Artistic Collaboration: Social Media and Sustainability Support Community Theatre


We social media types can make anything better. The power of messaging to the entire world can make things happen. Or in this case, just to your own neighborhood. The real power in social media isn’t what it does in cyberspace, but in meat space as it were. When that energy from all those bits and bytes pours into a project that brings people together, I feel like that’s our real tangible ROI right there.

So when a project like the one I mentioned last month comes together, it’s something truly special. Out of the Sustain36 project, Filament and Zaarly were able to expand their audiences and find their way into people’s hearts, building loyalty and enthusiasm from an entire community.

To pick up where I left off last time, Filament solicited names for the show that they would write in the week prior to the project beginning. From those names, they debated which ones struck a chord for them. In the end, there were two that they couldn’t decide between, Vacant City and Glow, so they put a slash in between them and started writing based on that name.

Much of the first day was devoted to conceptualizing the show, bringing together design elements, cleaning the donated space arranged by Alderman John Arena of the 45th Ward and his arts chief, Cyd Smillie, and figuring out everything that would be needed in the way of props, equipment, costumes, and set. Zaarly came to the rescue by letting us ask the community to contribute what we needed in exchange for getting to come see the show for free, turning the community into our producers.

As we entered into the last 12 hours, more and more people came out of the woodwork. What started as a social media and artistic collaboration grew as people stopped by to see what was happening, offered us the use of their facilities, even getting the crew from the giant Portage Theater across the way helping out with both lighting gear and technical expertise. The script came together, rehearsals were held, and in the end, we packed the front lobby for the show.


The show itself lasted about a half hour and was captured by multiple video cameras, more community producers coming together for the artistic good, some from far outside the 45th Ward even. Afterwards, we were even fed by social media as Ramon De Leon of Domino’s Pizza fame in Chicago (say hi to him at #RamonWow) got into the action and sponsored our post-show pizza party.

What were the final takeaways?
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v6nWarMTH9A&w=560&h=315]
Zaarly got exposure and proof of concept that they could help the arts to source from their communities. I have no doubt that this is the start of a very amazing industry pairing.

Filament Theatre Ensemble is currently an itinerant company in search of a home, but the in-roads that they’ve made in that neighborhood are opening up possibilities for them. I heard many times that night that the neighbors wanted very much for Filament to return and be the 45th Ward’s theatre company.

The neighborhood got a unique event that they could enjoy and be proud of as they were part of it. From Alderman Arena to the guy that brought by that needed extension cord just before the show, they helped make art happen in their neighborhood and proved how it brings a community together and even brings people into the area that could help other businesses thrive.

And me? I walk away from Sustain36 with the knowledge that there are many more innovative ways for social media to enrich the arts and vice versa. We’re just beginning to explore the possibilities, and I’m glad to be on the forefront of it all. I hope you’ll all join me in continuing the exploration.