#FlashbackFriday: True Story Theater: Building Community One Story at a Time

By Josephine Reed
graphic version of quote

"An essential part of what we do, part of our mission, is that people hear other people’s perspectives in a way that they normally can’t hear it. Because they’re hearing people’s stories, what’s true from what that person experienced. And you can often argue with other people’s perspectives when it’s put polemically, but when you hear people’s stories, it really hits home. So, people often after a show, they feel connected to other people that they normally don’t have connections to, people whose experience is really different from theirs." — Christopher Ellinger, True Story Theater

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. Listen to the story here.

This story originally appeared in NEA Arts 2019, 1: Working on the Spirit and Mind: The Healing Power of the Arts.