Thursday, June 1, 2017

Ensemble Member of the Year 2016/17!



The strength of Imagination Theater is the drive and dedication of our ensemble.  The artists that make up Imagination Theater are talented performers, empathic facilitators, and collaborative educators.  The contributions of each ensemble member enable our collective mission to provide diverse audiences with original, dynamic, participatory theatrical programming that enhances well-being and creates a more civil, safe society.

Every year, as the season comes to an close, our ensemble members name one person the Ensemble Member of the Year.  Below is the criteria the company is asked to consider when casting votes:

“This person has gone above and beyond the call of duty throughout the season, and is well-rounded in all areas of IT’s programming as an actor, moderator, improviser, facilitator, educator, and writer.  The ensemble member of the year has a positive attitude both on stage and off, and is looked upon as a leader within the company.  This person shows remarkable commitment to IT, having volunteered his/her time on numerous occasions, and is consistently reliable and professional.  The ensemble member of the year truly understands IT’s mission, and strives to incorporate “IT skills” into his/her life.” 

The 2016/17 Ensemble Member of the Year is Merrick Robison!


Here’s what some of his peers have to say about Merrick.

“He's always been good at debriefing after the show (both with the cast and the office staff), which helps everyone brainstorm on the successes and potential improvements after each show. “

“He always bring full energy and commitment to every show, which draws the students in immediately.”

Merrick is a master at mingling farcical comedy with educational goals.  He can whip whole audiences into frenzied laugher with chaotic, flailing, slow-motion falls to the floor and then stand up seconds later to calmly redirect focus away from the physical comedy presented by the actor to the emotional reality experienced by the character.

Merrick is an astute reader of audience volunteers.  He quickly adjusts to meet the needs of each volunteer and to most effectively deliver our social issues message.

He’s stepped up to facilitate shows and classroom workshops, improvise highly successful scenes, assist in auditions, serve as resident sound tech, and mentor new ensemble members as they join the company and learn our format.

His work has gone a long way toward creating a safe, civil society within our audiences.  Congratulations Merrick on being this year’s Ensemble Member Of The Year!

As always, you can learn more about Imagination Theater’s ensemble and programming at www.imaginationtheater.org.


-Jeremy Schaefer, Artistic Director

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Importance Of Discussion



This season we overhauled our extremely popular No Secrets program.  Many schools share these valuable Erin’s Law performances with their students year after year, so we wanted to provide audiences with fresh new scenes.

In addition to updated scripts, we launched a follow up classroom visit for 6-8th grade to review themes and provide another opportunity for discussion.

Recently, I sat in the back of a 7th grade class to watch as one of our expert facilitators, Sean Sullivan, lead students through a fantastic discussion about consent.  The students were all in agreement at first, but as the scenarios they were responding to became more complex, the opinions in the room became more varied and, at times, quite passionate.  The class responded to one scenario in which an actor agrees to sex only after being pressured by their partner, by all talking at once, insisting, without listening, that the scenario represents either consent or a lack thereof.

Sean recognized the mood in the room as an enthusiasm for discussion and engaged every student in a respectful dialogue, that heard opinions, validated feelings, and challenged misconceptions.  The atmosphere in the room changed in reaction to this facilitated discussion.  Students stopped talking out of turn and began listening to other interpretations while allowing their own beliefs to be challenged.

In the end, the class understood that consent must be freely given and that can only happen in the absence of pressure.

After the cast left, I stayed a while to listen to students’ reactions.  The one word that I heard most often was ‘important.’  Nearly everyone voiced that it is important to talk about consent, that it is important to talk to each other, or simply that it is important to talk about difficult subjects.

We at Imagination Theater agree; it is incredibly important that we talk to each other.

All of our programs feature facilitated discussions.  To learn more, as always, visit us at www.imaginationtheater.org.


— Jeremy Schaefer, Artistic Director.


Monday, January 30, 2017

Adventures In Someone Else's Shoes


We received an enthusiastic response when we premiered our latest offering, Someone Else's Shoes, for drama teachers back in November.  In 2017 we are bringing this program directly to K-5 students and the reaction has been fantastic!

The show treats empathy as a super power that is exercised with three critical steps:

1)  Recognize how another person feels.

2)  Imagination how you would feel if you were them.

3)  Show you care with kind words or actions.

We address the first step with an improvised scene during which our actors wear a wide array of emotions, instantly changing how they feel when the facilitator calls out a new emotion.  Afterwards, audience members discuss how they could tell what the actors were feeling.  Reading another person's facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language establish an emotional literacy that is essential for building empathy.

We then launch into scenes that challenge students to name the characters' emotions and then imagine how they would feel if they were in their shoes.  In the first scene, our actors fail to show any empathy toward a new student who wants to join their group for a project.  After talking to the audience about how the new kid might be feeling, we replay the scene showing our actors begin to flex their empathy muscles by recognizing that the new student is lonely.  This time around, however, that recognition is as far as the actors go toward showing empathy.

