The following blog was created from a recent, written exchange between Still Point Managing Director Hector Alvarez and former Persephone Project participant, Yolanda Burgess. Today, Yolanda Burgess is happily married and a doting grandmother to her six grandchildren, including a set of identical twin infant grandsons. She has been working in social services for 12 years, and is currently employed by A Safe Haven, a facility that serves people of all ages who are homeless. Yolanda is very committed to her work, stating that “it continues to feed my passion to give back to society, to stay connected to people and to what goes on in my neighborhood.” Yolanda’s path to her currently vibrant and rewarding life was not an easy one. Earlier in her life, Yolanda struggled with chemical dependency, became involved in illegal activities, and was eventually convicted of a felony. Reflecting on the experience of her incarceration, Yolanda shares, “I experienced a lot of things that just did not sit right with me, especially as far as the way women were being treated and being disrespected… Also, the circumstances behind a lot of the women being incarcerated saddened me… There were a lot of women in there... Read More.
I recently spoke with Sarah Ailey, Professor in the Department of Community, Systems and Mental Health Nursing at RUSH Medical Center (pictured center in photo), about an exciting collaboration with Still Point that began last year. Sarah helped to organize the PATH-PWD (Partnering to Transform Healthcare with People with Disabilities) Conference in March of 2017 after receiving funds from the Agency Healthcare Research and Quality and the Special Hope Foundation (now the Working for Inclusive and Transformative Healthcare [WITH] Foundation). The need for the conference stemmed from a growing awareness of inequities for people with disabilities in receiving appropriate healthcare services in the United States. Familiar with Still Point’s Imagination Workshop programming for adults with intellectual disabilities, Sarah approached the organization to participate in the conference by working with several community members to share, develop, and present their real-life experiences in the healthcare system. The participants were chosen to work as public advocates on behalf of the community, and the presentation of their personal stories was quite impactful. After the conference, representatives including Sarah began to brainstorm about expanding their advocacy work by creating a video. Again, RUSH approached Still Point to collaborate. Sarah shared that the two main goals... Read More.
Still Point Interim Managing Director Héctor Álvarez received a Watson Fellowship in 2008 to study community theater companies in Mexico, Argentina and Brazil that served populations who had suffered from trauma. I recently asked Héctor to share in greater detail about the nature of the work that he did as part of this fellowship. Please enjoy his personal reflections and insights in this Still Point blog. – Anita By Héctor Álvarez The Watson Fellowship allowed me to spend a year researching what I call social acupuncture. This idea explores how certain interventions in a community that has suffered trauma can act as catalysts for change, growth and learning. I was specifically looking at performance, which is a field that covers many things beyond traditional theater including dance, ritual, political demonstrations, parades, storytelling, busking, performance art – and also large-scale public events like a New Year’s Eve celebration on a beach under a fireworks display, or Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. I was studying how performance can become social acupuncture and what the best practices and interventions in the field might be. One of the great things about a Watson Fellowship is that you have total freedom to structure your research;... Read More.
This photo was taken after a performance of Haunted by God that Lisa performed at St. Isaac Jogues Church in Rapid City, South Dakota, on the tail end of her participation in the Satyagraha Institute’s summer session in the Black Hills. In a week that has offered us yet another horrifying example of the violence in our world, let us balance the scales with a reflection on some of the people on our planet who are devoted to cultivating peace and understanding. (If you are reading this article, you are probably one of them. Thank you.) The mission of the Satyagraha Institute is to “promote the understanding and practice of satyagraha as a method for social change and way of life”. Mohandas Gandhi coined the term satyagraha, proposing that satya (truth) combined with agraha (firmness) creates a social power that does not rely on violence. One way that Gandhi translated it is “truth-force.” Satyagraha is a way of directly engaging with others to solve problems without resorting to coercion or harming others. Satyagraha occurs when our actions stem from kindness, respect, patience, generosity, and service. From August 4 through August 13, 2017 Still Point Founder and Artistic Director Lisa Wagner-Carollo... Read More.
Grace House is a transitional home in Chicago for women exiting the Illinois prison system. The facility provides interim housing, emotional and spiritual support, and professional counseling to the residents. On February 23, Still Point launched a new performance program at Grace House designed to foster an emotional support system while also building important communication skills. Almost all of the women currently living at Grace House are participating, and the group numbers about 16 at the moment. The women are being paid to participate in the project and create a shareable work of art. The end goal is that the ensemble will craft an original performance which can be toured around the community. The plan is to have a debut presentation at Grace House, inviting donors and friends in the community, followed by a local tour. Grace House Program Director Holly Christian said that she receives an enthusiastic report from the women every Friday morning on what is happening in the sessions on Thursdays. She hears about comaraderie, creativity and joy. The group is clearly feeling a deep connection to Facilitator Mars Caulton (pictured) and to the project. Holly has played a pivotal role in bringing this project to fruition,... Read More.
