Artist+Activist=ARTivist

By: Maya Osterman, Program Coordinator

I feel like this last month has been filled by me telling anyone and everyone who will listen that I am officially a full time Applied Theatre practitioner! I have had the honor of working with Mirror Image Arts for the past two years, and feel so lucky to call this organization my permanent home. My first month as the Mirror Image Arts Program Coordinator in true miARTS fashion has been jampacked. Since July, I have been in the field facilitating five “Finding Your Voice” 6-8 wk programs and four “Your Voice Matters” 90 minute programs, interviewing community members and devising a theatre experience for our Speak Up, Speak Out! project, and learning the in’s and out’s of the organization. I also just returned from my first American Alliance Theatre and Education (AATE) conference where Meghann and I presented on the value and process of evaluation. A common theme that kept coming up at this conference was “Why do you do this work?” so I thought I would take this opportunity to share my personal journey with Applied Theatre and why I do this work.

In the simplest form I do this work because it feeds my soul. With every experience, every moment, I get just as much out of it if not more than I put into it. It pushes me to think, feel, and be a deeper, more compassionate person to myself and others. It is exhausting and energizing, difficult and easy all at the same time. Even on days like today where I sit in a coffee shop pounding away at the keyboard all day, I have discovered something new about my work and how I view the world around me.

I was a “late bloomer” to theatre, only finding it at the end of my high school years. I grew up in a family of strong women who are huge advocates of Planned Parenthood. The local Planned Parenthood in Fort Myers Florida had a high school theatre troupe called The Source that performed plays on teen pregnancy and HIV/AIDS awareness throughout local high schools. Not only did we go around and perform this play but we would have meetings at Planned Parenthood to make sure we were educated on the topics we were sharing with other students. I was in this troupe for a year and then for my last year of high school went to Idyllwild Arts Academy (a performing arts boarding school in California) to become a “serious actor”.  I decided to continue my theatre studies receiving my BFA at the University of Colorado – Boulder. However my real education was through the Interactive Theatre Project (ITP), an on-campus social justice theatre company I had the honor of being a part of all four years of college and was able to come back on as an Assistant Director for two more years after.

I will never forget my first encounter with ITP and the methodology of Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed. It was first year orientation and a few hundred of us piled into a large room. A group of actors performed a very disturbing play that ended with a drunk college girl going upstairs with a boy and inevitably being raped. The facilitators explained that we the audience now had the chance to ask the characters (the girl who had been raped, her best friend, the boy who had raped her, and his best friend) questions. For the next twenty minutes, the audience was in heated debate with each other and with the characters over the play they had just witnessed. I had never seen a group of strangers so activated and engaged, I was hooked. After the session I immediately went up to the facilitators and asked them how I could get involved. Trent and Rebecca became my greatest teachers, my awe inspiring mentors that opened up the world of Applied Theatre to me. There was no subject matter, no theme or idea we couldn’t and wouldn’t explore. What I so appreciated was the thought and care that went into exploring such triggering content for the actors and the audience. Theatre was a safe place that made space for the silenced, the marginalized.

Applied Theatre is an ephemeral experience with everlasting impact. Everyday is a brand new exploration that keeps you on your toes ready…hungry for more. It uplifts and highlights the importance of every voice and perspective. It pushes you out of your comfort zone and makes you think in a way you never knew you were capable of. There is no better feeling in the world as a facilitator of this work than when you see a light bulb go off in one of your participants whether that be because they have just discovered something new or have finally been validated in the way they feel. Applied Theatre is how I can be an ARTivist (artist and activist), miARTS is the space in which I get to be an Artivist everyday, and for that I am forever grateful.