Lighting and sound design. Origami and storytelling. Playwriting and play readings. Zine-making and redacting. Angelenos from across the city engaged in these activities over the course of four free, open-to-the-public workshops Center Theatre Group hosted over the summer to pilot expanding the reach, scope, and audience of our community programming.
“Making and sharing stories with our community is the DNA of our company,” explained Director of Social Strategy, Innovation & Impact Leslie K. Johnson. Over the past few years, our education and community engagement efforts have included student workshops; programming in Boyle Heights with library partners; Family Sundays at the Ahmanson in partnership with local nonprofits; and public programs like Community Conversations and post-show talks—all of which are offered free of cost.
“Now we are excited to offer a full season of ongoing ways for people of different ages, backgrounds, and experience levels to come and create with us.’” said Johnson. “We want to bring folks together to not only experience great stories, but to learn, gain skills and have fun telling a few of their own.”
The bilingual Adventures in Creating & Storytelling for Theatre/Aventuras en Como Crear y Narrar para el Teatro workshop on June 15, 2019 invited families to come to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at The Music Center for a reading of Naomi Iizuka’s The Last Firefly and origami- and prop-making inspired by the story. “We love providing ways for families to interact with each other through theatre, and wanted to play with how we expand bilingual programming, both of which we’ve done in Boyle Heights,” said Johnson.
The inspiration for the next workshop, on June 27, 2019, at the Women’s Center for Creative Work in the Elysian Valley neighborhood near the L.A. River, came directly from the work onstage at the Ahmanson at the time—the scandal and censorship portrayed in Indecent. Share Your Most ‘Indecent’ Stories: A Zine-Making Workshop invited participants to create zines to tell their most salacious stories—then to redact the parts that might not be fit for public consumption.
Playwright Marcus Gardley led the June 29, 2019 workshop at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, Creating Your Personal Story for the Stage, which “was designed to tap into Center Theatre Group as a home for playwriting, for discovering voices,” said Johnson. Held the morning of the Los Angeles Writers’ Workshop Festival, participants were invited to attend three play readings by members of that professional playwriting community (to which Gardley himself belongs). “Los Angeles is a community of storytellers. This was a great opportunity to bring them together to learn and inspire each other.”
Our partners at East Los Angeles College provided the space for Telling a Story with Light and Sound on June 29, 2019. “We’ve learned that many people of different backgrounds want to develop technical skills around theatre,” said Johnson. “We’ve done many workshops for students and educators on lighting and sound design, but it was great to see people of all ages and experience levels really digging in together.”
That, in fact, was one of the key takeaways of these workshops: “The group teaches the group, and part of our role is just to bring people together so they can learn from each other,” said Johnson. “You don’t always have to divide people up by age or beginner, intermediate, and advanced.”
She added, “Storytelling is for everyone. Discovering theatre, honing a skill, meeting new people, exploring and sharing our unique voices through creativity, dialogue, and art making—and celebrating the artists in all of us—that is part of Center Theatre Group’s mission.” She’s excited to continue to expand this kind of programming, both on-site and at partner organizations around Los Angeles. “This was our first real foray into how do we draw people all over the city to come take workshops with us, whether they know Center Theatre Group or not,” said Johnson. “And I’m looking forward to more.”