Townhall 2

This year we began, what turned out to be, an unexpected and surprising exploration of theatre advocacy. Now that we have surpassed a few hurdles, and are deep in the middle of what has developed into a much longer journey than we originally intended, we want to share our experiences in the hopes of receiving/sharing inspiration. When we jumped into this together, we had preconceived notions about advocacy both what advocacy means and how to go about advocating for our chosen field.

A Mutual Confession: We hate to admit it, but somewhere along the way we bought into the idea that advocacy went something like this: How to be a theatre advocateThis seemed a bit overwhelming to say the least, as if we would forever be caught in a terribly repetitive cycle of ineffectiveness. We were not sure we could ever really make an impact as theatre advocates no matter how long our careers lasted. The more time we spent discussing theatre advocacy, the more questions we had. But before we share all of our concerns, questions, and examinations, let’s back up a bit and start with a few more confessions from the beginning of our advocacy trek.

Ashley’s Confession: During my final year in the Theatre for Youth MFA program at Arizona State University, I found myself returning to the same question again and again: “What is Advocacy?” The word itself seemed daunting and thinking of actually “doing” advocacy seemed exhausting and time-consuming. My brain would go into overload: “What’s the use writing politicians? My voice isn’t heard. What about advocacy on the local levels? We need support and funding now. I know I need to advocate, but that takes time I don’t have; I have too much on my plate already!” It dawned on me I was setting myself up for failure. I stepped back and examined why I kept asking this question. I realized I felt like I wasn’t contributing enough. I didn’t know what “enough” was or how to achieve it, but I knew I felt an urge to deepen the public’s knowledge and understanding of the theatre arts and their impact on youth. Before too long, my questioning turned into my applied project and I reached out to fellow professionals in my local communities in the Phoenix Metro area.

Teresa’s Confession: At the end of year one as a PhD student at Arizona State University I travelled to San Francisco for my first AATE conference. I wanted to become more involved, so I volunteered to be an AATE State Representative for Arizona. After years of feeling isolated as a high school theatre teacher, I found a community of like-minded theatre practitioners at the conference, and I wanted to become more involved. I returned to Arizona and did my best to advocate for my field and for AATE. Arizona is a big state, and I was just one graduate student. My actions seemed small and inconsequential. Time seemed to evaporate before I could accomplish all I wished to do. When Ashley shared her applied project proposal with me, it seemed the perfect project to reach out to Arizona theatre educators and artists; and these professionals might in turn help me answer some of my questions. Now a fourth year PhD candidate, I should have known that questions only lead to more questions.

We started with what we thought were the basics. In order to show you our process we created an Advocacy Question Flowchart; feel free to see if your answers align with ours.

advocacy answers2

If we know what advocacy is and how to do, we should be able to be advocates, right? The above flowchart represents the results of a four question survey sent out via email to theatre students, educators, artists, scholars, and administrators. When we began to examine the survey responses we were both intrigued and perplexed. The survey participants defined advocacy as an action often requiring building support for something or requiring the involvement of other people. After all how does one “fight” or “defend” something successfully alone? However, when asked to explain how they advocate for the theatre arts our survey participants were either repetitive or vague. For example, some participants said advocacy is “building awareness about theatre” or “supporting theatre” and said they did this by teaching theatre. But how? Specifically? All the suggested actions made sense, but because advocacy is the act of _____, the exact process of how to do that ______ seems obvious. The actions listed in the survey responses bypassed getting to the heart of what it takes to advocate successfully and often didn’t require belonging to or working with a community. The survey answers did not provide clear suggestions of theatre advocacy. We decided we needed help to decipher all of this and held a town hall meeting inviting members of the greater Phoenix Theatre community to examine both the results of the survey and Ashley’s applied project research.

Town hall confessions: Professional theatre artists, K-12 drama teachers, and theatre scholars joined us in an evening of discussion and collaboration. After discussing the slippery nature of defining advocacy and its corresponding actions, we asked them to interrogate the survey results in small groups and challenged them to turn these suggested theatre advocacy actions into do-able activities that can strengthen arts advocacy and create new theatre advocates in our community. Of the nine ways survey respondents suggested Theatre Arts Education advocacy could be strengthened and gain new advocates in the Phoenix Metro area, all of the town hall discussion groups chose to focus on ‘Building Partnerships’. The choice to focus on building partnerships became incredibly meaningful when we examined the groups’ conversations, interactions, and suggestions. All of the attendees shared with us a profound feeling of lack a lack of time, money, resources, knowledge. They needed help to advocate for their theatre programs and for the larger field of theatre. As the conversation continued, and specific actions were shared the town hall had a revelatory moment. This mutual feeling of lack stemmed from a continued reliance on what one attendee described as the “scarcity model.” As theatre professionals we had become so used to working with so little, often independently like the lone theatre teacher at a high school or the freelance teaching artist, we have become programmed to believe there isn’t enough ______ to go around. Operating under this scarcity model inhibits meaningful advocacy advocacy which demands building partnerships and sharing resources/knowledge. We wondered how this scarcity model and lack of connection might be overcome through a shared desire to advocate for our field.

Townhall 1

Final confessions: We closed the town hall event asking for ideas which would strengthen connections to each other and allow us to share resources. After reviewing the suggestions and feedback from the town hall meeting, we have chosen to move forward with creating a free, all-inclusive local Artists Directory for theatre educators, scholars/researchers, and teaching artists to use. The site will allow everyone to connect their assets together; view daily, weekly and monthly advocacy strategies; discuss the ease and difficulties of strategy implementation; access a directory of professional artists in the valley and other resource suggestions given during the project and town hall event. The campaign will end in March 2014 with a Theatre in Our Schools event where attendees will discuss the next steps to continue advocacy efforts. We confess we have no idea how successful our venture will be, but we feel confident we are moving forward with a project our community needs. As you start (or continue) your own journey of advocacy, now is the time to reassess what advocacy means to you, explore what it means to your community and discover how together you can move forward as a united force.


ModifiedHeadShot4Ashley Hare holds a MFA in Theatre for Youth from Arizona State University. Her work centers in strengthening communities through interactive theatre programming and performances. Currently, she is the Arts Education Outreach Associate for the Mesa Arts Center and Resident Artist for Rising Youth Theatre in Arizona.



MinarsichHeadshotA former high school drama teacher and now a PhD candidate in the TFY program at ASU, Teresa Minarsich is in the midst of writing her dissertation which examines how girls perform girlhood through visual art, theatre, and digital communications. She is passionate about directing, puppetry, and creating theatre with youth.

Share this post: