Just Act Institute
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REAL STRUGGLES .
REAL Strategies for change.
what Are We?
JUST ACT is an evolving ensemble of diverse, social arts facilitators who
- Offer training in Theatre of the Oppressed & Forum Theatre Technique (Introductory & Advanced Anti-Oppression Facilitation)
- Train community/civic groups, organizers, activists and school/university groups to “Make-Your-Own” Forum Theatre Ensemble, catalyzing public/peer dialogue through interactive theatre and community-led and driven action-planning to build an equitable and just world.
- Collaborate with community partners to develop creative resident-led, place-based engagement, organizing, planning & action projects to redistribute power and work for systemic equity.
- Justice, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (JEDI) training & workshops featuring Theatre of the Oppressed, Applied Theatre techniques & the Story Circle Process.
- “Jams on Justice” Public Forum Theatre Events for Community Dialogue & Action Planning for change
We customize our range of creative strategies to best serve our partners.
We create brave spaces for individuals and communities experiencing systematic discrimination, and those in solidarity with them, to think critically and creatively about inequality and injustice, and tap into their power to generate new ways for making personal and collective change.
JUST ACT IS REMAPPING THEATRE & STORY AS ACTIVE PARTICIPANTS IN THE BROADER PROCESS OF CIVIC DIALOGUE, ORGANIZING, PLANNING AND SOCIAL ACTION .
Just Act is Located in Philadelphia, PA. We partner across the tri-state area and collaborate across the country, and internationally through Zoom.
Reach out to us from anywhere.
MISSION: Just Act is a theatre-based catalyst for healing, change and activism to build a just world.
Applying the principles of Theatre of the Oppressed, we ...
What we’re working on
A partnership of Just Act with the NAC Director and the Livability Academy of HACE CDC
Supported by RebuildPHL, PACDC, Philadelphia Parks & Rec, PA Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Restore-Reimagine-Rebuild Rivera & Mann Centers is a current example of Just Act’s innovative model for resident-led, place-based engagement, cultural organizing, planning and activism. Our model counters entrenched inequity and grows residents’ social capital through the power of play.
Restore-Reimagine-Rebuild Rivera & Mann Centers is a customization of Just Act’s model to meet our community partner’s needs, values and visions. Through this project, local residents and city stakeholders collectively and creatively develop a culturally and community-responsive program blueprint for Rivera Recreation and Mann Older Adult Centers at 5th and Allegheny, which they can then use as an advocacy tool for what they deserve. The 5.4-acre site is undergoing $15M+ of physical improvements through RebuildPHL.
Restore * Reimagine* Rebuild Rivera & Mann Centers has provided much-needed space to counter isolation and to connect neighbors to each other across differences through new understanding, collective learning and shared action to make the Centers not only reflect who they are, but to also program what will best support their whole community to thrive. In doing so, it has contributed to shifting community thinking from ‘me’ to’ we.’ Throughout the project, residents tap into their wisdom and imagination as they collaboratively identify what kind of programming will best support their health, well-being, and quality of life as they move out of COVID-19.
“When thinking about systemic racism along with recovery from the pandemic, being proactive in building a new social infrastructure for the Rivera and Mann Centers, led by, for and with resident stakeholders, is equally important to the physical renovation of the building. Relationship IS the project but unfortunately, growing citizen power in historically-marginalized communities is often overlooked in favor of physical improvement that offers a more immediate, tangible product. The other takes time, care and long-term commitment since it is rooted in undoing Black and Brown racism and anti-cultural oppression. Just Act’s place-based, resident-led cultural organizing flips the script on the structurally unjust status quo, and centers residents as the authors of a new narrative. Just Act began collaborating with HACE CDC back in 2017 on a project called “Art-Powered Places,” and the trust and synergy that was built between us laid the foundation for Restore-Reimagine-Rebuild Rivera & Mann which we hatched in early 2019.” –Lisa Jo Epstein, Executive & Artistic Director of Just Act.
