Dana Edell

Dana Edell is currently the executive director of SPARK Movement, a national activist movement working to end the sexualization of girls. Prior to her work with SPARK, she founded and served as executive director of viBe Theater Experience from 2002-2012. viBe is a nonprofit performing arts education organization that offers free afterschool arts programs to underserved teenage girls in New York City. She has produced and directed/ co-directed more than 60 plays, 7 CDs of original music and 10 music videos. She has over 15 years of experience as a teacher and leader in arts and advocacy programs with teenage girls. She co-founded and directed Inside/Out Performing Arts, a theater-making program for girls affected by the juvenile justice system in San Francisco and was a theater artist-in-residence in New York City public elementary and middle schools. Dana has taught theater and social change, arts education, solo performance and qualitative research methods at NYU, CUNY, the Bard College Prison Initiative at Bayview Women’s Prison and at Manhattan Marymount College where she developed a minor in Arts and Communities. She has a BA with honors in Classics/Ancient Greek from Brown University, an MFA in Theater Directing from Columbia University and a PhD in Educational Theater from NYU.

Following are notes from the inspiring guest lecture  given by Dana to the Community Collaborations Class on April 17. 

Dana’s first experience working in a community based program was in college in the SPACE program at Brown University where she  worked with incarcerated women creating performing arts programs.

After college, she and a friend founded the Inside Out Performing Arts program started in Fall 1998 in SF (pre-internet!). She also worked for Brava – SF – the oldest women’s theater in country with an extensive educational program.

She realized that she needed to be a working artist in order to be good teacher and director for the girls. She decided that she needed graduate school so went to Columbia for a MFA in Directing.

In the summer of 2002, she and Chandra Thomas, a fellow-student at Columbia, started a program for girls in theaters at Columbia with high school students from around Columbia. First performance “Say it Like Is”. This became viBe Theater Experience

Vibe Theater Experience: Caught in the Act (youtube link)

After 10 years, Vibe in now located in  YWCA bulding in Brooklyn – Atlantic Ave with other women/girl’s social justice organization. Now has staff in 7 people – 7-10 projects per year. Vibe stages many program including songmakers program – origianl music.. No censorship. Only rule no bad theater! s Just had 60th play produced and Vibe entering 10th year.

After reading academic books about girls and not seeing her experience with girls, decided she wanted to make an impact at a more theorectical and policy level. So she went to grad school at NYU in the Educational Theater Phd program. Her dissertation was on Vibe. She wrote it was she was still at Vibe working every day. Interviewed the girls as research. Developed new research methodology for girls when she realized that interviewing them in traditional manner was not  getting at deeper truth. Gave them tape recorders to all girls in study and wrote out questions and ask them to make a tape in response to the questions and to feel free to go anywhere with questions. Gave Dana access in a very different way. Her dissertation became about how girls perform themselves–how they want things to be. What was on tape recorder was very different than what came out in shows. In theater pieces, girls were perpetuating stereotypes while acting like they are telling real stories.

Dana’s approach is to give the girls support in everything they do but will challenge and question along the way.What does mean to provide space to tell difficult stories. Is  it great for girls? the audience? what are we doing about the stories they are telling. She asked herself: shouldn’t I be doing something about the content of the stories? Need more than just spaces to process. Wanted to get at roots of  problems – which brought her to SPARK.

 Spark Summitt – started about a year and half ago. Started by Deborah Tolman and group  of 5 other women  who were developmental psychologists. Began as a response to the APA report on the sexualization of girls– finally a study that said it was bad – what we all already knew but finally proof! SPARK makes girls part of solution. Dana became executive director since in May 2011. The board consisits of girls from 13-20 from around the country. Partners with 60 organizations. Read more about Spark here.

[Get inspired by following Sparks’s LEGO campaign]

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