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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Podcast: Blind theatre won't leave you in the dark

Will you be on a plane, train, or automobile this holiday weekend? We have a treat for you: a new Idealist Podcast! Let us know what you think, and browse our archives for more.


One of Teatro Ciego’s main goals is to not only provide employment for the visually impaired, but to strengthen their artistic skills for the job market.

I hold onto my friend Ceci’s shoulders as we walk into the pitch black theatre single file. I can’t see a thing – not even my hands. I start to panic. But someone gently guides me to my seat, and I know I’m okay. The sound of typewriters soon fills the room.

I’m at Teatro Ciego, or Blind Theatre, waiting anxiously for the play La Isla Desierta to begin. This theatre in Buenos Aires, Argentina is the only one in the world to host performances in the dark. I don’t know what to expect.

I’m here because I’m curious to see how the cast made up of both blind and seeing actors can pull this off, and because I want to get out of my comfort zone. And I do. For the next two hours, my imagination runs wild as sounds and smells from the jungle to the sea envelop me.

Ceci and I leave the theatre in awe, convinced Teatro Ciego is an idea worth spreading. Find out why in our podcast here:

Idealist Podcast: Teatro Ciego (English)


Co-producer Ceci Gil Mariño and I would especially like to thank Martín Celis, Terry Dennis, Craig Dennis and Jason Kirtland for lending us their voices; Janet Bollero, Rachel McRoberts, Deborah Brody, Emily Burnett, and Lindsay Rihala for their invaluable translation assistance; Pía Sicardi for her original music; Julia Smith and Hannah Kane for their editing prowess; Douglas Coulter for his mad production skills; and most importantly, the cast of Teatro Ciego for letting us shine a light on their world.

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