I serve as the Director of Development for the theater company. My primary responsibility is fundraising. Now the word “fundraising” is not sexy, but the work is all about serving others, building relationships, and sharing a love for theater and its ability to make an impact in our community, country, and the world. So the job: raising money. The joy: giving people the opportunity to make a difference. The best part: saying thank you.

I’ve learned how to be sincere in gratitude, when to step out of the way, when to step in the way, why difference and dialogue matter, and how to scan double-sided. Still working on call transfer.

One of the biggest things I’ve learned lately, still learning to believe actually, is that despair is not an option. Our theater focuses on challenging issues like race, gender, identity, sexuality, displacement, the complexities of family and the idea of “home.” We don’t shy away from bringing stories from conflict zones to our stages; we seek to. It’s important to us to give voice to the oppressed, to build a diverse community, and to create transformational art. In doing so, it can be easy to become distracted by the issues of today. I have found myself discouraged lately because of the rampant bigotry, malicious behavior, and toxic vitriol surrounding us both here at home the US and abroad.

But seeing my disappointment, anger, and frustration with how difficult our world is, my boss was quick to say: despair is not an option. He’s right. It can’t be. Not when there is always, always, always hope.

What are the company’s main goals?

Baked right into our mission statement is our goal to create socially-relevant, transformation art. We’re working to build a community that comes to the theater not just to see an entertaining show, but to be exposed, challenged, celebrated, uplifted, and encouraged. It all goes back to creating impactful art that can make a difference in the hearts, minds, and actions of our community.

In pursuit of that main goal, we seek to provide opportunity and voices to local artists and artists who might otherwise not have the opportunity to see their work come alive on stage. And we are committed to the values of inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility. The values of I.D.E.A are sweeping the field right, and we are thrilled to be in the theater community of D.C. recognizing that now more than ever we must commit ourselves to provide workplaces and theater spaces that are inclusive, diverse, equitable, and accessible. These values underly everything we do in pursuit of impactful art-making and storytelling.

Does it relate to your personal life, and if it does, can you elaborate on how?

Jeezum crow, yes! I’ve been a creative all my life and have always been drawn to humanitarian work and fulfilling needs. After undergrad as a musical theater student, a masters in nonprofit management, and a stint in private-sector digital marketing, all I wanted was to be a part of something creative and impactful, in both my professional and personal life. Professionally, I made it to the theater company where everything we do is fueled by social impact. Personally, my own art has started evolving away from soothing colors and abstract color blocking towards incisive, evocative work that brings stories to the forefront. This drive to use my creativity as a tool for raising issues into discourse, or at least out of the abyss of lost memory, led to one of the first collections that embodied that goal: The 175ers. The 175ers series was created in reaction to everything I’ve learned about homosexual persecution under the Third Reich. It’s a simple collection of ink and watercolor sketches, but every piece has roots in research, stories, biographies, documentaries, and autobiographies of the gay men persecuted by the Nazis. Many people I started talking to about this work didn’t know the history of the pink triangle, or much about the different groups of people persecuted, tortured, and murdered by the Nazis. The series gave me the chance to use my art to bring the stories of these men out of the grave of history. It was the first time I felt I was using my creativity for something important and so much bigger than me.

So my work at the theater reminds me how powerful art is. Art has the ability to reflect on our history, challenge our presence, and cast vision for our future. What a power.

What advice would you give to your teen self?

I’d say, John Paul, don’t be afraid. Try not to worry (I know you will, but try not to). Every high is to be cherished and honored, and every low is to be cherished and honored. Enjoy the journey.

What is the best thing that has ever happened to you for being nice?

Well, let’s reflect on “best.” Kindness is usually returned and leads to some beautiful relationships. But being nice also leads to opportunities to be challenged in humility and motivation. Through nice works kind words, I try to reflect on my motivation and heart behind my actions. So the best reward for being nice? Challenging myself to be authentic in kindness.

Photo credit: Molly Byrum
Follow John and his journey on Instagram.

 

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