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

– 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

—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

- Jeremy Schaefer, Artistic Director

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Ensemble Member of The Year 2016

Every year I am grateful for the hard work and contributions of our talented and dedicated ensemble.  While the work is rewarding, it’s not easy.  It involves early mornings, ever changing schedules, and the constant challenge of starting conversations around sensitive topics with audiences that include as many points of view as there are students.
Every year, our ensemble members vote to name one of their peers the ensemble member of the year.  Here are the credentials we ask everyone to consider when casting their vote: 

“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 votes are in and the winner is… Sean Sullivan!

Here’s a sampling of what Sean’s fellow ensemble members had to say about him:

“He's really shown that he cares about the work and the students.”

“He is always on time, prepared and has a great work ethic. Just showing up and doing the show is not enough for him, he is constantly thinking of ways to make our shows better for the audiences.”

“… has been a strong team member and improviser throughout all of this year.”
Sean joined Imagination Theater in 2013 and immediately embraced all aspects of the work.  He is an advocate for our mission, an exemplary facilitator, and an engaging performer.

I’ve been fortunate enough to observe him in classroom settings and witness the way he expertly fosters an environment for success and mutual respect.  It’s not enough for Sean to facilitate a discussion about effective communication and empathy, he models it at all times.

Sean has been vital in executing our mission onstage.  More importantly, he embodies it offstage.  In many of our shows we talk about being an active bystander.  Sean is never a passive bystander to injustice; he calls it out and offers support.  Being an active bystander is part of who he is.  Audiences sense that authenticity when he encourages them to take a stand.

He’s an enormous asset to each of the numerous ensembles with which he performs.  We are thrilled that he shares his talents and passion with us, and we are excited to celebrate him as this year’s Ensemble Member of the Year.
Congratulations Sean, and thank you for everything you do!
As always, you can learn more about Imagination Theater’s ensemble and programming at
-Jeremy Schaefer, Artistic Director

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Audience Speaks

When you practice participatory theater, there is no greater joy than an enthusiastic audience of “spect-actors.”

This afternoon we experienced the thrill of performing Show Some Respect in front of an incredibly brave and open group of high school students. 

During a discussion about slurs, one student was honest enough to admit that he “uses those words every day." After that confession, he listened — genuinely listened — while his peers opened up about how those words make them feel.  Together, the audience distinguished between a label and a slur, and committed to standing up against future use of slurs in their school community.  Students from different backgrounds made themselves vulnerable, and then learned though experience, how an honest exchange can promote understanding and positive change.

Following a later scene about a particularly hurtful prank, another student announced that this situation actually played out at his old school, causing long-lasting humiliation and pain for the girl who was the victim of the prank.  He was eager to take the stage to demonstrate how such a joke can be shut down before it ever hurts another person.

It was beautiful to watch such meaningful conversations emerge from the scenes.  Each time a student volunteer left the stage, they were welcomed back into the audience with unsolicited applause.  After the show, multiple students thanked us for the play's message. While we certainly appreciate their gratitude, the message was already in the room.  Our performance simply created a space for these students to share it with one another. 

As always, you can learn more about our programs at

— Jeremy Schaefer, Associate Artistic Director