The facilitator freezes the action and takes this opportunity to discuss the difference between sympathy and empathy.  We then replay the scene again showing our actors imagining what it would be like to be new to school, but still not responding with kind words or actions.

This is when an audience member takes on the role of an empathy super hero and joins the scene to save the day.  Student volunteers have a chance to be celebrated as they recognize emotions in others, imagine themselves in someone else's shoes, and respond to situations with kindness.

It's really great to see a gymnasium of kids cheer on a peer for demonstrating an empathetic response.

Someone Else's Shoes is likely to be a very busy program in 2017 and we look forward to making this a year filled with empathy in our schools.

For more information on Someone Else's Shoes, please don't hesitate to visit our website.

The Imagination Theater cast after the first student performance of Someone Else's Shoes.

— Jeremy Schaefer, Artistic Director




Thursday, December 22, 2016

Reflecting On Our History


   


As we turn the page on 2016, Imagination Theater is also turning the page on 50 years of participatory, social issues theater.

I’m fortunate enough to have worked with Imagination Theater for the last decade of the company’s first fifty years.  I’m extremely grateful for the opportunities for personal and professional growth that have been afforded to me in that time, but I’m far more grateful for our extraordinary output of interactive workshops and performances.

When I began my journey with Imagination Theater I was particularly drawn to the forum scenes that concluded nearly every performance.  This is a unique opportunity for an audience member to share a story about a time they've personally struggled, or witnessed others struggle, with issues relating to the show's theme.  The cast quickly dramatizes their scenario and then the facilitator freezes the action and leads a discussion as to how the conflict could have been resolved or avoided altogether.  It’s incredible to see what happens when a community stands outside itself and watches as their conflicts play out on stage.  Suddenly it’s not as hard to collaboratively seek solutions.  That’s the strength of Imagination Theater: creating opportunities for communities to problem solve together.

In my second year with Imagination Theater, I was convinced that this format which helps students demonstrate respect directly to their peers could also foster respect indirectly to whole populations by exploring environmental stewardship.  The staff and ensemble was incredibly supportive as I wrote and workshopped Go Green.  The goal of the show wasn’t to lecture or instruct, but to help students spot opportunities to reduce, reuse, and recycle in their daily life.  After one show, I heard a young student tell another student that he didn’t need more than one towel to dry his hands.  After another show a student told me she wanted to always cut up plastic six pack rings so that turtles don’t get hurt.  While these realizations may seem small, I believe they are actually enormous, because they represent young people acknowledging their strength to impact their world and the knowledge that their actions have unseen consequences.

After I stepped into the role of Marketing Director, I had a chance to see how our format successfully provokes positive change in the workplace.  Thanks to a long term collaboration with Felicity Group, Imagination Theater brought a high volume of corporate diversity trainings to the east coast and even to the UK.  

For an entire year, I practically lived in Philadelphia while facilitating regular workshops.  The hours were long and the work was challenging, but the discoveries made were incredibly rewarding.  Workshops regularly concluded wth co-workers owning the ways in which their biases impact the whole organization and taking responsibility for keeping those biases in check.  One workshop in London opened up a great discussion about the world we make for our children based on our routine actions and choices at the office.

Facilitating a corporate workshop in Connecticut.

This season, I started a new adventure with Imagination Theater and became the artistic director.  It is a huge honor to hold this title for a company that has meant so much to me for so long.  I spent my first months under my new title collaborating with Judy Freedman, LCSW to create a new program on empathy skills for K-5; designing a program on civic debate to help high school students respect the opinions of others while asserting their own; working with the Ellen Cribbs to implement brand new scenes for our Children's Sexual Abuse Prevention Program; and rehearsing with some of the most passionate and committed actors in town.

As the days remaining in 2016 rapidly dwindle, I find myself looking back not just at the last year, but at my last ten years with Imagination Theater and at the last 50 years of our mission to provide diverse audiences with original, dynamic, participatory theatrical programming that enhances well-being and creates a more civil, safe society.


I’ve met some of my closest friends at Imagination Theater and witnessed, repeatedly, the transformative power of theater.  I am excited to step into 2017 and see what awaits in Imagination Theater’s next fifty years!  Our work will be as vital in the future as it has been in the past.

A cast performing Show Some Respect at a Chicagoland high school.

As always, you can learn more about Imagination Theater at www.imaginationtheater.org

– Jeremy Schaefer, Artistic Director


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

NEW SHOW: Someone Else's Shoes


Creating new works of theatre is an inherently collaborative process.  Creating new works of interactive theatre brings that spirit of partnership from the creative phase and puts it center stage during performance.  Every Imagination Theater show is a conversation between actor and audience with both sides of the dialogue surprising and challenging the other.  When we build new programs, we do so knowing that we're not only building scenes; we're carving out spaces for new ideas to reshape those same scenes in real time.

For an interactive show to be successful, the collaboration begins before the script ever makes it to the stage.  Great partners are invaluable.

