It takes a Communityby Jacqueline Bull November 27, 2017
New Village Arts Theatre is halfway through their season, but they have a great deal planned for the New Year. Alex Goodman, managing director, and AJ Knox, Director of Connectivity, spoke to the journal about the philosophies of the theater and their new outreach programs and shows.
They have many different initiatives in play to serve different communities. They take their designation as a nonprofit seriously and are committed to having theater as a service to the community.
“We cast a pretty wide net. We try to address the needs of lots of different audiences whether that is about language in diversity, or needs, or ages, or the casting choices that we make. There is a lot of thought about how are we representing the community at large. And serving the community at large,” said Alex Goodman.
One of the programs starting up in 2018 is Teatro Nuevo Pueblo. “Nadia [Guevara] who is heading up a new program for us, Teatro Nuevo Pueblo, which is specifically to reach out to our bilingual and Spanish-speaking community. We did a kickoff event for Hispanic heritage month,” said AJ Knox.
Their first play of the year, “Cloud Tectonics” has both a focus on Spanish speakers and broad appeal. “‘Cloud Tectonics’ does have a lot of Spanish language in it. It is about Latinx individuals and this play is considered a contemporary classic worldwide. The bilingual initiative is more about reaching out to our broader communities and trying to have a more inclusive audience base, and “Cloud Tectonics” is one of those plays that will appeal to that without being exclusively that,” said Alex.
Throughout our conversation, they used the word community so frequently, explaining that the idea of serving the community– having the work really be for them – affects every choice they make. Another one of “the plates they spin” is Monday Night Live. “The success that we have with Monday Night Live with our teaching artist Sam Gin, we have really been able to engage these special needs students with improv in a way that has really impacted the lives of these kids. There are some kids that have been nonverbal that are communicating in different kinds of ways. Kids are really coming out of their shells,” said Alex.
And when their artistic director’s father was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s, that sparked an inspiration to reach another community. “That is what got her thinking about what she might be able to do. In one of the meetings with the doctors, the doctor asked Kristianne what she does and she said theater. The doctor lit up and said you need to be doing improv work with people that are dealing with these issues because it has been proven that it is an effective tool of addressing the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia and keeps the brain active in a way that is very, very positive. We are excited to be launching that new program,” said Alex. They add that Kristianne has had numerous consultations with doctors and experts in the field to conduct the program properly and see this program as a “true piece of service.”
This idea of service is an idea they reference in talking about the theater. “I think in general when you think about being a nonprofit organization there is an expectation that we are providing a service … We take that service part of things seriously,” said Alex.
“These are the programs that allow us to go in the community to make the community part of the art, part of the programming that is hugely important to us. We are nothing without our community – through their support as patrons, as donors, as art-lovers, as collaborators – everything that they do helps us thrive, helps us give back to the community. So that is very important to us,” said AJ.
The community attitude extends into the cast and crew and all the way to Alex and AJ. “Our unofficial slogan is ‘It takes a village.’ We all chip in wherever we can. There is not a whole lot of us on staff here. And we all recognize that we need to come together to make these things happen, and we’re all happy to do so. The thing that drew me to theater in the first place is that it takes a community to make it happen. Two, three, four heads are better than one, and a collaboration is integral to making theater happen,” said AJ.
The idea of collaboration, service and community emanates from all corners of the theater and they hope to bring that to their audiences. “Every play that we are doing this season, every program that we are doing really revolves around that question of what are those things that bring us together as a community, overcome our differences?” said AJ. Alex added, “And whether that is music or work or adventure or love or neighborhood, in a time when things are a little more divisive than in the past, it is more important than ever to invite everyone to come together and enjoy some art.”