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Jon Stancato '02, Stolen Chair Theater Co. Launch Playground 2011

Jon Stancato '02, Stolen Chair
Theatre Co. Launch Playground 2011

by Alisa Giardinelli

Jon Stancato '02 Photo by Aviva Meyer, 2009
Jon Stancato '02 talks to Stolen Chair Theatre members before a work-in-progress showing.

After recently celebrating its ninth anniversary, the Swarthmore alum-founded Stolen Chair Theatre Company launched PlayGround 2011, the second iteration of its community-supported theatre (CST) initiative. Adapted from the precepts of community-supported agriculture (CSA), the initiative is the Company's effort to connect theatergoers and theatermakers in an innovative and effective way.

In CSA, members give seed money to a farm in exchange for a season's worth of harvested produce. In Stolen Chair's PlayGround, members invest "seed" money in the group's theatrical process and reap their share of a season's worth of creative "harvests," in the form of monthly member meet-ups which present works-in-progress and thematically linked cultural and education events.

According to co-artisic director Jon Stancato '02, the company has several goals for the new season, including, perhaps not surprisingly, to increase the size of its membership community. "The more ideas in the room, the more exciting each event will be for all of us and the more likely we are to challenge ourselves to create work which takes us out of our comfort zone," he says. "We also hope to make each of our events more experiential than voyeuristic and invite the audience to be a more active partner by engaging their creative, rather than their critical, muscles."

In addition to finding audiences receptive to its approach, Stolen Chair's CST concept has also received favorable coverage in American Theatre [pdf], the Chronicle of Philanthrophy, and the Center for Sustainable Practices in the Arts Quarterly [pdf]. Their pilot season was also featured in the documentary and book We Are No Longer Strangers: Four Experiments in Arts and Entrepreneurship [pdf] (2010).

"I've definitely been pleasantly surprised by our PlayGround members' enthusiasm," Stancato says. "We're just thrilled that we've finally found a way to create theater that feels organic to us and tickled that people actually want to join us for the ride."

Stancato adds that he and media manager Aviva Meyer '01 and co-artistic director and resident playwright Kiran Rikhye '02 can trace a direct line from their experiences at Swarthmore to what they're trying to achieve with PlayGround and their CST model.

"After graduating, we had trouble finding a niche for the obsessively researched and intellectually playful collaboratively developed work that our time at Swarthmore inspired us to create," Stancato says. "So we created our own niche with the PlayGround, a community organized around the values we fondly recalled from our days in Professor of Theater Allen Kuharski's theater history seminar and directing workshops."