We are all activists by nature,” says Mark Abby VanDerzee, Education Director of Company One Theatre, referring to himself and the three other founders of the company, which is in residence at the Boston Center for the Arts. All four went to Clark University in Worcester and formed the company when they graduated in 1998 with the goal of creating performances that sit at the intersection of art and social change, always with an emphasis on diversity. “For us, diversity is not only of race, but of class, gender and form,” explains Shawn LaCount, Company One’s Artistic Director. Summer L. Williams, Associate Artistic Director, adds, “We promote conversations where previously unheard voices are heard.”
Williams says that another goal of the company is to “encourage the next generation to be civically minded.” To that end, company members teach the performing arts in eight Boston public schools. Since 2012, the Boston Foundation has made grants totaling $265,000 to the company. “The Boston Foundation’s funding was a game changer for us,” says Sarah Shampnois, another founder of the organization and Managing Director. “It helped us get to the next level of professionalism.”
Clearly, Company One is vital not only to Boston, but to the entire country. The American Theatre Wing (the Tony Awards), has called it, “One of the most inspiring and innovative theatre companies on our national landscape.”
The Boston Foundation’s support of Company One reflects the belief that a vibrant arts ecosystem requires a thriving and diverse community of artists and cultural institutions. To that end, in January, the Foundation released a major report on funding for the arts, comparing Boston with 10 other American cities. Boston was shown to have an extremely robust arts scene, but has less municipal support than the other cities. Now, as Boston moves forward with its “Boston Creates” cultural agenda, a major goal of the Foundation is to cultivate a community where all cultural traditions and expressions are respected, promoted and equitably resourced— and where opportunities to engage with the arts are accessible to everyone as a vital element of our city’s culture of innovation.