce stress amidst controversy, to provide public education, to stimulate fresh creative thinking on issues, and more.

True Story’s primary partner is Arlington’s Department of Planning and Community Development (DPCD).  Other community partners include the Human Rights Commission, the Arlington Police Dept., the Commission on Disability, the Commission on Arts and Culture, Envision Arlington (overseeing town volunteerism), Sustainable Arlington, and the Town Manager.

True Story’s work is based on “Playback Theatre,” a unique form of spontaneous theatre, practiced around the world, that honors people’s true feelings and experiences.  Performances are based on audience involvement and often emotionally powerful and creatively compelling.

Check out this recent interview between National Endowment for the Arts’ Media Producer Josephine Reed and True Story Theater’s Christopher Ellinger and Amber Espar.


4/11/20: “Necessity is the mother of invention: Creativity in climate action” in partnership with Sustainable Arlington

3/14/20: “Money between friends: stories of building relationships across class differences” in partnership with the Arlington’s office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the Human Rights Commission, Class Action, and Arlington’s Diversity Task Group.  CANCELLED BECAUSE OF CORONAVIRUS

2/28/20, “Stories of unconventional love” in partnership with Arlington’s Diversity Task Group.

1/18/20, “Community hopes and dreams for 2020” in partnership with Envision Arlington and the Diversity Task Group.

12/20/19, Town planners goals–and why they matter, for the staff of the Arlington Department on Planning and Community Development.

11/13/19, “What does the work of the police mean to citizens in the community?” for the Arlington Police Department’s citizen’s police academy graduation (with current year and past graduates and their families).

11/4/19, “Why diversity and inclusion is important in our schools” for parents and kids in Arlington, hosted by the Diversity Task Group of Envision Arlington.

11/1/19, “Why diversity and inclusion is important in our schools” for the teachers at the Hardy elementary school.

10/12/19, “Stories of immigrants” hosted by the Diversity Task Group and the Arlington Center for the Arts.

9/21/19, “Standing up to climate change: stories of environmental activists” hosted by Sustainable Arlington.

7/11/19, Sustainable Arlington (committee of Envision Arlington): “Dare to Repair! Stories of Preserving Treasure and Preventing Waste” public performance.

6/23/19, Arlington gun back performance dialogue, co-sponsored by Arlington Police Dept., Calvary Church, and  Park Ave. Congregational Church.

5/16/19, “Zero Waste Committee” members strategic planning session interactive performance.

5/9/19, “Envisioning the next three years” for all the members of the Arlington Commission on Arts and Culture.

3/27/19, “Why are conversations about diversity and inclusion important in our schools?”  For parents and teachers.  In partnership with the Arlington Human Rights Commission and Stratton School.

2/5/19,  “How do we feel about paying taxes?!” Public. In partnership with the Town Manager’s office.

12/13/18, “Facing addiction by building community resilience.” For families with loved ones in recovery or struggling with addiction, service providers, and for the general public.  In partnership with Arlington Police Department and Metro Boston Project Outreach.

12/10/18, Debrief of the Bus Rapid Transit test project for members of the Arlington Town Planning Department and others on the BRT planning team.

11/14/18, “Stories of immigrants.”  For recent and long-term immigrants in our community to share their stories and others interested.   Sponsored by the Arlington Center for the Arts as part of a multi-media fall series exploring “We are new here.”

11/7/18, “Different perspectives on the rebuilding of our high school.” Especially for residents with different viewpoints who want to be heard.  Open to the general public.  In partnership with Arlington High School Rebuild Committee and the Thompson School.

10/25/18, “A public community arts dialogue: working together for the arts in Arlington.” In partnership with Arlington’s Dept. of Planning and Community Development

10/11/18, Input on bus rapid transit project for the Arlington’s Dept. of Planning and Community Development from commuters.

Here was an article in Wicked Local Arlington about The Listening project and True Story Theater.