Advot: Theater to Facilitate Change
What vision will Los Angeles aspire to for its almost 3 million children, as they wait to be inspired, empowered and transformed? Simply trying to keep them safe, out of trouble and in school relies on management and control ideas, which are not very compelling. The schools alone cannot provide what Los Angeles youth need to lead productive and healthy lives within the Los Angeles community, as evidenced by low testing, high dropout rates and low participation in higher education. Even more remarkable, Los Angeles bears the burden of disparity based on ethnicity, socio-economic class and geography within the Los Angeles landscape. As more students opt for pathways to success other than traditional models, some even involving crime, the importance of preparing youth with the skills necessary to build healthy relationships bears reason to be the keys to long-term success.
The Advot Project, together with community organizations the Pico Union Project and the Los Angeles Red Shield Youth & Community Center, aspire to empower young people to thrive and build healthier connected communities. ADVOT means ripples, in the Hebrew language, and represents the many ripples a healthy relationship and doing good can have on a community. The Advot Project seeks to provide strategies to help prevent violence, seek social justice, and help build healthy communities through the use of drama techniques to improve the lives of vulnerable populations. For the past two decades Naomi Ackerman, founder/executive director of The Advot Project has used art to promote peace, change, and encourage self-empowerment. This work and the strong belief in the power of theatre to facilitate transformation inspired the creation of the Advot Project and remain the driving values and essence on which we operate.
By working with often disenfranchised youth to develop and practice skills through the power of theater and the arts to live a meaningful life, enter the workforce and become functional members of their community. Rather than aspiring for higher tests scores or more competitive workforce, we aim to enable young people to achieve connections with others through joy, kindness and generosity. These youth strive for fulfillment by contributing in a meaningful way through the quality of their own experiences.
To achieve that goal, the Advot Project will implement two programs: 1) The Healthy Community Program (HCP) provides presentations geared at prevention of physical and emotional violence, such as bullying; and 2) the Healthy Relationships Initiative (HRI) provides disenfranchised youth with opportunities for social and emotional learning. These programs teach skills on working with others, appropriate communications, and dialogue. By teaching and practicing communication skills, as well as working on social relations and understanding of social behaviour, Advot navigates youth into employed and healthy functional working community members.
Many of the participants of our programs come in lacking the knowledge and capability of having simple conversations. Relationships 101 uses dramatic exercises to practice and learn new ways of engagement and communication in order to be better educated in interpersonal relations thus achieving healthier and more successful approaches to work, life and citizenship.
Our Healthy Relationships Initiatives implements the Relationships 101 curriculum, using the unique method of theater techniques, as used in the Theater of the Opressed, to teach the prevention of violence. Working with disenfranchised youth, theater methods provide a “safe” place to express ones “real” feelings and thoughts. These techniques have been extremely successful when we implemented Relationships 101 with Los Angeles area high schools and in Detention Camps. The Detention Camp program has been funded by three Los Angeles Supervisors and for every young person that does not re-enter the “system”, there is an annual savings of over $100,000 per person.
Our Healthy Community Program (HCP) includes one woman performances of “Flowers Aren’t Enough”. These performances have been seen by social workers, police officers, prison guards, probation officers, health workers, women’s organizations and general public that wanted the message of prevention of violence and how it impacts society. “Flowers Aren’t Enough” has been performed more than 1500 times in 7 countries and 3 continents.
We wish to empower these youth to establish control over their lives, which comes having control over their own behaviors, attitudes and perceptions. These youth will be the change agents in their own lives by having healthy relationships stemming from skillful communication skills. By working collaboratively with local organizations, arts groups and civic institutions, we build a communal response to the needs of transforming our youth and through them our future.
What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?
Through our Healthy Community Program and performances of “Flowers Aren’t Enough” (see videos to see the show itself and interviews with the creators: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ESG8SuW-6Eo & http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QN75Od3hJf0 ) we have raised awareness of thousands of people in many communities globally to the importance of healthy relationships, respect, and the dire consequences of abusive relationships. If violence is left unchallenged and unchecked in the microcosm of the dating scene and the family home, then it will mushroom into larger conflicts. Without intervention, individuals caught in the cycle of abuse may be at risk for death, disability, injury, and involvement with the criminal justice system. Raising consciousness to the importance of healthy relationships its correlation to a healthy community and the responsibility that each and every one of us has to make sure our relationships and the ones around us are worthy, good and functioning, is one of our most important achievements.
Out of Flowers aren’t Enough the educational curriculum Relationships 101 was born Relationships 101 has been implemented in the past 3 years all over Los-Angeles county, at public schools, private schools, summer camps and The LA County girls and boys probation facilities. Having an impact on young adults lives and teaching them the importance of healthy communications/relationships has lead to successful outcomes.
