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Festival Examines Discrimination in New Yorkers' Lives

Issues like immigrant rights, homelessness, economic inequality, and gun violence will be seen through the eyes of New Yorkers who face them on a daily basis at the 5th Annual Legislative Theatre Festival taking place next month from May 7th - 13th.

Presented by Theatre of the Oppressed NYC, the innovative theatre festival showcases New Yorkers performing in plays based on their real-life struggles. After each play, elected officials and audience members are invited onstage to act out solutions to the injustices dramatized in the show. The audience then debates and votes on the best solutions, with the goal of drafting actual bills to be presented to the New York City Council, the New York City Mayor's Office, and the New York State Legislature.

Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer (Queens - District 26) and Councilmember Carlos Menchaca (Brooklyn - District 38), who participated in previous festivals, will be joined in this year's installment by Council Members Laurie Cumbo (Brooklyn - District 35), Stephen Levin (Brooklyn - District 33), Ritchie Torres (Bronx-District 15) and policymakers from the Mayor's Office, NYC Community Boards, as well as other others to be confirmed.

"Because New Yorkers are performing plays based on their own struggles, not just talking about them, the festival takes audiences one step further in understanding what discrimination is like," said Katy Rubin, founder and executive director of Theatre of the Oppressed NYC. "Audience members and elected officials may come with an intellectual understanding of discrimination issues, but they leave with both a sense of empathy that only theatre can provoke, and, just as important, a way to get involved in creating real policy changes at the local level."

At a time when people are seeking ways to resist laws being enacted at the federal level, Rubin said that the festival provides a unique way to make a difference in their neighborhoods and city. Before each performance, the festival will host an hour-long Advocacy Fair, where audiences will have an opportunity to meet community organizations and activists who are working on the issues spotlighted in the play.

Policy proposals developed during previous festivals have addressed issues such as requiring body cameras for on-duty NYPD officers and enacting a ban on asking housing applicants about their criminal records. A 2014 city law allowing New Yorkers to leave the gender box blank when applying for a Municipal ID Card was championed by Council Member Carlos Menchaca and inspired by a festival play that explored discrimination against transgender New Yorkers.

The festival will be presented at venues in Queens, Manhattan, and Brooklyn on May 7th, 10th, and 13th. Each show will feature a different troupe of performers tackling a specific topic:

Sunday, May 7th @ 2pm - The AIDS Center of Queens County Troupe, made up of recent immigrants, will present the stories of men from Colombia and Mexico who seek work in the US to support their families but are confronted with labor exploitation, lack of health insurance, and the threat of deportation. Performed in Spanish and English. (Queens Museum, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens, NY)

Wednesday, May 10th @ 7pm - A play by the Concrete Justice Troupe, whose members have all encountered homelessness at some point in their lives, will explore the class barriers that keep some New Yorkers from accessing the city's cultural offerings. In collaboration with city arts agencies, the session will evaluate and respond to solutions proposed by CreateNYC's Cultural Plan, a policy blueprint aimed at bringing art and culture to all NYC communities. (University Settlement, Speyer Hall, 184 Eldridge Street, New York NY)

Saturday, May 13th @ 2pm - The Crown Heights Community Mediation Center Troupe, made up of Brooklyn youths affected by gun violence and the school-to-prison pipeline, dramatizes a gang-related shooting - from the violent act itself, to the racially biased news reports, to the lack of support at the high school attended by the victim's friends. (BRIC House, 647 Fulton Street, Brooklyn NY)

Theatre of the Oppressed NYC draws on the work of Brazilian director, writer, and politician Augusto Boal, who invented the Theatre of the Oppressed model in the 1970s. Rubin trained with Boal in Brazil in 2008 before founding Theatre of the Oppressed NYC in 2010.

See the full festival schedule

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