The Centre would like to congratulate True Story Theatre and Playback Memphis on their recent Grant awards. Read their powerful stories here:
Christopher Ellinger: True Story Theater
True Story Theater’s story of a grant failure…and a success…
Two years ago, we took a risk and invested weeks of work into applying for for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) “Our Town” program. We thought we had a decent chance… but alas, were turned down. So disappointing after all that work!
We were grateful when an NEA program officer encouraged us to try again in the future — but to
more fully demonstrate that we are truly rooted in our community.
So, for the next two years, we leaned into building on our important partnerships in the town, including doing many shows highlighting their work. When it came time to apply again to the NEA, we worked for months on the mammoth application, which included making a plan for how we would assess our impact, creating video clips, and gathering 10 strong letters of support.
(See a powerful letter here from a colleague who had worked with us on 35 shows.)
In July 2015 we jumped up and down and screamed when we learned we got the grant.
It was right before the International Playback Theatre conference in Montreal, but we weren’t allowed to announce the news until the NEA released it for all their grantees a week later. It was so tantalizing not to be able to share our excitement with our Playback colleagues!
We felt very honored to get the grant: True Story Theater is one of only four groups in Massachusetts to receive an NEA “Our Town”grant (and nationwide, only 69 groups were approved out of 275 applicants.)
What will the project look like?: “Arlington’s Living Brochure” will use Playback to strengthen five committees in the Town of Arlington: the Human Rights Commission, the Diversity Task Force, the Disability Commission, Sustainable Arlington (the climate action and environmental group) plus the volunteerism umbrella called Vision 2020. Each group will be supported to tell the story of their work, to invite new participants, and to use Playback to create public dialogue about important issues. Over two years we will give 24 performances and 24 workshops in support of these goals, plus a local graphic will create interactive displays and Arlington Community Media Inc. will create videos.
We hope this experiment will inspire the town to use the arts to further many civic goals. We look forward to some Playback North America teleconferences to share what we’re learning and to hear from other groups about how they’ve worked with city or town agencies. We just trained five new members and now have nineteen members of our company so we can be prepared to handle all the new work. We’re excited!
Virginia Murphy: Playback Memphis
In 2005, after 4 wonderful years of performing with Big Apple Playback Theatre, my husband Joe and I returned to my hometown of Memphis, TN to grow our Playback dreams. We knew we had our work cut out for us. Memphis is a city known for grit and grind, raw pain and racism. With one of the highest levels of poverty and violent crime in the nation, how could Playback really help? To be quite honest, we had no idea, but we made four commitments. We would: 1) Build a troupe that reflected the diversity of our city (Memphis is over 60% African American) 2) Seek out a wide cross section of people who care about Memphis to become our audience base. 3) Use Playback to teach and practice the art of deep and generous listening. 4) And respond to the needs that emerged in meaningful ways through Playback.
It’s been 10 years since we moved back to Memphis, 7 years since we officially launched Playback Memphis, 4 years since we became a non-profit, and 1 year since we received a capacity building grant for $45,000 from a local foundation to allow us to do 6 months of deep strategic planning work that helped us claim our mission and core programming, build and strengthen our infrastructure, and create a solid plan for generating a healthy mix of revenue to support our work. The process was invaluable. Having to explain what Playback is and why it matters to someone who knows absolutely nothing about it is the greatest challenge in the world, but if you can do that well, your Playback work will grow and thrive. At the end of the process, we returned to the funders to present the plan and tell our Playback story. They were impressed and inspired, committing $450,000 over three years to Playback Memphis. With this funding we will continue to grow Performing the Peace, our peace and reconciliation work with law enforcement and individuals who have been incarcerated and Memphis Matters, our public performance series, as well as continue to use Playback to build and strengthen emotional and relational health in families as part of a partnership another local non-profit. A significant portion of these funds will go in a reserve to be invested, so that we can build a fiscally strong and sustainable organization. We have also invested them in growing our staff which now includes myself as executive director, an associative executive director, and a development coordinator. We contract out a bookkeeper and marketing and communications consultants and pay our Playback artists well. We have strengthened and expanded our board to 14 members and have since received over $18,000 more in grants since this initial large investment. I am proud of the work that we have done on and off the stage to build high levels of communication, connectivity, and empathy in Memphis. It has been a tremendous labor of love!