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First Lady Chirlane McCray Announces Partnership Between Gracie Mansion Conservancy and MCC Theater to Increase At-Risk Youth Access to Arts and Culture

September 20, 2017

Gracie Mansion hosted a performance of scenes from MCC Theater’s new production Charm, about an etiquette school for transgender youth in Chicago, followed by a panel discussion with cast members and LGBTQ community leaders

NEW YORK–– First Lady Chirlane McCray and Gabrielle Fialkoff, Senior Advisor and Director of the Mayor’s Office of Strategic Partnerships, announced today a partnership between the Gracie Mansion Conservancy and MCC Theater during its 2017/18 season to increase access to arts and culture to at-risk youth. Gracie Mansion hosted the launch event on Wednesday, September 20th, featuring a performance of selected scenes from the Off-Broadway production of Charm, followed by a youth-focused panel discussion.

This partnership will provide 75 youths from across the City with tickets to attend productions in MCC’s 2017-18 season, along with pre- and post-show workshops with actors, designers, and other members of MCC’s creative team. This opportunity to participate in an entire season (rather than a “one-off” theatrical experience) will help young people access and understand the multitude of stories that can be told through theater, provide a safe space to discuss their life experiences, and foster exploration of career paths within one of the City’s touchstone industries, which contributes upwards of $12 billion to the economy of New York City and supports 87,000 jobs.

“I always say if I couldn’t write poetry, or dance or express myself through the arts as a teenager, I don’t know where I’d be. Art is therapeutic and healing – and it belongs to everyone. The Gracie Mansion Conservancy is proud to partner with MCC Theater in its commitment to bring the arts to our city’s most vulnerable youth and uplift voices that are far too often underrepresented in theater,” said First Lady Chirlane McCray, who leads the NYC Unity Project.

“New York City is the world capital of art and culture but access to it remains out of reach for far too many young New Yorkers,” said Gabrielle Fialkoff, Senior Advisor to the Mayor and Director of the Office of Strategic Partnerships, which oversees the Gracie Mansion Conservancy. “We are thrilled to partner with MCC, one of New York City’s most storied theater companies, to help expose more young people to the world of theater, provide a safe space for them to discuss their life experiences, and enable them to explore career paths within one of the City’s key industries.”

LGBTQ youth comprise a large share of New York City’s most vulnerable population—New Yorkers ages 14 to 24 who are or have been involved in the shelter, justice or foster care systems. And they are far more likely than their peers to experience an array of social, physical and mental health challenges, with more than 20 percent more likely to experience dating violence and attempted suicide. Coming on the heels of the launch of the NYC Unity Project, an unprecedented effort spearheaded by First Lady McCray to unite 16 city agencies across the City to make NYC the most welcoming and affirming city in the world for LGBTQ youth, this partnership will engage and affirm the City’s most vulnerable youth, while advancing MCC’s mission to address important social issues through theater and reach underserved communities and Gracie Mansion Conservancy’s mandate to increase access to arts and culture for all New Yorkers.

The launch event brought together nearly 100 young LGBTQ New Yorkers and key stakeholders across the LGBTQ and arts/theater community to identify safe spaces, including the theater, for vulnerable LGBTQ youth to build community and learn about the services available to them. Attendees experienced an intimate performance of scenes from Charm, written by Philip Dawkins and inspired by transgender icon, Miss Gloria Allen.

In the play, Mama Darleena Andrews—a 67-year-old, black, transgender woman—takes it upon herself to teach an etiquette class at Chicago’s LGBTQ community center, and discovers the idealistic teachings of Emily Post clash with the very real life challenges of identity, poverty and prejudice faced by her students. Inspired by the true story of Miss Gloria Allen and her work at Chicago’s Center on Halsted, Philip Dawkins' Charm asks how do we lift each other up when the world wants to tear us down?

The panel discussion following the performance explored these same themes, as well as strategies and tools to support LGBTQ youth. It included panelists from different walks of life, including activists, service providers, and cast members from Charm.

“All of us at MCC Theater are grateful to the First Lady, Chirlane McCray, and the Gracie Mansion Conservancy for their support and this exciting partnership that will give young New Yorkers the opportunity to see themselves and their own stories reflected on stage. We believe in the life-affirming power of theater and the bonds of community that it inspires. That belief is at the core of our productions this season in particular and our education programs each year,” said Bernard Telsey, Artistic Director of MCC Theater. “We’re thrilled to kick off this season-long partnership with our opening production of Charm and welcome so many young people and LGBTQ youth into the theater and our conversations about celebrating what makes different what connects us.”

“We’re inspired by First Lady Chirlane McCray’s and the Gracie Mansion Conservancy’s efforts to open up the performing arts to so many young people. Their work aligns with MCC Theater’s own work with young people, especially during this season which is infused with the energy of youth and reflects many different perspectives. Charm is just the beginning of an exciting relationship and we’re very excited about what’s ahead,” said Blake West, Executive Director of MCC Theater.

"It's important that MCC's audiences are as inclusive as the stories we are telling this season.  This is a terrific initiative that reflects what makes New York a progressive beacon, and I know will change a few lives,” said Will Cantler, Artistic Director of MCC Theater.