Participants of the program articulate their success far better than we can:
All of Relationships 101 was very interesting, but my favorite part was acting out the different situations, they put everyday life into a perspective, and showed where you can make clear choices, you can chose NOT to argue and make things worse, by using I messages, saying how you feel, I feel this, and I feel that or I don’t like that, that makes me feel bad ….that really helped !!!
Student -San Pedro High
I feel like I can handle certain situations in my relationships better than I did before. I feel better knowing that it isn’t bad to stand up for yourself or do what you think is right, even if it is going against your boyfriend or girlfriend. Communication is key to a healthy relationship, we are all worthy of a healthy relationship!
Student - Verbum Dei High School
I learned in relationships 101 that anything that happens to us in the real world looks better when we act it out. This program, helped me with a lot of frustrations. I learned to collaborate, be respectful, responsible, and ready. I am so happy I had the opportunity to realize that you need to think twice about what we really go through and how to work things out with every human being in the world. I learned how to accept things that I can’t change and to change the things I can.
Participant –LA County probation Camp Scudder for girls
Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.
Pico Union Project
Salvation Army Red Shield Youth and Community Center
World Harvest Food Bank
LA County Department of Probation
Faith Based Groups:
New Ground: A Muslim Jewish Parntership For Change
Craig ‘N Co
University of Southern California
Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?
The Advot Project will evaluate the outcomes through a tracking system. A pre- and post-program survey indicates short-term impact. Questions address the participants’ understanding of healthy relationships, interpersonal communication skills, and the impact of choices on likely outcomes. The survey results are analyzed using a statistical program, and paired t-tests are used to assess statistical significance between pre- and post-test responses (set at .05). A feedback form is completed after each workshop. These indicate, from the participants’ perspective, their retrospective view on new concepts and skills that were acquired in each session. It is expected that a minimum of 75% of the participants will indicate they learned something new.
A follow-up survey is repeated six months after the completion of the program to provide a measure of medium-term impact and durability of results. The survey results will be again analyzed to determine retention of attitudes and behaviors over time. At home and workplace evaluative follow-up meetings will take place after every set of Relationship 101 workshops to evaluate participants progress. At the conclusion of the final data gathering, information will analyzed and shared through a community wide presentation and via online sharing tools.
Success wil measured quantitatively and qualitatively by meeting the following benchmarks for evaluation:
100% of the participants will have an understanding of the difference of a healthy interaction/relationship oppose to an unhealthy one.
80% will understand that they are empowered to have control over their own behaviors, attitudes and perceptions.
100% will understand that skillful communications will be a skill that will help them achieve for the future.
85% will practice their newly learned skills of skillful communications in their home and work lives, as applicable.
How will your project benefit Los Angeles?
This project benefits Los Angeles on individual, communal and systemic levels. Empowered individuals capable of using exemplary communication skills develop healthier relationships with family members, neighbors and become more active citizens. The greater their capacity to communicate and engage in both day-to-day conversations with peers and adults, they will be capable of entering into greater conversations about civic good, politics and service. As active members of their local communities, within schools, on the streets, at jobs, etc, they will bear the creative ability to not only be productive, but also transformative. As more young people, especially in isolated communities due to geography, ethnicity, or socio-economic classs, find the ability to navigate the complex system of institutional, civic and professional networks, the stratified nature of the Los Angele ecosystem becomes more flattened and a sustainable and healthy city. The greater the capacity for today’s young generation, especially those without the privilege that comes to many others, to find their voice, and how to use it effectively to communicate their needs, feelings and dreams, the stronger each citizen, community and our city will be.
What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?
There are other programs in LA that are working and using theatre skills to create performances that speak a social message, These theater groups do incredible work, using theater as a tool for self-expression, a vehicle to tell important stories, as well as using the stage as a voice for the unheard.
At the Advot Project we use theater techniques as a tool to teach individuals new behaviors and how to be better communicators.
Our work stems out of the works of Theater of the Oppressed founded by Augusto Boal. Boal's techniques use theater as means of promoting social change. The audience becomes an active participant, such that as "spect-actors" they explore, show, analyses and transform the reality in which they are living.
The basic principle is using theater as a rehearsal for reality –recovering a language we already possess; we teach how to live in society through the playing theater games.
The Advot Project uses theater techniques to teach participants how to take responsibility and take charge of their lives and by teaching new skills and healthy ways to interact and deal with societal situations.
In our programs we strive to instill the importance of expressing the needs, desires and most important what participants are uncomfortable with. Our work focuses on practicing this with puppets, masks and other theatrical tools and creative writing methods .
At the Advot Project we believe that this kind of self-expression is a crucial skill to achieve a successful life and healthy societal participant. When an individual can be in a nonviolent, honest dialogue with his /her family neighbors and coworkers they have great potential to thrive.