At the start of this season one of our longest partners, Judy Freedman, contacted us with a bold new idea.  We worked closely with Judy to create Ease The Tease, based on her book Easing the Teasing, in 2001.  We collaborated again in 2012 to completely overhaul that program with new scenes.  She is an incredible ally and impactful collaborator.  Her insights, patience, and ability to articulate concepts are fantastic.  When Judy Freedman has an idea, we at Imagination Theater are eager to listen.

This time her new idea was about empathy skills.  She had just created a new parent presentation to help families foster empathy skills and she wanted to work with Imagination Theater to create a complementary show for students.  We thought about it for maybe two seconds before agreeing to partner on the creation of Someone Else's Shoes: Empathy Skills for K-5.

In my ten years with Imagination Theater, I've often said that communication is at the heart of all our programs, whether they're teaching respect, environmental stewardship, or healthy decision making.  However, this project with Judy Freedman has caused me to revise that notion.  At the heart of effective communication is empathy.  When you can walk in someone else's shoes, you can communicate ideas that resonate in both their hearts and minds.

Even adults struggle to understand the difference between sympathy and empathy, so a K-5 program on the topic was ambitions.  This is where Judy's knowledge and experience was invaluable.  With her guidance, we created a program that helps students build emotional literacy, validate the spectrum of emotions in themselves and their peers, and show each other that they care about both who they are and how they're feeling.
This past weekend, we premiered Someone Else's Shoes for drama teachers at an event sponsored by the Illinois Theatre Association.  The response was overwhelmingly positive.  The enthusiastic audience agreed that a theatrical exploration of empathy was timely and important for their students.

We are incredibly grateful for this collaboration and excited to bring this performance to students.

You can learn more about Judy Freedman's parent presentation here.  You can learn more about Imagination Theater's Someone Else's Shoes here.  As always, you can learn all about Imagination Theater at our website.

- Jeremy Schaefer, Artistic Director.



Tuesday, September 20, 2016

New and Customized Performances!



We are only a few weeks into our 50th season and we've already premiered three brand new works of interactive theater!

Ellen Cribbs, Imagination Theater's CSAPP Program Facilitator, worked closely all summer with artistic staff and our partners at RVA to craft brand new No Secrets scripts for grades K-2, 3-5 and 6-8.  These new scenes provide returning audiences with different scenarios through which to understand sexual abuse prevention.  We've also taken this opportunity to address some of the ways technology has impacted this vital conversation in recent years.

Earlier this month, we premiered the K-2 and 6-8 versions of the new scripts for audiences that had previously experienced No Secrets.  The response was both positive and immediate.  Students were instantly engaged by the overhauled scenarios and eager to jump on stage to articulate their understanding.  One student, on what was only his second day at a new school, bravely came on stage to demonstrate how he would support a friend in need.  It is humbling to work on such an important program and then watch it highlight the courage and compassion in our audience.


We also customized a program specifically for a high school that wanted to bring more civility and understanding into the political debates waged by students.  Debates are essential to a healthy democracy, but when passions are whipped up by the excitement of an election year, it can be hard for citizens of all ages and persuasions to represent their opinions respectfully.  This customized show intentionally opened up discussion around controversial topics.  Our actors and facilitators, however, never took a side.  Instead we put the tenor of the dialogue under the microscope and encouraged the audience to transform each scene from unhelpful vitriol into civil discourse.

All of our shows spark discussion, so it was a particularly rewarding experience to watch a show ignite a conversation about the manor in which we as concerned citizens can effectively communicate in both private and public forums.

To learn more about Imagination Theater and our participatory programs, please visit our new website at www.imaginationtheater.org.

—Jeremy Schaefer, Artistic Director


Tuesday, September 6, 2016

50 Seasons!

This week launches Imagination Theater's 50th season of original, dynamic, participatory theatrical programming that enhances well-being and creates a more civil, safe society!


Our 49th season delivered 264 unique programs to a total of 42,077 audience members and expanded the reach of our Erin's Law program, No Secrets, making it our most popular performance.

So what's new this year?

  • We've welcomed four fantastic actors into our ensemble.

  • We've overhauled No Secrets for all grade levels, ensuring that this program can maximize impact as we return to schools year after year.

  • We've updated scenes in popular assemblies including Ease the Tease and Show Some Respect.

  • We've re-examined our facilitation style and made adjustments to bolster audience discussion and highlight important skill sets.

  • We've partnered with Judy Freedman, our Ease the Tease collaborator, to create a brand new show that fosters empathy skills for K-5 audiences.

  • We've workshopped our forum scenes to most effectively address issues of immediate concern to audience members.

  • We've brought on Braden Cleary as Imagination Theater's awesome new Sales and Marketing Manager.

  • We've unveiled a brand new website as well as a new actor uniform.

We're incredibly excited to launch this milestone season.  We hope to celebrate by sharing a performance with you!

As always, you can find more information about all our programs by visiting www.imaginationtheater.org.

- Jeremy Schaefer, Artistic Director