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What I've Learned Three Years In

Boyle Heights Chronicles:


The 2016 Wall Workshop participants.

Photo by CBGraphy.

We are halfway through the third year of programs in and around Boyle Heights as part of Center Theatre Group’s The Shop initiative and community programs, and each day I still learn something new, I meet someone who has never been to the theatre, and I find myself in awe of the creativity unleashed at a workshop, play reading, or costume design class.

I began to write these blog posts as a way to archive and share the progress, stories, and process of working with the Boyle Heights community. The chronicles were intended to inform my fellow community workers in Los Angeles and around the country, but with each chronicle I also think about new ways of working with community members, how to adapt programs, how to best communicate with participants, and how to listen. While reflecting on what has happened, I discover how deep each interaction with the community really is.

This year we are offering new and expanded programs for Boyle Heights residents that offer access to theatre through three pathways: a passive manner—as audience members—and by participating. People learn in different ways, and so our programs are designed to allow them to participate on their own terms.

This year we continue with Costume Displays at Benjamin Franklin Library, Malabar Library, and Robert Louis Stevenson Library. These exhibits—which feature costumes from recent productions along with some information on how they are designed and made—are a simple and striking way for library patrons to engage with the theatre Center Theatre Group produces and presents. They are perfect for shy and inquisitive people who prefer to learn passively. Each library is also host to monthly Play Readings of works in English and Spanish that we present in partnership with smaller local theatre companies. The libraries attract families, students and adults seeking a place to work, meet, and access resources. And the Free Theatre Workshops at our costume shop introduce participants to techniques used by theatre professionals—like lifecasting to produce molds of our body parts and using the ancient Japanese technique of shibori to dye fabrics—that can be replicated at home. These hands-on experiences make theatre immediate and tangible.

My outreach and programming strategy has remained the same: use what is there, target the driver, and maintain momentum. Last year, I discovered the parent center at Carmen Lomas Garza Primary Center, and I found out that every public school in Boyle Heights has a dedicated parent center. These centers are gathering places for parents and caretakers where they interact socially, support the school, and receive resources like career development and skill building. The parent centers are very similar to what libraries have become, and they felt like a natural fit for our community programs. So we partnered with four parent centers for a bilingual series, Designing Costumes for the Theatre. It has been amazing to meet parents, grandparents, and others from different corners of Boyle Heights and watch them grow into community costume designers.

I’m eager to share the next set of Boyle Heights Chronicles and introduce the participants, teaching artists, local artists, staff, and what else I’ve learned along the way. Stay tuned for the next adventure.

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