A set of plays next month are aiming to tackle some of the largest issues plaguing New York City residents and — through the art of theatre — help bring about some changes.
The Theatre of the Oppressed NYC (TONYC) is holding its Fourth Annual Legislative Theatre Festival on May 4 and 5 where the issues of homelessness and affordable housing will be seen through the eyes of those who experience it on a daily basis.
TONYC partners with local social service organizations and city agencies to created theatre groups with members of the community who deal with social, economic, health and human rights issues.
The actors then create and performs plays that are based on the struggles they constantly face, while engaging with audience members to spark a dialogue aimed at evoking change.
“Because they are performing it, not just talking about it, it’s that one step further in feeling what it is like,” said Katy Rubin, founder and executive director of TONYC. “Even if [the audience] doesn’t have to deal with it, they will know what it feels like.”
Through the Legislative Festival, TONYC brings together residents, politicians and members of city agencies to talk about issues and current policies that might be affecting communities as a whole.
Audience members at the festival are shown original plays and once the actors are finished, they are invited to get onstage and — together with the troupes —come up with responses to the problems that were presented.
Those ideas are then submitted to members of the City Council, the Mayor’s Office and city agencies — who are present during the festival — and get voted on by audience members. Once ideas get selected, the elected officials or agency representatives, take them to their respective parties.
“We can actually take those ideas from the audience one step forward and come up with actual policies,” Rubin said.
For next month’s festival, TONYC will focus the subjects of the plays on the issues of homelessness and housing access primarily affecting LGBTQ youth and veterans in New York City.
One of the groups of actors comes from the Ali Forney Center, which focuses its mission on protecting LGBTQ youths who find themselves without a home. The second troupe is from the Fortune Society, which helps individuals who are or were formerly incarcerated become a part of the community once again.
“We believe that theatre is the medium for this because the audiences and legislators they see the plays and they have a feeling about the problem, it’s not just an intellectual understanding of the problem,” she said.
For Skye O’Neal Adrian, who currently lives at the Ali Forney Center and will be one of the actors at the festival, performing in the play will not only allow him to continue his love for the arts but will give the audience a chance to see the struggles that he actually faces.
“I just like the idea of it, not only are we using performing arts as a performing measure to show people what it is like to be homeless but this is not acting, this is what literally happened when we are in a situation,” he said.
Adrian is a Jamaican immigrant who came to New York City last year. He said he initially arrived in the city to be with his parents but once he came out to them as being gay, they kicked him out.
“I felt like when I came from Jamaica I was running from one problem and came to a whole other world of problems,” he said.
After being left without a place to call home, Adrian looked for help from Immigration Equality but said he was told that he had to wait months before possibly being given a place to stay.
Then he learned about the Ali Forney Center through which he given housing and also an internship where he is allowed to participate in youth advocacy.
And although he has been living at the Center for the past few months, he added that by November — when he turns 21— he will lose the bed he currently has and has to hope another one becomes available.
With all of this in his head, Adrian said he found inspiration for the plays and hopes to be able to bring some change that will help others that find themselves in his shoes.
“There are a lot of issues that LGBT youth face,” he said. “I feel like in this play it’s really going to bring to light the issues that people tend to ignore and tend to underestimate.”
The festival is free to the public and will be held at The New School located at 66 West 12th St. And although the plays take place on May 4 and 5 — both at 6 p.m. — on May 6 and 7 TONYC will continue to have events where people can attend workshops and learn about policies.
For more information, visit www.tonyc.nyc.