Elizabeth Fetterolf Post by Elizabeth Fetterolf

By Elizabeth Fetterolf on May 29th, 2018

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Meet the Project: Building Better People

Tips and Tools | Arts | Educational Theater | Artists and Members

 

From time to time, we feature a fiscally sponsored project who has been successful at using our program to advance their art/cause/career. Today, we’re featuring Lynne Childress of Building Better People.

First off, tell us a bit about Building Better People. Who are you? What is your mission? Who would you consider to be your primary audience?

Building Better People Productions is a professional theater company for young audiences based in Annapolis, Maryland. Our mission is to produce theater and classes that promote empathy, understanding, and kindness to kids and their families, and encourage the best in all humans. That’s where the name “Building Better People” comes from: we think that teaching character development helps make all of us better, from the ground up. Everything we do is geared towards kids and also their families. We do shows for the public, as well as shows that tour schools.

How did Building Better People come into being?

I’ve been in educational theater in some way or another for over 20 years, and as much as I loved working with and doing projects for other organizations, I wanted to branch out and produce my own work for a while. Because of my work as a teaching artist, I knew how much of our views as humans are based in what we experience as kids. Those things are foundational. I also knew that theater is an amazing way to impart important messages, because I had seen it firsthand as a teacher, actor, and audience member. Me starting this theater company was really the next step in taking all I have learned over the years and making it into this new thing.

What made you decide to become an organization as opposed to just producing independent projects?

Good question! I knew that I had more than one show in me, and I also knew that I wanted to teach my own classes. Putting those things together as an actual organization just made sense. I also thought that it would be easier to get funding if I was an organization.

Why do you feel that it’s important to create theater for kids?

It’s everything. Theater is an immersive experience, and kids are so ready to be entertained. They are the most enthusiastic audience, because most of them are bad poker players: they wear their emotions and reactions right where you can see it. It gets their brains moving, and the arts in general inspire conversations among kids who experience it in ways that might not happen otherwise. It’s special work.

What do you hope young people leave your productions and/or classes with? What are the tools you’ve created to further the discussions your work starts?

I hope that kids leave any of our programming feeling empowered to be nice to each other and to themselves. Sounds simplistic, but that’s huge. For our shows, I want them to see that how we treat each other, and ourselves, is important. Some of our shows, especially our touring school shows, are more direct in what they are about: our empathy show actually defines what empathy is out loud, in a really funny and engaging way. Some of our other shows hide the message under the entertainment, or as my sister says, “hides the veggies under layers of cheese.” As far as tools go, we have education guides for all of our school shows that introduce the topics our shows cover, and also continue the conversations in the classroom after the show. This year, we are offering both one-day workshops and three-day residencies to support our empathy show.

What do you hope is the impact of this work?

Simply, to make people really think about how they treat each other. I spend a lot of time on Facebook, and I read the comments, which I should not ever do. I guess I go looking for hope in the form of positive comments, when I also see so many people who just spew nastiness. Some of them are trolls, but many more of them are people who really think that they are right in their views, but see nothing wrong with making hateful comments about actual people. We have failed to see the humanity in each other based on our differences, or what other people say. When we start to see each other as people, with the same feelings as us, it becomes harder to hate them. I think that we are impacted by everything we experience, so I hope that even if it seems small, the messages from our work will set in somewhere in the brains and hearts of people who experience it, and influence them, even if it’s somewhere deep deep down. It’s how I hope to fight the hate.

You utilize several of Fractured Atlas’s programs. How has it been working with Fractured Atlas? Are there particular ways your membership with us has been beneficial?

I have really enjoyed being a part of Fractured Atlas. We have relied on them as we accept donations from folks. We couldn’t have grown or survived without them financially. Artful.ly is also a great perk of our membership, and we use it for for our ticketing and box office. It’s really easy to use and to train volunteers on. It is a great support as we then get to spend more time on making art. I also enjoy reading all of the blogs about other projects: it’s so comforting to see what other people are doing, and that there are kindred spirits out there using their gifts. It’s a nice community.

What advice would you give to other arts educators who might be considering fiscal sponsorship?

It’s a really great thing to consider if you would rather not get your own nonprofit status, or if you just aren’t ready to move on that yet. There are people who really want to support what you doing, and having the ability to give them the tax deduction is a great perk.

Is there anything you want people who are being introduced to you to know?

Intentional kindness in everything you do can make big changes. We want to display that in every interaction that we have and love that out. We would love to see you and yours at a show!

Interested in learning more about Building Better People’s work? Follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

More posts by Elizabeth Fetterolf

About Elizabeth Fetterolf

Elizabeth Fetterolf is a San Francisco Bay Area native with a B.A. from Vassar College in English Literature and Psychology. Prior to joining the Fractured Atlas team, she interned at W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., taught improv workshops at Young in Prison South Africa, and worked in Vassar College’s Office of Sexual Assault and Violence Prevention. In her free time, she enjoys watching free outdoor theater, singing along to Steven Universe, and listening to podcasts on the subway.