What were the specific goals of this creative economy project? Describe the community development challenge or opportunity that your project was designed to address:
Shakesperience is deeply concerned that today’s youth are often marginalized and demeaned, evidenced by entertainment options offered to them, via mass and social media. Many such options are neither wholesome nor beneficial to any but the commercial enterprises which sponsor them. We are also aware that today’s non-profit arts organizations are faced with the rapid “graying” of their audiences, making it imperative for the organizations’ survival to develop new artists, relevant and innovative products to broaden audience appeal. The Brass City contains the framework to address both these issues. Where many cities fall short, one of Waterbury’s resources is its well-defined neighborhood structure. By recognizing, developing, and directing this resource toward our youth, our young citizens participating in this project gain understanding and appreciation of their city, via the incorporation of art as a pertinent and fulfilling part of their lives. Shakesperience, in turn, can encourage urban vitality, strengthen and be strengthened by neighborhood distinctiveness and pride of place, and remain relevant for successive generations of Waterbury citizens. The project provides our young citizens with the tools, outlook, perspective, and confidence to engage with their neighbors in a positive way and to develop into active and productive citizens within a strong and creative community. The outcome is to create a program, with potential to become a regional and national model, that will be sustained permanently in Waterbury to inspire children, engender an increased feeling of pride within a community, open up the arts to families within the Waterbury community through cultural resources (their neighborhoods, history and future) and improve attitudes about safety and livability in the city.
If the goals change over time, please describe how:
Over time our tactics to reaching the goals have evolved but our core mission of using theatre to explore our city’s past and present to create a stronger future is ever present. The first year of the program we saw our students truly excel in the art department and chose to deepen those roles in the following years. The art department now integrates math and science skills into their work and they analyze the scripts to see how their work fits in to the larger picture. We also collaborated with Oil Drum Art, through this program the students painted recycled oil drums to be used as trash cans in the parks that we performed in as part of our theme last year; Waterbury, Keep it Clean! Students who are returning to the program take on leadership roles within the ensemble as well which leads to expanded opportunities to grow and be involved both formally and informally. A returning student used his break time to run lines with a student who was struggling with a part the returning student had last year. The students who helped create the original choreography taught it to new students and collaborated on changes.
Who was involved in this project and what did they do? (be sure to include the partners from outside of the creative sector and how local voices were included):
Shakesperience Productions, Inc.’s artistic director and founder, Emily Mattina first envisioned this project. The Police Activities League has been incredibly important partner and program site. Students have also been recruited through Waterbury Public School Family Resource Centers. We are planning on expanding the project to have an additional two sites this coming spring; the Mattatuck Museum and the Palace Theatre. Through its development, we have collaborated with the Waterbury Neighborhood Council as well individual neighborhood associations and Waterbury’s historian, the Mattatuck Museum, and the Silas Bronson Library. Oil Drum Art came on as a partner last year and through their collaboration the art department expanded and flourished, as mentioned above. The performances are also invigorating to the neighborhoods themselves and many take place during festivals in the community such as Shakespeare in Library Park, the Tulip Festival, the Gathering, and Connecticut Trail Day at Fulton Park. This coming year we are planning to expand performances sites to include the Mattatuck Museum and BRASS Senior Centers in Waterbury. Durham Busing has been a great partner in helping ensure that students get to and from performances. Advanced Lighting and Sounds Solutions works with us to be sure that the performers are heard at the larger outdoor performances. An interactive workshop about the neighborhoods is also being performed at the Mattatuck Museum for Waterbury Public School students.
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
This program utilizes the strong framework of the neighborhoods to spread information and instill pride of place in residents of Waterbury of all ages. Shakesperience also works with Bridge to Success which is a cradle to career collection of non-profit agencies striving to better our community through the development of the 40 developmental assets in our young people. Founded on the principal that we are strongest when working together, Shakesperience and Bridge to Success share a common mission. Because of the hard work of all the agencies in the community, Waterbury has been named one of the 100 Best Communities for Young People for three consecutive years by the American Promise Alliance.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
Our work on this project is deeply rooted in the Shakesperience Approach which was developed by Emily Mattina. Whether teaching children, or rehearsing to perform for our diverse audience, the Shakesperience Approach focuses on creating thought provoking, socially aware, and artistically excellent productions celebrating and using language to create action while developing a positive ensemble. Individual performers develop a defined sense of self through the creation of and interaction with a strong ensemble. Both actor and audience utilize their unique relationship to experience a heightened sense of reflection on the performance. Shakesperience Productions' professional artists create curriculum-based programming rooted in classical literature while celebrating, examining, and experiencing humanity and human experience. Continuously, we strive to work alongside educators to answer the social and academic needs of today's student.