News and Updates
Community Case Studies: Gideon Productions
Thursday, September 22, 2016 12:00 AM

 

Gideon Productions on Reaching New Communities: How We Started 

By Sean Williams

Photo: Deborah Alexander

The mission statement for Gideon Productions is a paragraph long but there is one sentence in the middle that we use as a crucible for any piece we’re considering producing – “We explore what’s strange about being human and what’s human about being strange.” To this end, we’ve told stories time and again about people who, for one reason or another, aren’t moving through the world the same way everyone else is. But we’d never taken the next logical step – to reach out to the communities who literally experience the world in a different way and who haven’t been targeted as audience members.

So we started brainstorming. A performance for the Deaf? Of course! There was already a roadmap for that. Can we do a performance for the Blind? I bet we can. What about people who can’t normally come to the theater, people with Tourette’s Syndrome or social anxiety disorders, can we reach them? And what about the group I belong to – those who can’t see theater because their kids can’t be left alone and babysitting is expensive? We decided to try to reach all four of these communities.

My first and best phone call was to Marielle Duke at Adaptive Arts Theater Company (http://www.adaptiveartstheater.org/). Her organization is working to bridge the gap between disability and the arts. She helped to spearhead nearly every single aspect of these outreach programs for us.

 

Performance for the Deaf  

Obviously, there is already a roadmap in place for this, and I’m also lucky that one of my oldest friends is an interpreter. We contacted Dylan Geil and Lusanne Massaro and only once they enthusiastically agreed to do it did we realize we’d stumbled on to two of the best interpreters in New York. Before the interpreted performance, they sat in the back of the house for two other performances and practiced switching parts back and forth.

To reach the Deaf Audience, we contacted New York Deaf Theater, Theater Breaking Through Barriers, Hands On and several other organizations. We even donated tickets to a fundraiser for NYDT in order to help them while they were spreading the word.

 

Performance for the Blind

After some research, we found the organization called Sound Associates that has hardware and software to provide what is called “D-Scriptive” service. Through this, a Blind person can wear a single ear bud and they can listen to a narration that accompanies the performance. The narration can either be recorded or performed live.

To reach the Blind audience, we contacted the American Foundation for the Blind and followed up with Theater Breaking Through Barriers. We also found a lot of support from the people who work at TDF, even though they generally only give official support to organizations that are working with them in a professional capacity. These programs inspired a lot of people to want to help.

 

Audiences with Invisible Disabilities

One of our initial goals was to create accessible performance specifically targeted to audience members who struggle with social interactions. We planned to create a “Social Story” on the website—a clear, step-by-step guide for patrons new to Gideon Productions or for whom this would be their first theater experience. We talked about creating special seating for any patrons who may need a break during the performance and spoke to the theater about where this break could occur. We began the conversation about how to prepare our actors and designers for a performance with audience members who may not relate to the theater in the same way we are used to (or we have learned to expect). Our hope was to create a fully comfortable experience for individuals who traditionally experience difficulty entering new spaces, particularly spaces bustling with people. For people who wanted to experience theater but didn't feel a physical theater space was a safe space for them, we began talking to Equity about doing a livestream performance.

 

Parents with Small Kids

This was, in a lot of way, the easiest because I knew if I couldn’t find any other solution, I have about fifteen people who could sit with the kids during the performance. Right away, The Sheen Center (where our show was being produced) offered us the use of several rooms on site. This allowed us to split up the kids into two groups: ages 4-8 and ages 8-12. The production was recommended for kids 13 and up, so older kids could just watch the show with their folks.

Facebook and personal email was the best way for us to reach parents. There are many, many groups on social media that will pass along offers to parents and we have a huge network of theater-parents that we’re close with. So many organizations are out there with teaching assistants who are trained to take kids through projects and programs and we had an outpouring of help from places like the New Victory, Lincoln Center and NYU.

 

So, we found ourselves a few weeks before opening with everything set in place. We had a dedicated performance for the Deaf, a performance for the Blind, a performance for Parents with small kids, and an educated, articulate approach to audiences with invisible disabilities. Our next step was implementing these ideas and organizing the audience, which I’ll talk about in my next piece. 

  

 

This post is part one of two. Keep your eyes peeled for the follow-up on how it went in October.

Community Case Studies is a new, ongoing series of blog posts from members for members to share stories about implementing new practices and trying new strategies. Is your company embarking on a new endeavor? Are you taking a risk and making a change to how you do your work? Share that experience with us. If you'd like to contribute, reach out to Kati Frazier at [email protected].

 


 

 

 


 

 
This Is What We Do
Wednesday, September 21, 2016 12:00 AM

 

By Ann Marie Lonsdale, Director of Programs

 

What a month! With the announcement of both the opening of the A.R.T./New York Theatres and the new NYSCA-A.R.T./New York Creative Opportunity Fund, I can't believe how much we have accomplished since the beginning of our fiscal year. When I reflect on this, what I am most proud of is how many resources A.R.T./New York will be able to flow into the theatre field in the coming years, in the form of cash grants and the subsidy as part of renting the spaces on 53rd Street. I wrote a little while ago that for A.R.T./New York, support comes in many forms, and with our recent flurry of activity, I know that we are not just saying that but living that through our programs. 

