Charles Newell, Court Theatre’s Marilyn F. Vitale Artistic Director, says that the Civic Actors Studio is a co-creation that took about fifteen years to arrive at. Run collaboratively by Court Theatre and the University of Chicago’s Office of Civic Engagement, the Civic Actors Studio is a place for retreat and reflection for about 20 community leaders from Chicago’s South Side across four days of workshops. Combining theatre and leadership skills, the workshop series offers civic leaders an opportunity to “rehearse” a variety of leadership styles and roles in the safe space of a rehearsal room of sorts.
Newell shares that the process offers a valuable leadership skill that is so often unavailable to many active, busy leaders: the opportunity to practice. “So often, we’re thinking ‘I really want to be like this person in this meeting, but I’m not sure I’ll be comfortable.’” Having an opportunity to explore the dynamics of different roles through the act of rehearsing can lead to major breakthroughs.
In the words of Gabrielle Randle-Bent, the Civic Actors Studio can be summarized as a “place for people of action to reflect.” A dramaturg, director, academic, and Court’s inaugural research fellow, Randle-Bent was one of several leaders who helped facilitate the 2021 Civic Actors Studio this year. Despite her title as a facilitator, Randle-Bent believes that “what’s exciting is that so little of what they learn is from us.” She goes on to explain, “So much of what they learn is from each other. And oftentimes themselves, which is really powerful.”
Joanie Friedman, the Executive Director of the Office of Civic Engagement, shares that all of the participants in this year’s Civic Actors Studio “care about and work toward and love a thriving South Side.” To that end, participants are willing to go out on a limb and learn from a variety of roles and scenarios by using “their body, minds, and voices to practice the performance art of leadership.”
“In the Civic Actors Studio, what’s thrilling is that we can take some of those characters from a Greek classic text or August Wilson play or Tennessee Williams play, and in the private, safe environs of a Civic Actors rehearsal space, you can practice being Oedipus in Oedipus Rex or Creon in Antigone and see if that role is one that is authentic to you and resonates,” Newell explains. “That combination of using classic archetypes, characters, and one’s personal experience is really the secret ingredient.”
To learn more about the Civic Actors Studio, email Joanie Friedman.
Pictured: Participants in a Civic Actor Studio retreat in which leaders from various backgrounds learn how classic theater techniques can be used to analyze their leadership roles. (Photo by Eddie Quinones)