SpeakeasyDC Board Member JR Russ
My name is JR Russ. You may know me as a SpeakeasyDC board member. You may not know that I am also a native Washingtonian. I went to a small, all-boys, private school here in DC, with a graduating class of seventy-five. I was one of a handful of guys that stayed in the area. I have gone to several colleges in the area, making friends during my studies only to see many move away again. I am constantly reminded that for a multitude of individuals, Washington, DC is a very temporary place. So community is something that has always been challenging. Something you should also know is that I was a dance major in college. After graduating, I committed myself to pursuing a life in the arts, whatever that meant. But over time, I found the work I was participating in less and less fulfilling. In and of itself, it was wonderful, but by the time I finished grad school, I realized what I was missing was creating meaningful work for the communities I found myself a part of, the communities that were not transitory. So I started doing that, I started collaborating and creating work inspired by the stories within the communities.
Coincidentally enough, this pivot towards co-making community-based work also happened at a time that a friend introduced me to SpeakeasyDC. I had met him at Capital Fringe, where I had interned in the summer of ‘09, and he invited me to a show. I don’t think he realized it at the time, but John Kevin Boggs would forever change my life, a life that had pivoted and would seem to have naturally led to this place anyway. It was a place where, as an artist and producer, I saw the beauty of not having to craft artificial stories to share, but appreciate the craft and beauty of simply sharing the stories we already have. I got up on stage and shared a story of how I learned, learned that I loved dance. I shared a story of how I loved in high school, both myself and another, and brought my boyfriend to prom. I shared a story of how I lost, lost family to mental illness. And I shared this all in a very safe space with a supportive community, a community that supports through the whole process, from the person helping you prep your story to tell, to all those who gather to simply listen to each other, to hear each other’s truths.
The arts are going through an interesting change right now. Just last month, the James Irvine Foundation released a study on how Californians are redefining arts participation. One of their first insights is that “people are making art more often than going to art events”. I would suggest that it is a not a trend isolated to California, and that SpeakeasyDC and our community is a part of such a trend. We have the best of both, as while what we share with audiences are events to go to, the foundation of the shows are based on the possibility and the opportunity everyone in the community has to share their story, to share their truth, up close and in person. It’s how we get to know each other better, and it’s how we get to claim our own space, even if only for a night here and there, as a community.
Person by person, story by story, we become a bigger, better, more inclusive community. And having been in DC my whole life, it is a beautiful thing to see and to be a part of. SpeakeasyDC is in the direct business of telling your stories, live, on stage. One thing I appreciate about the work we do is that, as a direct result, we are building community, we are showing that Washington, DC isn’t just a pitstop in life for many people. The next time someone references moving to DC, see if they mention when they first moved here, how long they’ve been here. Also, I’ve never seen so many people put away their devices, and sit to be respectful of and listen to just one person speak.
Being on the SpeakeasyDC board is just another such opportunity, to speak and be heard. And it is an essential service which the community provides to support the staff, especially as the organization continues to be committed to providing a platform for diverse voices. This means having a diversity of voices present at every part of our process, from our teachers to our audience, from our tellers to our board. You might’ve heard the saying, “if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu”. And I find this true with some of the larger, more established arts organizations I know of. And I find it lovely that at SpeakeasyDC, there is no menu, but a large table for everyone to sit at, based on the foundation that is our stage, an opportunity for everyone to participate. So if you’ve ever thought about how else you could support SpeakeasyDC, consider being a board member. It is an opportunity to learn and develop skills. It is an opportunity to lend and share the inner resources you already have. And it is an opportunity to lead and help guide and advise staff. And all this is to say, it is a tremendous and fulfilling way to give back to a community that you are a part of.
If you love what SpeakeasyDC does, are interested in helping us continue to thrive and expand the art of storytelling – then we want to talk with you!
Please contact me - JR Russ, Board Development and Recruitment Chair at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.