Black History Month Spotlight: ActUp Theater, Inc.
By MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager
ActUp Theater, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) performing arts community theater that explores social justice issues pulled from today’s culture and current events. Through traditional and original works, we infuse social justice themes that give voice to challenges in our community with a relevant perspective. The mission of ActUp Theater is to mobilize the power of the arts to promote social justice activism within our community.
Tell us about your involvement in the Hartford community. Why are you here and what impact are does ActUp make here?
ActUp Theater is intentionally located in the inner-city of Hartford, CT, where many have limited or no access to quality arts. We invite others to experience the magic happening on a daily basis. One of our driving forces is Hartford is where we call home. What keeps us going is our mantra: We Stand With Hartford Youth… Where do you stand?
Over the last five years, ActUp has provided a meaningful and creative outlet for Hartford community students and adults. Entertaining nearly 10,000 audience Hartford residents a year, we are encouraging deliberate conversations around social justice and equity. We are building on and cultivating creativity where the imagination thrives in the lives of our students, adults, and community members-at-large. Hartford is our home and all are welcome to come and ActUp!
We’re here because we’re making a qualitative impact. Our programs geared toward the culture of at-risk youth in our community help them build confidence, develop essential social skills, and establish positive identity within society. We’ve essentially created a “safe-haven” to further the elimination of “at-risk” characteristics such as violence, self-harm, stress, substance abuse, and negative peer pressure to belong.
We work to motivate youth and adults to be active participants in social justice activism, understand others from different geographical and socio-economic backgrounds; improve their literacy skills through artistic expression, relevant topic selection, and speech and presentation instruction; and increase their understanding of commitment, responsibility, and healthy interaction with peers and adults.
ActUp provides opportunities on and off stage to navigate challenges, use strategic thinking, and strengthen resiliency, too. Through all of our programs, participants create lifelong memories amongst families, neighborhoods, community members.
We’re also making a quantitative impact. We survey our program participants and have found that all the parents whose children participate in our programs have seen their children’s self-esteem and self-confidence increase. Of the cast participating in our programs, 95% receive training to learn more about acting, dancing, singing, and creating a stage presence and 96% improve basic life skills like teamwork, self-discipline, commitment, and following directions. We also have a high retention rate with 97% of cast sharing that they enjoyed their experience with ActUp Theater and would want to return for another production.
How do we tell Hartford’s story?
Through our social justice themes in our full productions as well as classical works, we intertwine themes that reflect the issues and challenges our community is experiencing. We also create platforms for conversation through our TalkBack Sessions after productions that provide tangible resources for our community. This gives the actors as well as audience a platform for dialogue, expression, and connection.
We respect and embrace diversity. Our purpose is to keep the “community” in community theater. We show our commitment to telling Hartford’s story by creating exceptional arts integration opportunities for all ages. We actively include both youth and adult community members in our productions, often giving parents and children an opportunity to work on a production together as cast members. We find it builds family bonds and provides a space for positive and unique family experiences.
Where do you see the future of Hartford?
We see more people being involved in activism and making a stand in our community. Many changes have taken place and there are many more to come. Through self-advocating our community, we’ll have ownership and be true stakeholders of the real changes in our community. Our vision with ActUp Theater is to #ChangetheCulture through the arts to reflect and include our community in the world we live in. Each performance intends to give a voice to those who are so often silent. Through ActUp Theater, we will increase the arts in our community and have our location that will be a hub for the arts and the community.