The Creative Opportunity Fund is particularly exciting for me personally. When I started at A.R.T./New York a little over two years ago, I heard from so many members about the need for additional grants, that funding is scarce, and resources for small companies were lagging behind. When NYSCA came to us with this opportunity, I really got to dig in and think about how to design a grant from the ground up, and how to address these concerns. My process really started by asking a series of questions: How can small and mighty companies apply for grants more efficiently? How can we increase the size of grants to small companies? How can we help companies all over the state thrive? How can we support administration and production? Can we even do this? 

Thankfully, my incredible colleagues Adeola Adegbola and Kati Frazier said YES to that last one. Of course we can do this. This is what we do, and we can take our systems that work well and make them available statewide, we can figure out how to review work samples, we can manage a larger applicant pool, we can go to Buffalo (fingers crossed) for a grant information session in December, and we can make it simple and straightforward. 

Over the course of the next six months, we are going to learn so much, and I am so grateful to be able to bring this new program into being. Creating something new is scary and weird, but also really rewarding and wonderful. Knowing that this grant is going to help make theatre is without a doubt one of the best parts of my job. 

So, to everyone who decides to apply in this inaugural round, thank you! We are so excited to learn from you and make this process even better in 2018 and beyond.

 

Best wishes,

Ann Marie

  

 


 

 

 


 

 
How Did I Get Here, and Where Are We Going?
Monday, September 19, 2016 12:00 AM

 

A.R.T./New York Staff on a tour of the theatres under construction 

 

By Kendra Ramthun, General Manager of the A.R.T./New York Theatres


I am super excited to be taking the "pen" this week to share a little about the A.R.T./New York Theatres -- the part of the journey I have been lucky to experience so far and the exciting things to come.

My connection to the A.R.T./New York Theatres began even before I began working here. Like many of our members, I attended a tour of the construction site in October 2015 and could already sense how amazing and absolutely necessary these theatres are to the nonprofit theatrical community in NYC.  

For the previous seven years, I had worked at several Off-Broadway theatre companies who were fortunate to have their own buildings. In my general management positions with these companies, I handled rental inquiries in addition to working on the company’s own productions. I quickly learned that one of the first things to determine with rental inquiries was whether the spaces we had fit within the budget parameters of the company inquiring. For many smaller companies, the spaces were simply beyond their budget.  Both of the buildings I worked at are new-ish, modern facilities with lots to offer, but the rental costs necessarily had to be high because the overhead costs and labor to support the rental’s needs were high.

On the A.R.T./New York Theatres tour last October, I learned that A.R.T./New York had initiated a campaign specifically to be able to subsidize the rental costs for its members with budgets under $1 million. This. Is. Amazing. Think about it -- a company deciding to raise millions of dollars to build two theatres for the benefit of its members, and then deciding to go further to raise even more money to directly reduce member costs to use the theatres so they can invest more in the art -- this is HUGE.

Shortly after the tour, I was invited to serve on the panel to select the very first Rental Subsidy grant recipients. Of course I said yes! What a great opportunity to understand firsthand what the A.R.T./New York theatres will enable its members to accomplish. The experience confirmed for me that YES, I want to be involved with opening these theatres and creating this program. And evidently, I was able to successfully demonstrate this desire in my job application and interview!

Fast forward to February 2016 - I became a full-time employee of A.R.T./New York and eagerly jumped in.

On the construction front, I have been learning everything from building code and required permits to how exactly every single door in the building was designed to keep the performance space quiet. Good thing I enjoy learning!  This involvement with the construction team has enabled me to make direct contributions to how the building will ultimately function.  It has also helped the construction team to understand how the building needs to function to support theatrical productions and the creativity and needs of our members.

On my frequent visits to the theatres, it is incredibly exciting to see the progress being made. One day I'll discover that the stairs to the Gural booth have been installed and get to be one of the first people to walk up them. And on another, that the pipe grid has been installed or a wall that didn't exist yesterday is now there today. It's like finding Waldo on every visit.

On the operations front, I have the amazing opportunity to fine-tune how the theatres will function on a day-to-day basis and guide organizational efforts towards the opening in November and the start of operations. This process first began as a major brainstorming session. How will companies be scheduled for dates? What needs to be decided and included in a rental contract? What staffing and resources are needed to support rentals onsite? What is the A.R.T./New York experience we want our members and their audiences to have when walking in the door? What do we need to purchase and how much (gasp) is it going to cost? And most importantly, how can we maximize the benefits of these theatres for our members while creating a sustainable structure for years to come?

These brainstorms (and many others) formed the basis of our Critical Path for these past six months. Working with my talented A.R.T./New York colleagues, we fleshed out all of the steps necessary for each area and determined when each step would happen. We review our progress in regular meetings and continually refine our timeline and priorities. Once operations begin, our focus will shift from creating into doing.  We will see how the policies and best assumptions we made work in actuality, and we'll continue to learn and revise as we go.

So where are we going?  Any day now, permanent power will be turned on in the building. In the next two weeks, the seating platforms and chairs will be delivered and the elevator work will be completed. Next month, the glass entrance will be installed, millwork and finishes will be put in and inspections will begin. In two short months, we will welcome the first company into the Gural.  By June of 2017 we will have hosted a dozen productions by our member theatres.  And then it will be time for a vacation!

  

 


 

 

 


 

 
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