How One D.C. Theatre Is Creating an Intersection of Art and Advocacy
By Annette Mooney Wasno, Connectivity Director of Convergence Theatre
Looking at my calendar and to-do list today, I realized I am neck deep in an arts management field that I didn’t even know existed just six months ago. A field that has the potential to make theatre exciting and vital to audiences while addressing societal inequities and enabling cultural change. And it all began, as these things often do, with saying “yes” to a series of invitations.
In late summer of 2016, I was invited to join the cast of a show produced by Convergence Theatre. And I said “yes.” Convergence is a three-year-old Washington, DC area-based theatre company whose mission, in part, is to create “multisensory performances that invite a wide audience base, encouraging discourse and dialogue over issues of social conscience.”
To further this mission, cast members were invited to sit in on post-show talkback sessions with representatives of groups like Stop Modern Slavery DC and the Asian/Pacific Islander Domestic Violence Resource Project. In these sessions, folks discussed similarities between the 17th-century play they had just seen and current instances of violence against women, as well as what’s being done to support victims and to shut down the violence. I thought, “Wow! This is really cool!” So when I was invited to join the company as an artistic associate, I gave an enthusiastic, “YES!!!!”
Then, in June 2017, I received an email asking me to consider becoming Convergence’s Director of Connectivity. I was invited to discuss the details of the position over dinner with one of the admin team. After replying with a “yes” to dinner, I went straight to Google to do some research so I could have a semi-intelligent conversation about the subject. I mean, what was I about to get myself into this time? What the heck IS connectivity?
A search on “connectivity in theatre” yielded a lot of hits about another D.C. theatre company called Woolly Mammoth. It turns out that around 2010 Woolly developed the concept of Connectivity to, as they put it, activate “the civic dialogue that is central to our mission statement.” Woolly incorporates a variety of elements for the lobby experience of each production as well as post-show discussions and events, which are “aimed at intensifying the ‘explosive engagement’ we strive for at Woolly.”
This work is not done in a vacuum. Woolly reaches out to community partners, usually non-profit organizations, and builds relationships with them in order to create the elements of the audience experience. This program has helped Woolly achieve its goals of audience development and community engagement. A case study of Woolly’s Connectivity Program conducted in 2013 by the Theatre Communications Group provides a lot of interesting detail about this initiative.
I was hooked! I was ready to say “yes” even before the dinner meeting. Although it would be an unpaid position, the work had the potential to help Convergence expand its reach and more fully realize its mission. It seemed like the perfect challenge—exciting enough to keep me motivated, yet scary enough to keep me on my toes. Even if some of my big ideas never saw the light of day, I was confident I would be able to pull off a respectable series of post-show events, especially considering our next production, This is All Just Temporary, wasn’t scheduled to open until January 2018.
But how to begin doing a job I’d never done before—actually, a job no one in our theatre company had done before—that was the first challenge.
Annette Mooney Wasno is a Washington, D.C.-based actor and Connectivity Director/Company Member of Convergence Theatre. Convergence’s newest production, This is All Just Temporary, runs from January 18 to February 10 as part of the Women’s Voices Theatre Festival. Tickets are available here.