Planning of the LIVE Event & Book Launch
[Note: It may be difficult to include every story from your project in the live event. It’s of the utmost importance that you let writers and storytellers know what stories will be highlighted at the event. Otherwise people will show up with their entire family waiting for their story and then don’t hear it. That’s awkward. And it has happened, hence this note being bold and red and at the top of this section!]
Writing stories for community impact is at the core of The Facing Project, but bringing those stories to life is crucial in order to make a lasting impression on the community. I know what you might be thinking: But I’ve never organized a theatrical performance. That’s okay, neither had we until we put together the first ever Facing Project back in 2012. Since that time, many Facing Project LIVE events have been held across the country, and the following includes best practices for putting it all together.
Choosing the date of your event:
The first thing to consider is when you want to hold your event. We typically say it takes no less than four months from the time you sign onto to The Facing Project to actually holding your event and releasing your book. One of the main goals is that you want to attract as many folks as possible to get your message out and celebrate the stories as an entire community, and that will rely upon the culture within your community and when they like to get out and about.
Start to look at other popular events happening in your community. What day of the week is most popular to hold events? In our community, Saturdays have often been the best time to hold the LIVE Facing Project events, and over time, we’ve had as many as 400 people turn out. But some of the campus-based projects occurring across the country have indicated that holding the event on a weeknight actually works better for them. In this instance, we’ve seen events held on Tuesdays or Thursdays to draw in more students who might not attend such an event on a weekend.
Another indictor may be based upon the theme of your project. Most issue areas have an awareness month (ex: April, autism; January, poverty; etc.). You may choose to plan your LIVE event and book launch within the awareness month for your topic.
In addition, since it’s important to coincide the LIVE event with the launch of your book, you will need to make sure the event date is chosen at a time when you will have your book printed and ready to hand out as folks enter the venue.
Another consideration, regarding the event date, is that you may have to rely on available dates for the venue where you wish to hold your event.
Most Facing Project LIVE events have happened in local theatre houses. Regardless if the project is hosted on a campus or off, the idea of The Facing Project is to bring the entire community together to celebrate, and learn from, the stories. Unfortunately, campuses can be intimidating locations for local residents not associated with the college or university, and, because of that, we have found attendance will be much higher if the event is held in the local community.
If your community has a local theatre, contact the Director to see if he/she would be willing to have the LIVE event. Often, local community theatres are interested in hosting events such as Facing to bring new people into their space, and they will give you the venue free of charge. What’s nice about this outlet, too, is that theatres will provide marque space and promote your event as one of their shows.
If a theatre is not an option in your community, church spaces have been used as well. Since Facing Project LIVE events typically draw 300-500 attendees, you’ll want to secure a location that can hold a large number of folks and have enough room for a production and other activities associated with your LIVE event.
If a community space is absolutely not an option and you are hosted by a college/university or have a college/university in or near your community, the LIVE event could be held at the campus theatre or in an outdoor space. Having the event on a campus, though, adds in another layer of logistics you will need to think through: parking and directions. Be sure to have free parking options for the local community, and clear information posted on your website about navigating the campus. When we have surveyed community about barriers to campus, parking is the number one thing that is always mentioned.
Facing Project LIVE events have included actors in two ways: as monologue readers or as spoken word artists. Check out the sub-section titled “Actors, Photographers, and Other Artists” under the Project Management section of the Toolkit to learn more about actor recruitment.
Some of the most powerful stories have been those that were memorized and dramatically acted out on stage. As we’ve mentioned before, putting stories on page is at the core of The Facing Project; but getting the stories on stage is just as important.
One of the most powerful Facing Project stories to ever be performed came from Facing Sex Trafficking: Atlanta’s Dirty Little Secret. Spoken word artist Yewande Austin transformed one of the stories from the project into a jaw dropper that no one could walk away from without wanting to get involved in the cause. Check out Yewande’s performance:
That was amazing, wasn’t it? After that performance, two things happened.
- Audience members came up to Yewande and told her how sorry they were that she had to go through that experience as a child and then as an adult.
- As you know since you’re involved with Facing, that was not Yewande’s story, but, because she was so convincing, people were moved to create a human connection with her. That’s called empathy, and that can only happen if people are moved. That’s why actors are so important since storytellers often aren’t comfortable sharing their own stories in front of a packed house.
- Since Facing Sex Trafficking aired their event on their local PBS affiliate, a woman from 70 miles away jumped in her car and drove to the station because she had been trafficked as a child and was so moved by seeing these performances.
- Project organizers did not know what to do at first when this woman arrived. However, even though they were not sharing their stories themselves on stage, many of the storytellers were in the audience. They stepped in and immediately told her, “We understand. We understand.” And a natural connection was created. Today, that individual as developed a friendship with one of the storytellers, and she has sought counseling for the trauma from her childhood.
That’s the magic that can happen when written word is translated on stage into a powerful, dramatic performance. And, together, it furthers the mission of connecting people through stories to strengthen community.
Setup of the stage:
The staging of the front of the house is important to create an atmosphere for the event. Most Facing Project LIVE events have included the following elements:
- Large screen, upstage center, for the projection of images relative to the project and to the community (ex: images taken during a photo shoot for the event, of storytellers if they’ve given permission, or of scenes from around town to remind the audience the stories are from your community).
- Podium with mic, downstage right, for speakers at the event (ex: welcomes/introductions from project organizers, mayor, college/university president, etc.).
- Music stand (if doing read monologues and not acting), downstage left center.
- Seating for actors/monologue readers, center stage, for when they are not performing.
Here are examples of what the stage layout can look like:
From Facing Autism in Muncie, Indiana
From Facing Sex Trafficking: Atlanta’s Dirty Little Secret (theater in the round)
Breakdown of the event:
One thing you will need to determine is how many stories to have acted out on stage. We suggest no more than 10. While watching these stories be performed is powerful, it is good to break the stories up in the following way:
- Welcome from project organizers.
- A few words from a prominent local official (a mayor, college/university president, a major local change-maker related to the project theme) who introduces the opening of the monologues/spoken word.
- Three stories acted out.
- A performance or video clip (this has included a performance from local bands, singers, a skit, or a short showing of “behind the scenes” of putting the project together).
- Four stories acted out.
- A second performance or video clip (similar to #4 above).
- Three stories acted out.
- A powerful closing statement/call to action.
All of that combined will be about one hour and 30 minutes. That’s about as long as folks can typically sit without getting antsy or wanting to get out (we’re all human, and, unfortunately, we’re wired for short attention spans).
To view an entire layout of an event, take the time to watch these videos for layout ideas:
Facing Sex Trafficking: Atlanta’s Dirty Little Secret
Facing Disabilities in East Central Indiana
After folks have experienced the magic of the stories as they came to life, and they have been moved to act, it’s the perfect time to provide them with the opportunity to get engaged in the community.
In the main lobby area of the theatre or event space, have your nonprofit partners set up volunteer recruitment and information tables about ways in which attendees can engage. What we have found over time is that this is a great way to help folks understand how they can interact with organizations who work in their communities each day focused on the issue area addressed in your Facing Project.
Also, not everyone has time to give toward volunteering, but they would rather provide their treasure. Don’t be ashamed to have an area where attendees can give a donation toward the printing of the books or toward the cause.