IN 2019, THESPIAN Brannon Evans got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: She was invited to read lines with the cast of Broadway’s To Kill a Mockingbird in front of an audience of elected officials, friends of theatre, the show cast and production team at a special event in the Library of Congress.

And it all started with an essay: a piece about the inspiration she gained from being in her school’s Mockingbird production, which won that year’s Democracyworks student essay competition.

Where could an essay lead you? You’ll never find out if you don’t enter. Here are four reasons to apply, as explained by previous winners.

MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD.

The winning essay will be published on Dramatics.org, and the winner will be asked to create a video reading his or her essay to be featured online and through social media — elevating your message to Thespians everywhere and the public at large.

“Sharing my theatre story for DemocracyWorks has helped me to spread my message of inclusion in the arts to a national audience,” says 2020 winner Lena Dougherty. “As a hard-of-hearing actress and singer, I am passionate about helping everyone find a place where they can be their authentic selves. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to have my story heard and read by people all over the world. I hope it has encouraged others to open their circles to people who are different.”

Evans says her DemocracyWorks experience helped her recognize her power and her story’s significance. “Before that moment, I didn’t really think anyone cared or would really get much from hearing my experiences and perspective. But after sharing my essay, I’ve heard that it helped some people gain the confidence to share their own stories and gave validation to others who felt seen after hearing it.”

2019 Democracyworks winner Brannon Evans (center) with the 2018-19 International Thespian Officers. Photo by Katie Ferchen.

SHARE YOUR LOVE OF THEATRE.

The Democracyworks essay competition gives you the opportunity to advocate for something you love, and to share how theatre education has been a lifeline for you and has made an impact on you.

“Advocating about the arts just made me fall even deeper in love with it. I clearly love theatre and am passionate about it because I am studying it and want to pursue a career and life in it,” says Evans, who went on to study theatre in college. “Being able to put into words that love and passion and share with others why they should care was very important and impactful for me because it solidified the importance of what I am doing. It was also so inspiring to be advocating for something that I loved with people who loved it just as much as I do.”

DEVELOP YOUR ADVOCACY SKILLS.

The competition winner earns the right to take part in the National Arts Action Summit, sponsored by Americans for the Arts, and virtually visit with legislators to talk about the value of arts education. The winning essayist takes part in all scheduled events, including legislative training on current arts issues circulating on Capitol Hill.

If you’re interested in getting training on how to advocate for the arts effectively, Evans encourages you to apply. “I also would apply if you just want to learn. I absorbed so much knowledge and experiences from that weekend that I will cherish with me for a long time,” she says. “There was just so much about the arts and the legislative aspect of arts education that I was not aware of, and I got to understand the importance of the education I take for granted, that others don’t have access to as easily.

“The experience helped me learn the full scale that my advocating can happen on. Yes, this specific experience was on a national level, but it reminded me of the importance of local advocacy and advocacy in my school as well. The training gave me the tools to express the importance of theatre education and what my representatives could do to support that.”

Brannon Evans using her advocacy skills in conversations with legislators at the 2019 National Arts Action Summit. Photo by Katie Ferchen.

FORM CONNECTIONS WITH OTHERS.

At the National Arts Action Summit, which is happening virtually this year, the winning essayist will have the opportunity to make connections with arts advocates from throughout the country, and to meet with their legislators on behalf of a wide range of arts issues, including arts education.

“At the Summit I got connected with the ITO and met other students who I still am in contact with. I also met my senator and representatives and made that type of connection,” Evans says. “There were so many people at the events who all shared the same love of theatre and arts education in general, and we got to exchange stories and contact information, which was amazing.”

If Evans and Dougherty’s experiences have inspired you, it’s time to get writing. This year’s prompt:
How does theatre support your social and emotional well being and foster a welcoming school environment?

Learn more about the Democracyworks essay competition guidelines and apply online by February 7.

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