WHEN I HIT submit on my Democracyworks essay, I do not believe I fully understood what advocacy was. I had always pictured high-level, politically charged people harassing their senators and requesting a solution to a problem that could not easily be fixed. When I wrote my essay, I knew I loved theatre and was passionate about participating in it at school. I knew firsthand the positive effects theatre had on my peers and me. But I did not know that I — an 18-year-old student from Omaha, Neb. — had a voice in explaining to others why theatre education is necessary. The National Arts Action Summit in Washington, D.C., gave me the tools to voice my opinion and opened my eyes to the power of students’ voices.

A couple of weeks after writing my essay, I found out I was the winner. In preparing to travel to Washington for two days to advocate for theatre, I had no idea where to begin. Writing about how theatre has affected me and how it is important to me is one thing; trying to convince others of its impact is another. I sat down with some of my teachers to brainstorm ideas. The major takeaway was how to approach my talks with different senators and representatives. I was speaking as a student in Omaha, Neb., but I also was representing theatre in schools across the country, so the issues I focused on with each senator and representative would change.

Keeping all this in mind, I embarked on my journey to D.C. The first day, I attended a Youth Advocacy Training Seminar. Essentially, the facilitators told us to focus on telling our stories. Legislators are told numbers all day, every day, but seeing the tangible effects of arts education makes a difference. As if I wasn’t already intimidated enough, other states had multiple delegates. Nebraska had just me (North Dakota had zero, but every other state had five or more people). I was very nervous because I had three visits set up the next day on Capitol Hill. Most of the other students had multiple adults with them who understood better than I how appropriation bills, which authorize government spending, worked.

Brannon Evans with award-winning actor Rita Moreno at the 2019 National Arts Action Summit.
Brannon Evans with award-winning actor Rita Moreno at the 2019 National Arts Action Summit. Photo by Helen Evans.

Learning about this in class versus living it was mind-opening. But the Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts & Public Policy that night silenced my fears and sparked a fire in me. The lecture was held at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor gave the introduction (to top it all off, she sat in the seats above me during the event and waved to me as I left). Her intro was followed by a musical performance from Broadway actor Brian Stokes Mitchell, then Oscar and Tony award-winning actress Rita Moreno called on us to be the change. I can’t really put into words how amazing that experience was. It was a night I will never forget.

I entered Tuesday very scared but ready to storm the Hill. I told my story, gave my pitch, then got all the contact emails from people I met so I could follow up. All in all, this was an interesting and rewarding trip. It is exciting to see firsthand how the processes of policy-making and lobbying work.

I think the hardest part about advocating is knowing where to start. The first thing I did was think about what specifically theatre education has provided me. Theatre became my outlet when I changed school districts right before high school. I felt very isolated because of my school’s lack of diversity, and I gained back my confidence and found my voice in theatre. Theatre also gave me a drive I applied to other areas of my life, including academics.

The most important thing to remember about advocacy is that, most of the time, you are not alone in how you feel about theatre education. I know countless people who have found a home or a voice through theatre. That is one of the reasons arts education is important — it has such a strong, beneficial effect on so many people.

Advocating for something you are passionate about does not have to be difficult. There are so many ways to advocate.

  • Wearing your Thespian gear
  • Bringing family and friends to a show
  • Putting together a show or skit that explores the importance and impact of theatre
  • Giving an elevator speech to someone in your school’s administration
  • Writing your local or state government officials about arts education

The ways to fight for something you care about are endless.

Sometimes students forget they have an important voice. This entire trip was a reminder to me. While it may seem as though legislation is an adult matter, theatre education directly affects students, so who better to tell the impact it has on us, than us? We are the ones who personally experience all the benefits of theatre education, and the only way to make that known is to share our stories. Whether you advocate by going straight to the Hill or simply by talking to your school administration about why your theatre classes and productions are important to you and your peers, advocacy is something anyone can and should do.

Learn more about Educational Theatre Association advocacy efforts online.

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