Please list the steps taken to implement the project:
Establish the Partnership.
Meet, research, and plan with IRIS staff to lay the groundwork for the partnership. Be clear who is doing what, what benefit it will have for both organizations, and ensuring that it doesn’t strain the core service work of IRIS. This partnership serves IRIS’s mission to advocate for refugees by furthering their narratives and serves LWT’s mission to create theatre that delights and provokes audiences. Staff members from both organizations took trips to other theatres doing community based work to learn from their practices. It took us over a year working with IRIS staff to obtain funding, research other models, and implement the project.
Craft the Invitation.
IRIS identifies up to forty clients who are ready for NPP. IRIS and LWT staff members determine the best way to reach each individual client—email, phone, or at IRIS programs—and we collaboratively invite them to participate. All participants had been in the United States for at least six months and had stable access to life’s necessities—housing, food, transportation, and a path to employment. By working with refugees whose basic needs had been met by IRIS and their partners, participation in the Newcomer Play Project was a positive activity for participants that did not drain their resources, energy, or time.
Build Trust and Create a Team.
Workshops: LWT’s community engagement department deliver theatre skill-building workshops at a central location in New Haven near public transportation, such as the downtown branch of the New Haven Free Public Library or IRIS’ offices. Workshops are open to any client to attend for as much as they are able. New participants can join anytime. This is a fun non-committal way for people to start to build trust, stories, and skills.
One-on-one meetings: LWT staff meets one on one with workshop participants who show an interest in the spring performance-based program form the NPP performance ensemble. All are welcome to join, knowing it is a larger commitment.
Creating the final product: The self-selected ensemble, facilitated by LWT staff, shares reflections on their fall workshop experiences and revisits themes and stories from the fall. Conversation and exploration through theatre-based techniques help the ensemble collaboratively write and identify the stories they want to share. Theatre-based, ensemble-building skills are also built alongside oral and written storytelling skills. LWT’s community engagement staff record and document the narratives as well as guide the group to create their own structure for their play, ensuring that each creative decision is driven by the ensemble.
Curate an audience.
LWT’s community engagement and external affairs departments along with IRIS’ community engagement department develop the marketing plan, ensuring outreach to a broad intersection of New Haven residents, including LWT’s Community Ambassador Program, civic leaders, faith leaders, foundations, local artists, immigrants, refugees, and social service workers. Approximately 150 complimentary tickets are set aside for program participants, IRIS clients, and other community members. Complimentary tickets are offered before paid tickets go on sale, to ensure we build a diverse and equitable house. Ticket price is set at $20 so that it is affordable for most New Haven residents, though discounted and free tickets are available to anybody who asks.
The American Unicorn was performed by the Newcomer Play Project ensemble on Long Wharf’s Claire Tow Theatre in the C. Newton Schenck III Theatre on Friday, June 8, 2018 at 7 p.m. The 110-minute performance was attended by a sold-out audience of more than 400 people from the Greater New Haven region, all of whom were eager to hear the stories of these actors brought to life on stage. Following the event, food was provided by Sanctuary Kitchen. A program of City Seed, Sanctuary Kitchen highlights the unique skills of refugees and immigrants in economically viable culinary pursuits that provide personal income potential while promoting their culinary traditions, rounding out an evening of shared cultures, and stories to improve understanding and appreciation throughout the New Haven community.
If the project steps changed over time, please describe how:
As informed by our visits to peer theatres and, most crucially, in getting to know IRIS constituents and their needs, the final structure of Newcomer Play Project significantly changed from our original intent. We planned to have Newcomer Play Project closely follow the format of our well-established Elder Play Project, which consists of writing workshops before and after each Long Wharf Theatre production with a presentation of the group’s original work at year’s end. Elder Play Project participants are senior citizens residing at New Haven’s Tower One/Tower East, all of whom are retired and speak English as a first language. Newcomer Play Project participants had job, family, and school commitments and each person was at a different level of mastering English. These factors meant that Long Wharf’s productions were difficult for our ensemble to attend, connect to, and comprehend; the structure of Elder Play Project, which is heavily grounded in Long Wharf’s programming, proved to not be the right fit. Throughout our process, Newcomer Play Project was adapted to meet the needs of our diverse group.
As a result, drop-in theatre-based workshops were offered in fall 2017, which allowed program participants to come and go as their schedules permitted. The creation and performance of the original play took place in spring 2018 with a smaller, more focused group. We found that many of Newcomer Play Project workshop participants were excited by the flexible workshop sessions but were reluctant to commit to a long-term rehearsal process. Many could not consistently attend the workshops, and some of our most excited participants were only available for a few sessions. After getting to know the participants during the workshop period, Long Wharf staff met with each person to further learn about their goals and interest in our program. As a result of those meetings, eight of the 28 program participants committed to creating, rehearsing, and performing a play at Long Wharf in June 2018. These eight people created our performance ensemble, decided the format the play would take, what stories were included, how they were performed, and who we invited to the show. They created a piece of theatre through this process that was truly their own.