Still Point’s Sage Theatre Workshop for seniors has recently expanded to include a program at Sunrise Assisted Living that has a unique twist. Still Point facilitator Maria Vorhis began conducting a program at Sunrise at the end of November. The hour long sessions are currently held twice per month, with Maria leading a group of 6-14 seniors. While our other Sage Theatre facilitations follow a model similar to Still Point’s Imagination Workshop, in which participants develop and present an original performance, Maria’s classes at Sunrise have a different focus. All of her participants are from the Memory Care Unit. Some of them have Alzheimer’s disease, some have dementia – all have cognitive issues that affect their memories in a variety of ways. Creating a scripted performance would not really work for this group. So – what would? Maria recounted to me her first visit to Sunrise, at the invitation of Activity and Volunteer Coordinator Rebekah Zhao. Maria noticed a resident walking the halls, talking to herself in a very agitated manner. Maria approached the woman and started talking to her. Rather than trying to get the woman to explain the source of her anxiety, Maria showed her a photograph and... Read More.
On September 24, Curt Tofteland took part in a panel discussion that was moderated by Still Point Founder and Artistic Director Lisa Wagner-Carollo and presented by Chicago Shakespeare as part of the Shakespeare 400 Festival. The discussion focused on using Shakespeare in prison arts programming. As Founder of Shakespeare Behind Bars, Curt was a must-have member of the panel. This organization serves incarcerated and formerly incarcerated juveniles and adults through innovative theatre programming. The work is designed to help participants develop life skills that will support a successful reintegration into society. If you think this sounds lofty or unrealistic, consider this: while national recidivism rates hover around 60%, the recidivism rate for participants in Shakespeare Behind Bars is around 6 %. Curt agreed to talk with me recently about his work. Still Point has been conducting the Persephone Project for about 18 years. While I am interested in the “what” and “why” of SBB, I am more interested in the “how” of Curt’s successful programming. By doing a bit of research, I learned that creating a circle of trust is the very first step in all of Curt’s work. I asked him to elaborate on how this actually occurs. He... Read More.
In anticipation of a new session starting up on August 24, I recently talked to longtime Still Point Facilitator Laura Callahan-Hazard about her work with the Ravenswood Players. This facilitation of Still Point’s Imagination Workshop for adults with developmental disabilities is open to people from various agencies and the general public. We have been presenting original public performances of the ensemble’s work in the basement theatre of Ravenswood Presbyterian Church since the program’s inception in 2012. These performances are increasingly popular, with the last show, The Love Cabaret, having about 65 audience members in attendance. Laura recalled that prior to that performance of The Love Cabaret on May 18, a family from the neighborhood saw Still Point staff on the street loading props into the theatre, and asked what they were doing. “We told them about the play – and they ended up coming to the performance and donating to Still Point!” It is precisely this type of community integration that we want to achieve with the Ravenswood Players. Still Point hosts a reception after each show, providing refreshments and sometimes hand-made art for audience members to purchase. These events also allow time for ensemble members to mingle with and... Read More.
Last Thursday, July 21, Still Point presented a celebratory performance entitled I Can See Clearly Now, in honor of 25 years of the Imagination Workshop. Still Point Founder Lisa Wagner-Carollo began the program at Esperanza Community Services all those years ago, and directed fifteen participants from two classes for this presentation. I was incredibly sorry to have missed the performance. I began teaching the Imagination Workshop with Lisa in 1992, and have so many profound, moving, and hilarious memories from that experience. Mostly I remember the people – participants who sparkled like vibrant and multi-faceted gems. For example, I recall Alvin, an extremely endearing man. His eyes twinkled and he had a crooked smile and he always called me “honey”. Well, he called everybody “honey,” to be fair. He would also frequently raise his brows and tilt his head in a charmingly hopeful gesture and ask, “Coffee?” In fact, in the first performance that I facilitated with the group, Alvin characterized having coffee with a friend as his personal definition of “Paradise.” At that time, Alvin was already far from young. He had his share of health issues. I remember when he was out ill for an extended period, and... Read More.
At Still Point Theatre Collective, we aim to work with top-notch professionals when producing our original plays. No one could argue that we have found such an artist in Actor Randy Steinmeyer, who recently took over the role of Fr. Doug Doussan in our play Living Water: The Story of St. Gabriel the Archangel Church. Randy’s background reveals that he is a quintessential Chicago actor – and happy to have made a good living in his chosen field. After earning a Bachelor’s degree in Theater Arts from Blackburn College in Carlinville, IL in 1981, he later received his Professional Certificate from the prestigious Goodman School of Drama in 1983. Randy muses that he never left the neighborhood – as his current north side Chicago home is blocks away from the school. Randy’s resume is full of impressive roles from stage, TV, and film – before 1990 he had earned membership in SAG, AFTRA, and Equity professional actors’ unions. Just a few highlights of his career include originating the role of Denny Lombardo in the world premiere of the play A Steady Rain, for which he won a Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Actor in a Principal Role; TV appearances in... Read More.