“The Listening Project: strengthening civic dialogue through storytelling theatre” (2018-2020)

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) approved True Story for a grant of $25,000 to use applied theater for civic dialogue on timely community issues (2018-2020).  True Story was 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.”

Over 2 years, True Story did 24 events working with community partner groups. True Story’s primary partner was Arlington’s Department of Planning and Community Development (DPCD). 

Events illustrated different ways that theatre can support civic dialogue:

1. to help a wide range of people feel heard on civic issues and reduce stress amidst controversy
2. to reduce stigma and increase respect for difference
3. to provide public education and to stimulate fresh creative thinking on current issues

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 interview between National Endowment for the Arts’ Media Producer Josephine Reed and True Story Theater’s Founder, Christopher Ellinger and Director, Amber Espar.

Community partners over the two years:

1​.​​ ​Arlington Center for the Arts
2​.​​ ​Arlington Chamber of Commerce
3​.​​ ​Arlington Commission on Arts and Culture
4​.​​ ​Arlington’s Dept. of Planning and Community Development (**primary partner)
5​.​​ ​Arlington High School Rebuild Committee
6​.​​ ​Arlington Human Rights Commission
7​.​​ ​Arlington Police Department
8​.​​ ​Arlington Town Manager’s office
9​.​​ ​Calvary Church
10​.​​ ​Diversity Task Group
11​.​​ ​Envision Arlington
12​.​​ ​Hardy elementary school (teachers)
13​.​​ ​Metro Boston Project Outreach (Opioid crisis)
14​.​​ ​Park Ave. Congregational Church
15​.​​ ​Stratton School (Diversity and inclusion parents’ group)
16​.​​ ​Sustainable Arlington
17​.​​ ​Zero Waste Committee

24 Performances:

5/16/20: “Pollinator protectors” –how to protect this key in our environment, with Sustainable Arlington.

5/9/20: “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.

5/5/20: “How are you?  How is your business?” How are you, the business people of Arlington, sustaining yourselves during the pandemic?  What challenges?  Any surprises? How are you getting support from the community, and what further support could you use?  (in partnership with the Arlington Chamber of Commerce)

4/26/20: Active Bystander online workshop, for members of the Arlington Human Rights Commission

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

March show cancelled because of pandemic

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.