How One D.C. Theatre Is Creating an Intersection of Art and Advocacy
By Annette Mooney Wasno, Connectivity Director of Convergence Theatre
There is a major principle of improvisational theatre known as “Yes, and.” The idea is that no matter what your improv partner says or does, you accept the premise and add to it. For example, suppose your partner says, “Our office building is actually a spaceship!” If you say, “No, it’s not! You’re crazy!” it’s likely an argument will ensue and the scene has nowhere to go. Say, “Yes, it is,” and nothing more, the scene stagnates and the burden is thrown back to your partner to move it along. Say, “Yes, and our staff accountant Zorbar says we’re almost ready for lift-off,” well, that provides lots of possibilities for the scene, created in a spirit of collaboration.
In looking at Convergence Theatre’s first institutionalized foray into connectivity for our production This Is All Just Temporary, I think a lot not just about the power of “yes,” but about the potential of “yes, and.” As I mentioned in my previous post, when I started contacting people about being guests for our Converging Minds post-show events, I received a fair number of “no” responses, as well as no responses. The folks who said “yes” were quite excited to be part of an artistic endeavor. One person actually said, “No one ever asks us to do something fun like this.”
Now that we’ve had three Converging Minds sessions, I would say that the number of audience members who participated has been small so far, but the impact has been powerful. Our guests have provided inspiration for those who attended by telling compelling stories of their journeys into advocacy. Guests have also suggested simple ways to take action to create a culture of inclusion. Things like: call your local representative about current bills that impact people’s ability to care for family members; ask “what can I do?” of your friends who are caregivers; smile at someone who is different from you. As we close, everyone commits to one action they will take out into the world with them.
One challenge for the future of our connectivity efforts is sustaining relationships with the people and organizations we partner with for each production. That is where the “yes, and” comes in. We are already actively collaborating with some of our partners. For example, Nu Sass Productions, a DC-based theatre company whose next production loads in to the theatre the day after we close, has engaged in cross-marketing efforts and offered technical assistance for strike. Our performance space and box office personnel are provided courtesy of the Anacostia Arts Center. In gratitude for the services, we have met with some of the store owners who are in the Center, created Facebook posts highlighting the businesses, and made purchases not just in the Center but in other local stores and restaurants as well. Some partners are suggesting specific future collaborations, like Dekeda Brown of Walk One Day In Our Shoes. She is working to bring theater to African-American and Hispanic communities with autism and has invited Convergence to be a part of this effort.
A very exciting “yes, and” collaboration with Art Enables studio and gallery is actually visible as part of our production. What started as a request for Executive Director Tony Brunswick to be a Converging Minds guest led to the incorporation of artwork by the studio’s resident artists into our scenic design. The end result is “pictorial moments [that] are beautiful and poignant” according to one reviewer. Exciting ideas are floating for future partnership efforts and collaborations.
All in all, I feel that starting Convergence’s connectivity efforts were definitely an exercise in improvisation. The months of outreach resulted in partnerships with over a dozen local and national organizations, but figuring out who to contact and how to explain what we were asking for felt experimental to me. Getting the wording right about what our Converging Minds post-show event series is about took several passes. Since we’re still in the midst of it all, it’s hard to know which of my improvised scenes will move the mission of Convergence Theatre forward. Yet I’m thrilled with the promise we’ve discovered in not just “yes” but “yes, and.”
Annette Mooney Wasno is a Washington, D.C.-based actor and Connectivity Director/Company Member of Convergence Theatre.