WAM Theatre Donations Reach 10-Year Total Of $75,000

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Every year, WAM Theatre donates a portion of the box office proceeds from their Mainstage productions to organizations that work for gender equality locally, nationally, or internationally. The success of the just-closed production of PIPELINE by Dominique Morisseau, directed by Dawn M. Simmons, enabled the company to present $4500 each to their 18th and 19th beneficiaries, Harmony Homestead and Wholeness Center, Inc., and The Women of Color Giving Circle. This brings WAM's donation total since its founding in 2010 to $75,000.

PIPELINE, presented by WAM in partnership with BRIDGE, is a co-production with The Nora Theatre Company at Central Square Theatre in Cambridge, MA, where the play will be performed from March 5-29, 2020.

"The WAM Beneficiary Committee is delighted that our selection of these two beneficairies enabled us to support both the professional and spiritual development of what we hope are future educators of color in the Berkshires", Kristen Van Ginhoven, Producing Artistic Director of WAM Theatre shared. "That made these two organizations the perfect beneficiaries for PIPELINE."

"WAM's donation will allow Harmony Homestead & Wholeness Center to create and provide a horticulture therapy program for people of color. We also hope to purchase a vehicle to help increase attendance by families of color at our programs, which include meditation, re-evaluation counseling classes, cultural food growing, and nature immersion programs" explained Elizabeth Blackshine, Founder of Harmony Homestead & Wholeness Center.

"This donation from WAM will help the Women of Color Giving Circle upgrade the educational tools we use in our mentoring program for girls and their families." said Leah Reed, a member of the Circle. "It will also help us facilitate and maintain connections with students from historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) as we foster collaborative relationships by bringing them to the Berkshires to work with our youth."

The 2019 beneficiaries were chosen after a thoughtful and rigorous selection process, including a request for proposals and site visits, overseen by a committee at WAM consisting of Kristen Van Ginhoven (WAM Producing Artistic Director), Margaret Fluhr (WAM Board of Directors), Wendy Healey (WAM Board of Directors), Dori Parkman (WAM General Manager) and Lia Russell-Self (WAM Associate Producing Director). Stephanie Wright of BRIDGE joined the committee this year as part of the WAM/BRIDGE partnership on PIPELINE.

Harmony Homestead and the Women of Color Giving Circle are WAM's 18th & 19th beneficiaries. Past recipients include: Tapestry Health Systems, The MoonCatcher Project, The Denise Kaley Fund, the LIPPI Program of the Women's Fund of Western Massachusetts, the Soldier On Women's Program, the Berkshire Immigrant Center, Suzi Banks Baum's New Illuminations initiative in Gyumri, Armenia, Hands in Outreach, Sisters for Peace, Mother of Peace Orphanage in Illovo, South Africa, the Rites of Passage and Empowerment Program for Girls (ROPE), Shout Out Loud Productions, Berkshire United Way's Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative, Edna's Hospital in Somaliland, The Women's Fund of Western Massachusetts, and Women for Women International.

An important component of the WAM/BRIDGE partnership was creating a sense of engagement and place for the artists and production team. BRIDGE Founder and CEO, Gwendolyn VanSant coached the WAM team in equity and inclusion practices for beneficiary processes, relevant community partner engagement, board and volunteer education, and the artist and audience engagement and outreach; consulted in design of curriculum, study guide and playbill; participated in auditions and designed a supplemental talkback to support Berkshire county audience and panelists at the intersections of the WAM and BRIDGE mission. Representatives of the PIPELINE beneficiaries, along with BRIDGE Towards Racial Justice activists and allies, provided additional meals and meetings to support the guest artists while they were in the Berkshires performing this play, as well as ushered for the play and provided support for the production where needed.

"Through this production, we looked to fortify and nourish local partnerships and cultivate access points for authentic discussion for students and adults engaged with our schools and justice systems around the stark ethnic disparities that exist for Black families. As we identified gaps in understanding and life experience for some audience members and a deep resonance for others, this unique Berkshire production of PIPELINE offered solutions and future models for all arts organizations through a deep, intentional collaboration with community partners for all of us as educators, parents, students, artists and leaders to grow from," Gwendolyn VanSant explained. "PIPELINE helped us deepen these conversations with courage and vulnerability."

An in-school workshop series, designed and taught by Talya Kingston of WAM and Stephanie Wright of BRIDGE, provided the 8th grade students of Nessacus Regional Middle School attending PIPELINE with classes to introduce the students to concepts of racial bias, micro and macro aggressions, and stereotyping, and provided them with strategies to embrace individual responsibility and to facilitate community change.

PIPELINE Community Development workshops (PIPELINE 2.0), designed and taught by Lia Russell-Self from WAM and Gwendolyn VanSant from BRIDGE, were presented in multiple professional development and public events across Berkshire County to extend the opportunity for learning from the immense power of PIPELINE outside of the theatre toward positive social impact. Participants were educators who selected the Pipeline 2.0 session for Berkshire County Professional Development Day for educators, MCLA students and their faculty on the Day of Dialogue, BRIDGE Race Amity Day participants and the Nessacus 8th grade team.

Curated and moderated by Gwendolyn VanSant, a well attended series of post show conversations offered audience members an opportunity to engage with artists involved in the production and with speakers such as Dr. Tracey Benson, author of Unconscious Bias in Schools, Berkshire County District Attorney Andrea Harrington, DA office Community Engagement Coordinator Bryan House, Dennis Powell, President of the NAACP-Berkshire Chapter, and local subject matter experts, beneficiaries and others.

On Saturday, November 2nd, WAM's Fresh Takes play reading series had a successful reading of PARADISE by Laura Maria Censabella, followed by a conversation with the playwright, actors Layan Elwazani and Jay Sefton, and director Talya Kingston.

Finally, after the closing performance on November 9, there was a chance to meet representatives of Harmony Homestead and the Women of Color Giving Circle and hear more about how WAM's donations will impact their work. This was followed by the check presentation ceremony.

"It is phenomenal to wrap up our 10th season with these inspiring donations." said WAM's van Ginhoven, "This production of PIPELINE and our close work with our partners at BRIDGE and our co-producers at The Nora at Central Square Theater was an extraordinary experience for us all and the perfect way to conclude our first decade and lay the foundation for our second."

This co-production of PIPELINE will be presented by The Nora Theatre Company at Central Square Theater in Cambridge, MA, March 5-29, 2020.



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