FLINT, Michigan— Shop Floor Theatre Company is a place where visual stories come alive but they aren’t taking the traditional route like Annie or Chicago. They use the stage as a way of processing everyday issues of communities across Flint, Genesee to Harlem, New York.
“We find it very valuable to let the participants decide what we’re going to do, ” says Jones, “Here’s why that’s important to us, Flint is one city, but Flint has many sides. If we’re on the east side of Flint and we’re working in the community, their program is going to be totally different than what we’re going to do on another side of the city.”
Shop Floor began as a company in 2012 but had incorporated by 2014 to become the nonprofit it is today. Executive Director, Kendrick Jones describes the company as very organic, as opposed to leading a set direction, the Shop Floor Theater Company goes out into the community, asking what they want and need out of the program.
Just last summer, one of their programs resulted in a play entitled Making It a half and half collaboration between 24 teens, made up of kids from rural areas in Shiawassee County and Flint. They spent four days a week for seven weeks together over the summer, creating a play about their experience as teenagers and the complexities of their lives. Jones says what they found out was that they had a lot more in common than they thought.
This way of community collaboration is what motivates them to engage with youth that have been detained both here and in Detroit, battered women, people who have been in and out of the criminal justice system, and international communities. Sometimes the process results in projects like Immigrant Youth.
The documentary was created to help and American-born audience understands what international college students go through emotionally, mentally, and culturally integrating into American culture. It served as a humanizing process for international students and let them tell their stories themselves.
Shop Floor Theatre Company has no interest in going into a school or community for two or three weeks and creating and heading home, they want to build relationships and do the hard work of making connections with kids who sometimes desperately need it said Jones. This is often the case when the Shop Floor Theatre Company is invited to use their exercises to engage distracted students in the classroom, as was the case with a Flint school with a distracted group of 25 six grade boys. Teachers expressed that they were having trouble holding the troupe’s attention with math and science. The Shop Floor Theatre Company was asked to come up with some artistic ways to engage them.
“They are wonderful students, the majority of them were just bored, they just didn’t want to spend time with them and some of them just needed extra time and now we just got a call where they want to go from two days a week to five days a week.”
Through bringing art therapy to Flint schools, their programs help track how they’re doing with school competence and positive behavioral changes and in order to develop comprehensive feedback establishing relationships with students is imperative.
“It’s emotionally driven experience and what people tend to see most of the time in our program is young people doing great things. They’re doing their videos and movies and plays, but what they don’t see, and this is where the real special things happen, is the process. It’s getting there. They don’t see the tears and the frustration and those type of things and that’s where the real change happens and it takes time. It’s not one of those things where you can go in and fix it, you have to go through a process and we’re willing to do that as an organization”.
For questions or more information visit the Shop Floor Theatre company’s website.