MISSION & HISTORY
Theatre Espresso creates, produces, and performs interactive dramas that bring history to life for students, in order to foster a generation of critical thinkers and true citizens. Inspired by the highly successful Theatre in Education teams of Great Britain and by the belief that drama is a potent teaching tool, Theatre Espresso's work challenges students to make critical judgments, explore social relationships, reflect on the role of law and human rights in our society, and examine accepted truths about the history of America.
Wendy Lement, Producer
Shelley Bolman, Artistic Director
Kortney Adams, Managing Director
Since 1992, Theatre Espresso [TE] has toured its educational dramas to schools, museums, libraries, and courthouses throughout New England. By asking students to consider themselves participants in the drama (members of Congress investigating working conditions in Lawrence in 1912; concerned citizens in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957; or Supreme Court Justices during WWII) the company engages students in reflecting on the course of history. Without advocating any one viewpoint, our actors compel students to relate historical events to contemporary issues.
TE provides approximately 150 performances a year and offers residencies, teacher development workshops, and curriculum study guides. From 1993 to 2000, TE collaborated with the Wang Center for the Performing Arts' Young at Arts program, leading their "Teaching Tolerance" workshops. TE was on the performance roster of Young Audiences of Massachusetts from 1994-2007; in 2007 TE began managing its own promotion and booking.
Since 1999, we have performed our plays at courthouses in Boston, Worcester, Springfield, Portland, and Bangor in partnership with Discovering Justice [DJ]. In 2002, DJ commissioned us to write The Trial of Anthony Burns for a two-year residency at the Moakley Federal Courthouse in Boston. The Trial of Anthony Burns also had a two-year residence at The Orchard House, Home of the Alcotts, in Concord. In 2003 an anonymous donor commissioned us to research and write Clear and Present Danger: The Palmer Raids (about the seizure and deportation of suspected radicals just after WWI) leading to a three year residency at the Moakley Courthouse.
In Fall 2006, TE launched Uprising on King Street: The Boston Massacre, in residence at the John Adams Courthouse, as the pilot project for The Boston Youth Initiative for Theatre and Civic Dialogue, made possible in large part by the generous support of Mass Humanities. Our goal is to create a sustainable learning model that engages Boston students and teachers in complex debates on history, social justice, and civic engagement. The initiative forged a long term partnership between TE, Boston Public Schools, the Supreme Judicial Court, and the Supreme Judicial Court Historical Society. This initiative laid the ground work for Theatre Espresso's Road to Toleranceprogram at the John Adams Courthouse. Since 2010, this dynamic program has allowed educators to select from plays in our repertoire that best connect with their curriculum.
To help ensure that all Boston Public School (BPS) students are prepared to participate in the interactive portions of our plays, TE created stimulating pre-performance companion guides for each of the five dramas in the Road to Tolerance program. These materials resemble playbills that patrons receive when attending a play at the theatre, and were translated into the seven major languages spoken at home by BPS students (i.e., Cape Verdean Creole, Chinese, Haitian Creole, Portuguese, Somali, Spanish, and Vietnamese). The bilingual playbills are helping students comprehend the complexities of the historical events we present. As a result, English Language Learners are actively participating in greater numbers.
In 2010, Theatre Espresso began an ongoing residency of American Tapestry: Immigrant Children of the Bread and Roses Strike at Lawrence Heritage State Park [LHSP] Visitors Center. Each year, every fifth-grader in Lawrence Public Schools participates in the play. In January 2012, the company received a "Challenge America" grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for a one-time extension of the Lawrence residency to coincide with the centennial of the Bread and Roses Strike.
Our company has presented over a dozen panels, workshops, and performances at regional and national conventions sponsored by the American Alliance for Theatre and Education and the New England Theatre Conference [NETC]. In 1996, our drama Justice at War won a Moss Hart 'Outstanding Production' Award from NETC, and TE also received NETC's Regional "Excellence in Theatre Award" in 2012.
In March 2013, we celebrated our 20th Anniversary at an event, where we were honored by State and Boston City officials, and received an Official Citation from the State Senate in recognition of our "dedication in bringing history to life for students in the Commonwealth." A chapter about Theatre Espresso entitled “Theatre-in-Education as Catalyst for Civic Dialogue” was published in the 3rd edition of Learning Through Theatre, London: Routledge (2013). Our work is documented in Theatre in Education in Britain (Methuen 2016) as one of two U.S. companies that successfully utilize TIE in a chapter examining “International Perspectives and Influence.”
Theatre Espresso has become an inspiration to other companies. In February 2016, the award-winning Coterie Theatre in Kansas City, Missouri, produced our play The Trial of Anthony Burns, about a fugitive slave case in Boston that resonated with the region's local history and current events. The production was so successful that they decided to open their next season with The Nine Who Dared, our play about the integration of Central High School in Little Rock.
In 2016 we joined Actors’ Equity Association, the union for professional actors. In May 2017, Theatre Espresso celebrated our 25th anniversary at historic Faneuil Hall. Now in our 26th season, students and teachers confirm that our plays are more relevant than ever.