Heads Up Productions and 2012 Burners Without Borders Grants

Heads Up Productions performs a devised scene entitled "Going Home" at the 2011 Art in the Square, a celebration of Akron's independent artists.

A major staple in Burner culture, Burners Without Borders, has been assisting people internationally for the last seven years, by taking the Ten Principles off-playa and out into the world. We first wrote about Burners Without Borders in our article about Project Thunderstick, a team of Burners who flew to Japan after the 2011 tsunami to aid in relief work. For the last four years, BWB granted over $20,000 to civic projects. This year they will award over $5,000 in grants, each ranging from $100-$1,000. This year’s deadline for grant applications is right around the corner, April 6th. Answer three questions that describe your project and commit to completing the project by December 31, 2012.

Last year, ten programs were funded through Burners Without Borders grants, including a health education program in Peru, a school in Guatemala and a living library in Russia. Although BWB has done a large amount of international based work, grant recipients don’t have to cross the Atlantic to make the cut. Heads Up Productions, a theater company in Akron, Ohio; were awarded $600 last year to assist in their program that helps youth battle discrimination by raising awareness.

Heads Up founder, Benjamin Rexroad, and his partner, purchased their first Burning Man tickets in the 2010 holiday sale which lead to their BWB grant. Benjamin describes the natural progression, “I got subscribed to Jack Rabbit Speaks and read it pretty religiously and that’s where I saw the opportunity.” By June 2011, Benjamin and his team were notified about their BWB grant. After receiving funding, Heads Up Productions began interactive role-playing workshops at four different schools in the Akron area.

From left to right: Ensemble members Nici Romo and Eliza Jacops perform free street theatre outside of The Market Path, one of Heads Up's biggest supporters and Akron's only fair trade store.

The workshops are tailored to the needs of each school. They battle a variety of social issues ranging from classism, discrimination based on sexual orientation, and bullying. Students are separated into several groups, each with one a common goal – build the best community. The students are unaware of what social group they represent. Actors from Heads Up Productions interact with the groups, treating them differently based on their status. According to Benjamin, one of the goals of the workshop is to “get them [students] to realize what institutionalized racism is and what their prejudices are that they might not know that they have.” There have been a variety of student reactions to the role playing exercises. “Some students really just break down,” says Benjamin. “There was one school…it was really interesting. The Caucasian, high high-class group in a middle school refused to take the good treatment. They started to act out so the actors would treat them poorly so that they’re like the other groups.” After the workshops are finished, the Heads Up crew allow the students to decompress by talking about the experience. The actors help students create action plans on various levels (individual, class and school) that address peer tension. In response to the Heads Up workshop, one middle school was even able to develop a student play to deal with issues on bullying.

Heads Up Productions donated time to help Nazareth Housing raise funds for their low-cost home ownership program. Nazareth purchases and rehabilitates homes for ownership by low-to-moderate income families. They also assists with the rehab work, financing, client financial literacy and other aspects of preparing for home ownership.

It’s the hope of Heads Up Productions that these interactive workshops will teach students how to cope with similar real-life situations. Representatives from different schools sat in on the Burners Without Borders- funded Heads Up workshops, and many are interested in bringing the program to their school next year.

When asked what piece of advice Benjamin would give to future BWB grant applicants his wisdom was pretty straight forward, “Just fucking do it!” He describes his reasoning a bit further, “The worst they’re going to say is no. The grant was a catalyst to sit down and write what the program was. I had notes and thoughts but I hadn’t put it down as a nice package before. If nothing else, it got me to do that and figure it out. Once it’s on paper and not just in your head it’s that much closer to reality. Words have impact, you know.”

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