Help Melanie empower youth through theatre

An ongoing experiment: can our community’s collective brainpower help an idea become reality?

Meet Melanie

For Melanie Lockert, who grew up singing in the choir and performing high school plays in Los Angeles, theatre is the one place where she can really be herself. But the business side  — auditioning, networking, etc. —  has left Melanie feeling increasingly disenchanted as an adult. “I don’t believe the system functions in a way that is conducive to self-esteem and communication,” she says.


Animal exercises with third graders at Harlem’s PS 175. (Photo via Melanie Lockert.)

So when she began practicing Theatre of the Oppressed with youth at Brooklyn’s Falconworks Artists Group, she knew the focus on individual experiences as a catalyst for social change would restore her faith in the art form.

“Theatre of the oppressed doesn’t shut out anyone. It doesn’t say your experience is wrong and my experience is right. Everyone can be an actor,” she says. “ It’’s a mobilizing tool for people who have never spoken in public and who have never expressed issues in a safe environment where they can feel comfortable playing.”

The intention

Melanie recently relocated to Portland, Oregon after getting a Masters in Performance Studies at NYU. While in New York, she taught theatre at PS 175 in Harlem with the New York City Mission Society and before that, managed art programs for underserved youth in Los Angeles. She wants to draw from her experiences teaching and work with this same population to create plays based on issues they or their communities face.

“It’s a way to open up a dialogue about what these young people want, and what they want out of their lives, addressing some of the things they want to see change in their community,” she says.


Melanie is currently in the planning stage. Here are some challenges she has identified:

  1. As a newcomer to Portland, Melanie is struggling to connect with organizations whose constituents could benefit from theatre of the oppressed.
  2. Finding people is one thing. Locating a space where they could practice and perform poses another logistical consideration.
  3. When she’s not playing with a local theatre company, Melanie is actively seeking full-time employment and volunteering opportunities with arts organizations, both of which have been difficult and detract her from focusing on the project.
  4. Like most people with an idea, Melanie continually fights the doubtful voice inside her head: What if this isn’t a good idea? Is such a program necessary? Give up the dream and focus on making a living instead?

How you can help

  • Do you have advice for overcoming paralyzing doubt?
  • How can Melanie start meeting the right people who would be interested in making this idea happen?
  • Do you know organizations in Portland working with youth (or women) that might be interested in having Melanie teach a workshop at night or on the weekends?
  • How she can find a free or low-cost community space that would host the program?
  • If she wanted to scratch working with organizations all together, how could she recruit youth by herself? What would be the legal logistics to consider?

Leave a comment below or send her a message through Idealist and if the project progresses, we’ll keep you posted!


Do you have an idea that’s just starting to brew? If you’d like us to consider posting it as part of this series, email celeste [at] idealist [dot] org.

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Comments (8)

  1. sathya bhama writes:
    August 8, 2012 at 11:52 am

    Dear Melanie,

    I am very much surprised to read your article, I felt really great , Basically I am theatre practioner who had studied theatre academically more than ten years, I had the same oppinion to use my ptheatre practice for the marginalised people, even though I don’t have any NGO, I would like to be part of your Ngo, if you don’t mind. Best wishes for your work.

  2. irene writes:
    August 8, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    I think your ideas is wonderful!

  3. Michael Wilson writes:
    August 9, 2012 at 11:10 am

    Hi Melanie! How wonderful to read about your situation. I get the challenges and frustrations and I totally see the big fantastic vision. I also know some folks at that MA at NYU. It sounds like a great program.

    I suggest you check out Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed ( and the American Alliance for Theatre and Education (, if you don’t know them already. You can find resources here for developing your curriculum, and also for boosting and clarifying your message, which will help you have those critical conversations for partnership.

    I also suggest the M.A. in Applied Theatre at CUNY (, if you don’t know it already. Going for another MA right now may not be exactly what you’re thinking about doing, but the program addresses *all* of the concerns and issues in the blog post, so I think it’s an exciting conversation for you to be in. I completed the M.A. and I loved it…and I started as a consequence, to use theatre to create new possibilities for manhood around peace, community, and self-expression. I’m tackling funding and expanding now, as we produce our first festival at Judson Memorial Church (September 8, website for details)!

    Most of all, I want to say to you and the blog-o-sphere that we are thousands strong, we artist/educators, and we know that critical civic engagement is the way for the arts to stay relevant and for our society to evolve. We’re in this together.

    Really best wishes,


    Michael Wilson
    M.A. Applied Theatre

  4. Lindsay writes:
    August 9, 2012 at 12:01 pm

    Hi Melanie,

    I’m a graduate student at University of Oklahoma. Last year our department (Human Relations) did a screening of the documentary Louder Than A Bomb, which is about a group of Chicago teens who participated in spoken-word poetry competitions that brought together kids from varied backgrounds and taught them skills both in writing poetry and performing it on stage. This documentary has inspired Louder Than A Bomb programs in cities across the US. I highly recommend watching the documentary for inspiration, and, if this is something you might be interested in implementing in the Portland area (I didn’t see a Portland LTAB program turn up in a cursory Google search), you may want to reach out to the producers of the film– or you can contact the Tulsa LTAB for advice on how they implemented their program. Projects like this are great ways to interact with kids from all walks of life, teach them about the performing arts, and give a voice to children who might not otherwise feel that they have one.

    Best of luck to you.

  5. DS writes:
    August 9, 2012 at 5:33 pm

    Hi Melanie – I live in Vancouver Canada – Our organization, a non-profit which works with immigrants and refugees, has been using Theatre of the Oppressed for many years to work with immigrant and refugee youth. Getting the project started originally took a lot of work, and maintaining funding is still a continual challenge. The program however is life-changing for the youth that take part, so it is worth it.
    Over the past 20 years there has been a lot of Theatre of Oppressed work done in Vancouver. I assume Portland would be similar though I don’t know.
    I suggest you reach out and connect with the worldwide community of Theatre of the Oppressed practioners, look into creative ways of funding for your project, and most of all, stick with it! Best luck!

  6. DS writes:
    August 9, 2012 at 5:54 pm has some listings by city, I don’t know if it’s current but it could be something to start with.

  7. Melanie Lockert writes:
    August 9, 2012 at 7:19 pm

    Lindsay, thanks for the documentary recommendation. DS, what organization do you work for? I am thinking of visiting Vancouver at some point soon and would love to check out your organization. I am looking into some organizations here I can partner with as well and hopefully can get some good work in. I love working with youth!

  8. Jianeli writes:
    August 24, 2012 at 3:24 am

    My brother went to soohcl in Leeds in the late 90’s and I remember him telling the me that there was a huge police drug raid at the tenements right off campus. In response to the drug raid the residents rioted and burned down their flats. Which the government then had to rebuild at huge expense. That story gives me pause whenever I hear a snobby Englishman making fun of Americans.

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