Let’s face it: living in Boston can be tough at times. Wondering how to dig your car out of a snowbank, eat like a local, root for the right sports team or find your way around the city? Luckily for you, Urban Improv’s “Banned in Boston ’15 – The Boston Survival Guide” can help! The 20th anniversary of this iconic event will offer downright useless tips for surviving life in the Hub, and is sure to leave you laughing out loud along with its cast of almost-stars.
Hosted by Matt Siegel of Kiss 108, the cast of this madcap musical revue features some of the region’s leading media, business, non-profit and political leaders, all of whom put aside their dignity and pride to help raise money for Urban Improv. With only one rehearsal and no acting experience required, it promises to provide plenty of laughs along the way.
But it’s not just about the laughs: “Banned in Boston ’15” raises funds for Urban Improv, a non-profit organization that uses interactive drama programs to help young people in Boston explore the challenging experiences they face in every day. From peer pressure to cyber bullying, racism, homophobia or violence, students have to make decisions on how they will handle and react to these situations. Urban Improv takes students through workshops where they role-play scenarios based on their own choices and experience the consequences of their actions in a safe environment. Urban Improv strives to help them learn the skills they need to become leaders who communicate messages of nonviolence, tolerance and respect. Cissa Campion, Executive Producer and writer for “Banned in Boston”, took the time to chat with the Boston Comedy Scene Examiner about the event and the wonderful service Urban Improv provides to the community.
“Our mission is to catalyze positive youth development, and we have a focus on violence prevention. We are interested in creating empowered and positive youth, living in a safe community,” explains Campion. “What we do is we provide 27 weeks of workshops to the Boston Public Schools at no cost to them, and whole classes of schools come to two different community centers (one is the Vine Street Community Center in Roxbury and one at the Reggie Lewis Center in Roxbury) and participate in a nine week curriculum. So we focus on age-appropriate issues including bullying, peer pressure, violence, issues around changing family life, issues that are very challenging to kids.”
Unlike many youth programs, Urban Improv engages its audience using improvisational scenarios.
“We have a professional staff of 10 actor-educators, and they create a scene and partway through the director will freeze the scene and turn to the kids and say, ‘so if you were in this situation what would you do?’” cites Campion. “We call it the rehearsals for life. A child will come in and take over and affect the outcome of the scene. And the actors are good enough; they just follow with wherever the kid takes the scene. Then we sit and talk with the kids, in particular the kids who’ve made these decisions to see what that feels like. Let’s say you’re a bystander, we have a whole series, a curriculum around being a bystander, and you chose not to get involved or you chose to get involved, or you were the person who was being bullied, or you were the bully. What did it feel like to be in that person’s shoes? That’s where the empathy comes in. You really get to try on what it’s like to be in another person’s shoes, what that feels like.”
It’s a program that clearly makes a successful impact on everyone involved.
“The response is just amazing. Just this year we have here 96% of the children said, “I learned a new way to solve a problem.” 96% of children said, “I learned that to make a good decision it’s important to think about the consequences. My actions can affect more than myself,’” Campion describes. “And the teachers feel it too – a hundred percent of the teachers said, ‘I feel Urban Improv was beneficial for my students.’ A hundred percent, this is the evaluations folks tell us this is the gold standard. A hundred percent of the teachers say, ‘I would recommend Urban Improv to another teacher.’”
Governor Charlie Baker will join Attorney General Maura Healey, Congressmen Jim McGovern and Seth Moulton, State Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, MA Secretary of Education Jim Peyser and Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley on stage at the House of Blues on April 10, 2015. They’ll be joined by a host of media and entertainment personalities that will include Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith, musician Sally Taylor, actor Kevin McGlynn, Jared Bowen and Emily Rooney of WGBH, Michael Holley of WEEI, Jenny Johnson of NESN, Ray Magliozzi of WBUR, J.C. Monahan and Heather Unruh of WCVB and Lisa Pierpont from Boston Common Magazine.
Some of Boston’s leading business leaders will also get in on the act in 2015, including Jonathan Bush of Athena Health, Heather Campion from the JFK Library Foundation, Ron Druker of The Druker Company, Jeff Fagnan of Atlas Ventures, Dick Friedman, Carpenter & Company, Carol Fulp of The Partnership, John Hall of Hall Properties, Diane Hessan of Communispace, Rosabeth Moss Kanter from the Harvard Business School, Sam Kennedy of the Boston Red Sox, Kristina Hare Lyons of Portabello Road, Patrick Lyons from The Lyons Group, Joe O’Donnell of Centerplate and Marc A. White, Jr. of JP Morgan.
They’ll be joined by Gerald Chertavian from Year Up, Paul Grogan of The Boston Foundation, Anne Hawley of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Josh Kraft of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston, Michael Maso from the Huntington Theater, Jill Medvedow of ICA, Lee Pelton of Emerson College, Valerie Roberson of Roxbury Community College, David Shapiro of the National Mentoring Partnership and Anita Walker of the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
“We are a youth development organization. So that being said, we thought it would be fun to make up a different kind of fundraiser and we are right in with other programs that we have, we create original theater. So we thought wouldn’t it be fun to write a play and invite people in the community to be in it?” Campion tells the BCSE. “So it just sort of took off. We did it the first year in 1996 in Patrick Lyons’ club, Mama Kin, and we thought, well is anybody going to come. And it sold out. Our cast were people like Senator Kerry and Joe Kennedy, he was a Representative there, and Barney Frank and Liz Walker, and Marjorie Clapprood, people who were very prominent in the community. And it just took off. So after five years, we’re honoring Patrick Lyons this year. He’s really been one of the angels of Banned in Boston and graciously gave us his clubs to put it on. After five years he suggested that we move down into the larger Avalon, they have a larger venue and a larger stage, and we’ve been there ever since. So we feel very, very lucky. We’re very, very lucky that so many people in the community are willing to sort of shed their pride and stand up there and be silly on our behalf. And it makes it so much fun for the audience to see people who they respect and who are very important leaders in Boston and beyond and have sort of let their hair down.”
The 20th anniversary event will honor Patrick Lyons of The Lyons Group for his commitment to Urban Improv. Lyons has been a key supporter of the Banned in Boston event since its inception in 1995.
Hungry cast members are never a good idea – and thus, Boston’s leading restaurateurs will be on hand to provide sustenance for them, and the evening’s guests. This year, the restaurant and beverage partners will include Alma Nove, Ashmont Grill/Tavolo, Bully Boy Distillers, Cinquecentro, Crystal Head Vodka, Eastern Standard, Harvest, Il Casale, Island Creek Oyster Bar, JP Seafood Café, Juniper, LaMorra, Mei Mei, Middlesex Lounge, New England Charcuterie/Moody’s Delicatessen & Provisions, Osteria Nino, Hearth Pizzeria, Sweet, The Fireplace and Tremont 647.
“Banned in Boston ’15 – The Boston Survival Guide” takes place on Friday, April 10, 2015 at the House of Blues in Boston. Tickets are $250 and $150 and are available at www.bannedinboston.org.