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Leah Lamb's "Engage" Program Featured in Richmond Times

NCDD member Leah Lamb’s innovative theatre/dialogue program was featured on Monday in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. An article by Michael Paul Williams called “Theater as an Agent of Change” outlined Leah’s hopes to inspire civic engagement and community building among youth through her “Engage” program – a blend of theatrical performances and documentary footage conveying the civic and political experiences of Richmond residents. Engage will open September 16 through 18 at Virginia Commonwealth University. Click below for the full article.

Theater as an Agent of Change
by MICHAEL PAUL WILLIAMS

POINT OF VIEW

Monday, August 23, 2004

For Leah Lamb, the world is a stage where every young person must play a part.

Lamb is the founder of The Performance Initiative, which seeks to use theater as a vehicle to inspire civic engagement and community building.

Toward that end, she will present “Engage,” a blend of theatrical performances and documentary footage conveying the civic and political experiences of Richmond residents.

This “Event for Citizenship,” directed by Randy Strawderman, is a pilot project hosted by Virginia Commonwealth University. It will open Sept. 16-18 at the new VCU Plaza.

For those unlikely to attend a theatrical performance on civic engagement, Lamb and company will take the show on the road through a series of “breakout” sessions starting this week.

A videographer and a troupe of five local actors will visit local coffee shops, bus stops, schools and parks for miniperformances “designed to get people’s attention, to get them thinking and asking questions,” Lamb said.

The performers will then pass out “Engage” fliers to the audience, some of whom will be interviewed on camera for footage to be shown at the main event.

“Engage” will also offer dialogues by facilitators trained by Hope in the Cities, on-site voter registration, information about local political campaigns and interest groups and face-to-face meetings between residents and political leaders.

Lamb is community-development coordinator for the Carver-VCU Partnership, serving as a liaison to the neighborhood along the university’s northern border.

The Burlington, Vt., native grew up “somewhere between Vermont, Virginia and New York City,” graduating from Richmond’s Open High School in 1991 and moving to New York to be an actress.

Underwhelmed by both her prospects and the roles available to women, she drifted toward playwriting. “I want to speak my own words. That’s what it became about.”

She moved to Arizona and enrolled at Prescott College, where she fashioned her own major in “outdoor experimental education and environmental education through performance.”

Upon earning her degree, she worked several years with at-risk youth in therapeutic wilderness programs, assisted a Mount Everest expedition and worked as a naturalist in Alaska before returning to Richmond to earn her master’s in social work from VCU.

In her new engagement, she has the opportunity to combine her theater background with her community activism.

She was concerned about a crisis of civic engagement that had young people exiting stage left from political life – abstaining from voting, detached from political leaders and indifferent about current events.

She decided to create a performance that she hoped would establish a connection between voting and the issues about which young people are most passionate.

Lamb hopes to impart the message that it is no longer enough to vote a candidate into office. What happens on Election Day is merely the First Act – a foreshadowing of what’s to come.

“I’m really sick of the vote-or-die initiatives, because voting is not enough,” she said. “Voting is a symptom of quality civic engagement.”

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Sandy Heierbacher
Sandy Heierbacher co-founded the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) with Andy Fluke in 2002, with the 60 volunteers and 50 organizations who worked together to plan NCDD’s first national conference. She served as NCDD's Executive Director between 2002 and 2018. Click here for a list of articles and resources authored by Sandy.

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