"Charm, as well as the volunteer work of Miss Gloria Allen, is about being welcoming, inclusive and generous. These are also the values at the heart of First Lady McCray's and Senior Advisor Fialkoff's vital initiatives to invite and hold space for vulnerable communities, specifically LGBTQIA youth, within New York City's major cultural institutions. This is community organizing that includes the ENTIRE community,” said Philip Dawkins, Charm playwright.

“The loss last week of the courageous gay rights pioneer, Edith Windsor, reminds all New Yorkers of the work to be done in sustaining progress, where for so long there was none. This timely initiative helps assure such momentum despite threats at the federal level against the LGBTQ cause. The Conservancy is a proud partner to that vital end,” said Paul Gunther, Executive Director of the Gracie Mansion Conservancy.

“Art plays a critical role in advancing social justice—through it, we shape culture, build community, and create visibility for our shared experiences. The partnership between Gracie Mansion Conservancy and MCC Theater embodies the City's commitment to sharing the stories of all New Yorkers, regardless of age, gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation,” said Jacqueline Ebanks, Executive Director of the Commission on Gender Equity.

"Although tremendous progress has been made in recent years for LGBTQ equality, young people making the courageous journeys of discovering and expressing their sexual and gender identities continue to encounter significant challenges," said Matthew McMorrow, Senior Advisor for LGBTQ Community Affairs, Mayor's Community Affairs Unit. "By launching NYC Unity Project, First Lady Chirlane McCray is boldly confronting these challenges head on and sending the message to our LGBTQ youth that they are supported, valued and celebrated in our great city.  We are excited to bring LGBTQ young people to Gracie Mansion to experience “Charmed” as part of the many ways our City celebrates and values people of transgender experience."

“Everyone deserves to have access to the arts, at every point in their lives,” said Tom Finkelpearl, Commissioner of the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs. "I am a firm believer in the power of art to help us explore our identities and connect to our communities in ways that usher personal, social, and civic transformations. I commend this long-term partnership between the Gracie Mansion Conservancy and MCC Theater that centers on the experiences of youth, including LGBTQ communities, and provides important opportunities to access theater and to investigate and amplify their voices and experiences through creative practices."

”Safety, access to resources for success, and inclusiveness - the hallmarks of the First Lady McCray’s new policy -  are the rights of every young person and the tenets which HMI advocates for throughout our work. We are thrilled to see such brave steps being taken by this administration to proactively support our city’s most vulnerable and underserved, LGBTQ youth,” said Thomas Krever, HMI CEO.

MCC’s programming encompasses annual productions, development of new work, and renowned education and outreach programs that help more than 1,200 NYC high school students each year to find – and use – their own unique voice, increase literacy, improve grades, and develop important life skills through the creation and performance of their own original work. MCC empowers artists and students to take risks to create bold, daring work that investigates the issues and morality of our time and inspires active engagement of audiences. This season MCC Theater is shining a spotlight on communities that too seldom see themselves on stage—LGBTQ youth, adolescent girls and underprivileged youth. The season’s productions (at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in Greenwich Village) —including Charm, School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play, and Transfers—reflect MCC’s commitment to provoking conversations that have never happened - and otherwise never would.

The partnership between the Gracie Mansion Conservancy and MCC Theater supports the launch of the NYC Unity Project, an unprecedented effort to unite 16 city agencies across the City to make NYC the most welcoming and affirming city in the world for LGBTQ youth. The NYC Unity Project is the City’s first-ever, multi-agency strategy to address the unique challenges and needs of LGBTQ youth and lays out a bold commitment to deepen and expand investments in LGBTQ services. This includes an initial investment of $4.8 million over FY18 and FY19 for new programs and supports, such as a second 24-hour drop-in center, new trainings for Health + Hospitals physicians, and launching a new public awareness campaign so youth and parents know where to turn when they need services and support. 

This partnership also builds on CreateNYC, New York City’s first-ever comprehensive cultural plan, to ensure every resident, in every neighborhood, has the same access to cultural opportunities. CreateNYC lays out a blueprint for expanding on the unparalleled strengths of the city’s cultural sector, while targeting investments to address historically underserved communities across all five boroughs. The plan also reaffirms the City’s commitment to cultivating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive cultural workforce that reflects New York City’s residents. 

About MCC Theater

MCC Theater is one of New York’s leading nonprofit Off-Broadway companies, driven by a mission to provoke conversations that have never happened and otherwise never would. Founded in 1986 as a collective of artists leading peer-based classes to support their own development as actors, writers, and directors, the tenets of collaboration, education, and community are at the core of MCC Theater’s programming. One of the only theaters in the country led continuously by its founders—Artistic Directors Robert LuPone, Bernard Telsey, and William Cantler—MCC fulfills its mission through the production of World, American, and New York premiere plays and musicals that challenge artists and audiences to confront contemporary personal and social issues, and robust playwright development and education initiatives that foster the next generation of theater artists and students.

About The Gracie Mansion Conservancy

Founded in 1981 by Mayor Edward I. Koch and its charter Board Chair, Joan K. Davidson, The Gracie Mansion Conservancy is a private not-for-profit corporation established to preserve, maintain, enhance, and enliven Gracie Mansion - one of the oldest surviving wood structures in Manhattan and home to the sitting mayors of New York City and their families since 1942, when the LaGuardia’s arrived as the first official residents. Its mission is to serve as the Mansion's curator, interpreter, and programmer and in turn to secure the charitable resources required to implement these intertwined tasks.

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