a. The CAT: Develop a cross-sector Community Action Team (CAT) with HACE, reflecting community and city stakeholders in the Centers, to plan the project. Includes activities such as: community network mapping; stakeholder social power/project interest analysis; story circles with harvesting and narrative power analysis; Value and Visioning, linking emergent discoveries to project activities.
b. The SET: Audition and create a Story Engagement Team of inter-generational, bi-lingual community members, reflective of Center stakeholders, who are trained by Just Act in facilitation of the Story Circle Process, Story Data Harvesting, and improvisational “Gift-Backs” of tellers’ stories to affirm their neighbors’ wisdom while fostering shared recognition, delight and human connection.
Taking the time to build the CAT and the SET is key to building community social capital from the beginning, and creating access for resident leadership and equal participation with lead partner in co-defining, designing, refining project decisions and leading project events at various community sites where stakeholders live, work and play.
Naida Elena Montes, the SET Coordinator who is also a community member, shared that “This initiative is important in multiple ways as it gave us community members (the SET team) an opportunity to be a part of empowering residents to participate in the community planning process using the art of story sharing and theater to elevate resident voices while simultaneously fostering deeply engaged listening among peers and the honoring of stories in the process of data harvesting.”
Act One: Community Story Circles
Community Story Circle Events: Led by the SET with support from the CAT, Act One consisted of 12 Story Circle events–in person and on Zoom– reaching over 125 residents who were invited to share personal stories about meaningful experiences they had at Rivera, the Mann or in the neighborhood, then identify important Center activities from the past and their impact on their lives, values inherent in the shared stories, and their visions for the Centers to support residents to thrive. The stories, story data harvesting and theatrical gift-backs of those stories captured the values, needs and visions of participants for what they felt as vital for inclusive community growth, health and well-being at the future Centers and neighborhood at large.
Act Two: Community Data Jam Board Game
Community Data Jam Game Nights: Just Act created a Board Game for residents to take charge of the data collected from the story circles. SET and CAT members guide neighbors through this board game that features 10 Game Boards, each of which represents the core values that emerged from the Story Circle data.
During the game, players
- Discuss, refine and prioritize activities for the Center, reflective of the value stated on their game Board.
- Identify who will be served by these activities & whether they are represented in the room at this time.
- Evaluate the opportunities and potential impact these will have on them personally, as well as on the community.
SET member Jose Vinales explained that “the game was a creative and interactive experience that enabled the members of the community to look at the strengths already within Rivera Mann as well as share a vision of what the centers could be. It also allowed the community to make sure our voice is being heard through building the blueprint that will hopefully be the new Rivera Mann.”
Act Three: Data Lab & Community Cafe
- The CAT (Community Action Team guiding the project) along with invited guests from the community as well as representatives from key City stakeholder organizations such as Rebuild and PACDC, will explore the data from the Data Jam Board Game, starting with SOAR as the framework. As an asset-based strategic planning tool, SOAR stands for Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations and Results.
- This process includes strategizing how to bring the community’s preferred future into being.
- The CAT and SET will compile the results of the Data Jam Game into a rough draft of the programming blueprint then share it with the community and city stakeholders who, through an adaptation of the World Cafe process for bringing people together around issues and questions that matter, will discuss, edit, add and confirm the data in the blueprint.
- Post first Cafe: The CAT and City decision-makers will review the community’s recommendations, refine the blueprint then share back again in a second Cafe.
Epilogue: Community Celebration, Data Play & Stewardship Planning
- The SET will be reconvened, pending funding, to devise and perform a Data Play about the entire project as a way to celebrate the community’s accomplishments as well as advocate for the city to adopt the blueprint.
- The CAT and SET will facilitate circles about stewardship of the Centers and action steps to fullfill these roles.
- We hope the Community Celebration will take place when the Centers are completely renovated.