True Story Theater: Building Community One Story at a Time

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Three men and women outstretch their arms and give big smiles

Participants of True Story Theater, an NEA grantee based in Arlington, Massachusetts. Photo courtesy of True Story Theater

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True Story Theater has been performing in the greater Boston area for over 18 years. It’s an improvisational theater company that invites audience members to tell personal stories and then reenacts those stories on the spot. True Story, however, uses this creative practice to help bring communities together around important issues. Working with its hometown of Arlington, Massachusetts, and with grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, True Story Theater has created themed performances about issues from city planning to motherhood, from aging-in-place to opioid addiction. By listening to its audience participants carefully and distilling their stories to their essence, True Story Theater is creating a new kind of civic engagement—one in which listening is as valued as speaking. True Story Theater Founding Director Christopher Ellinger and Program Manager Amber Espar take us through the creative process and powerful results of these performances.