February 23, 2011 - 7:00pm to 9:00pm
Harris School of Public Policy Studies
1155 E. 60th St.
The Cultural Policy Center hosted a screening of the documentary film Trust: Second Acts in Young Lives. The filmmaker, Nancy Kelly, attended and answered questions after the screening, along with several veterans of the Albany Park Theater Project.
Trust is a feature-length verité documentary about Chicago's Albany Park Theater Project, a neighborhood teen theater that creates original plays from members' real life stories, transforming their lives and their community in the process. The film tells the story of eighteen-year-old Marlin, a survivor of rape who — propelled by her participation in the theater — experiences a healthy movement away from identifying herself with that trauma.
Nancy Kelly interview
Cultural Policy Center: How did you hear about the Albany Park Theater Project?
Nancy Kelly: From 2002-2003, I led the Downside UP Listening Tour, a project for the Ford Foundation in which we screened my documentary Downside UP (www.downsideupthemovie.org) in under-served neighborhoods around the country, asking people to tell us how they were using art and culture in community development. Again and again, people in these communities referred to successful neighborhood arts programs for teenagers.
As part of my Listening Tour research, I had read Shirley Brice Heath's longitudinal study of the effectiveness of after-school arts, civics, and sports programs. She concluded that — by far — the most effective programs for changing the lives of students were after-school arts programs. I was curious to know the specifics of how that worked.
In the summer of 2003, [CPC Research Affiliate] Nick Rabkin screened Downside UP at the Democratic Vistas series at Columbia College. When he asked what I wanted to do next, I said “something about theater and immigrant kids ...” and he said, “You have to check out APTP.”
CPC: Does Trust make any public policy recommendations, explicitly or implicitly?
Nancy Kelly: Trust deals with three subjects that are part of the national dialogue today:
- Education — Trust captures APTP company members’ real life experiences and illustrates their fierce resistance to victimization. I hope those who see Trust will come away understanding that making art is making community, is making society, and — in a small but important way — is changing the world. I hope that those who see Trust and vote will understand why cutting arts programs is a huge mistake, why it is penny wise and pound foolish.
- Immigration — Albany Park mirrors America: approximately 26.3 million immigrants now live in the United States — the largest number recorded in the nation’s history and a 33% increase over 1990. In the U.S. one in five children is either an immigrant or has an immigrant parent. As immigrants transform many American communities, it becomes important to look at how our society supports and empowers this new generation of citizens. By exploring how APTP’s original, activist productions encourage company members to overcome obstacles and foster cross-cultural conversations that transcend race, ethnicity, age and geography, Trust shows the art of theater as a powerful tool in the work of immigrant integration.
Rape/incest/child sexual abuse — The statistics on child sexual abuse are shocking:
- Child sexual abuse is one of the most pervasive and persistent forms of violence without regard to nation, race, class, religion, gender, or culture.
- Most people know someone who has been sexually abused and, whether we are aware of it or not, many of us know someone who has sexually abused children.
- The Centers for Disease Control estimate that 300,000 children are sexually abused each year. Thirty to forty-five percent of women and 13-16 percent of men report being sexually abused before age 18.
- An estimated 60 million survivors, their families and communities are living with the potential fallout: increased rates of depression, anxiety and isolation, abusive adult relationships, hyper vigilance and a decreased ability to trust, physical and mental illness, harmful drug use, incarceration, adult sexual assault, employment difficulties, and lower economic status.
CPC: Did documenting the work of the Albany Park Theater Project make you question or change your ideas about what the role of art in society should be?
Nancy Kelly: Not long before I heard about APTP, I had a meeting with Bill Strickland, founder of the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild in Pittsburgh, and one of the pioneers in this kind of work. I asked him how it works and he said, “Poor kids can’t imagine themselves in anything better than where they are. Art stimulates the part of the brain where the imagination lies. If you stimulate their imaginations, over time it becomes possible to imagine a better life.”
Over the many years it took to make Trust: Second Acts in Young Lives, I quoted Bill endlessly. But still, I wanted to know, “how does it work?” Being a “fly on the wall” at APTP, I and my camera witnessed first-hand the transformative process of making art; the role of art in creating community; and the nature of creative thinking. I came to understand far more deeply how creating theater becomes an act of imagination and empowerment for young people who are immigrants, children of immigrants, or children of the working poor. APTP director David Feiner puts it best: “APTP's process is about helping company members who might feel powerless in many, many aspects of their lives claim power over the narrative of their lives by sharing their stories and collectively putting them on stage. And they do that by working with a community of people where safety is established, where trust is established, where fun and play are established.”
Veteran filmmaker Nancy Kelly has made seven independent films: the narrative feature Thousand Pieces of Gold, starring Rosalind Chao and Chris Cooper; and the documentaries Trust: Second Acts in Young Lives, Smitten, Downside UP, Cowgirls, Sweeping Ocean Views, and A Cowhand’s Song.