Thursday, August 10, 2017

Collaborating with HEART!

It is Imagination Theater’s mission to provide diverse audiences with original, dynamic, participatory theatrical programming that enhances well-being and creates a more civil, safe society.  We are extremely grateful to be just one of many phenomenal organizations in Chicago striving to enhance well-being and promote civility within our communities.

HEART (Humane Education Advocates Reaching Teachers) has been benefiting the communities they serve since 2001 and the work they do is both necessary and inspiring.

HEART’s educators recognize and highlight the intersections between human rights, animal protection, and environmental stewardship.  Their programs strengthen communities by raising awareness around pertinent issues and empowering teachers and young people to become advocates for each other, animals, and the earth.

Our two organizations began talking about ways we could work together at a Communities In Schools of Chicago event toward the end of the 16/17 school year.  We are thrilled to announce that our initial conversation has grown into an exciting collaboration for the 2017/18 school year.

HEART is offering a great program on empathy skills and social emotional learning for grades 4th through 6th.  At the end of their ten week program students create comics about how they can use the skills they learned during the program to manage their emotions and resolve conflict peacefully.  After the conclusion of their program, Imagination Theater will be turning some of those student generated comics into short, interactive plays to be performed at the school.

We are thrilled to launch this partnership and share our work with HEART.  For more information about HEART and their offerings or to book their program, email Mickey at

As always, you can learn more about Imagination Theater at

Monday, July 24, 2017

New Ensemble Members for the 2017/18 Season

I love summer rehearsals!

Every summer new and returning ensemble members gather for an intense rehearsal period during which we learn and review our rich programming roster and strengthen our signature interactive format.  Our rehearsals are a fast paced, fun, and challenging opportunity to dig deep into our shows, fine tune facilitations, and hear fresh perspectives on popular performances.

This year we're thrilled to welcome an enthusiastic team of new actors into the Imagination Theater family!  Each one of these passionate individuals is already making huge contributions to the success of our 17/18 season.

As much as I love rehearsal, I can't wait to get this group in front of audiences.

As always, you can learn more about Imagination Theater and our programs at

– Jeremy Schaefer
Artistic Director
Imagination Theater

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

-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

— 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