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Meet Katherine Harroff of Circle Circle dot dot & The Old Globe

Today we’d like to introduce you to Katherine Harroff.

Katherine, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Ever since I was very little, I loved all things performance-based. I acted in every school thing I could, sang in every choir, danced (badly) in every dance class, and couldn’t get enough. I had a rocky childhood, so it became my refuge.

When I got to undergrad (UC Riverside) and majored in Theatre, I found myself feeling dismayed by the shallow/superficial/inaccessible parts of the performing arts. I remembered that when I was little, I was fortunate enough to be influenced by an afterschool program that included performance in its teachings and this changed my life.

I was also growing into my social-activist backbone at this time and found myself wishing the art that I was creating could be used as a tool to improve the world’s conditions, just as it did for me as a child. I experienced first-hand the saving nature of the arts, and I couldn’t stop wanting the art I made to do the same. Acting and playing on stage is fun, but I wanted to go deeper and open channels of communication, make spaces for creative outlets that weren’t afraid to explore real, challenging stories, real lives, and inevitably have a real impact on the world it is presenting to.

When I got to Grad School (Arizona State University), I was still working from a performance perspective. I got into Grad School for my acting skills, but once I was in the University I did everything else because I was being exposed to new worlds in performance that better aligned with my artistic mission- to use theatre as a catalyst for positive change- not just something to show off within.

It was there that I was introduced to Augusto Boal, the father of Theatre of the Oppressed, which eventually introduced me to Community-Based Theatre and the art of devising original plays or performance experiences with and for and about real people. Once I found this language and learned about this process, I was hooked. This time in school greatly prepared me for what was next in my career and pushed me to find creative work that served humanity, not just myself.

Upon Graduating, I was sent to San Diego for an Artistic Internship at a local theatre company. I hit the ground running- looking for work that resembled the Community-Inspired projects I loved in school, ultimately coming up empty. In 2008, there was very little creative Community-Engagement work happening in the area and I wound up taking a stint with the Playwrights’ Project to help them launch their Telling Stories program- which provided Playwriting skills to local foster youth. This program and the work was incredibly fulfilling and I stayed with them for 2 years before seeking new alternatives.

After a handful of years of auditioning for local shows and working with the Playwright’s Project, I realized if I wanted to do the kind of work I really wanted in this community, I was going to need to do it myself. I could audition for Our Town and Into the Woods until forever. I could jump from part to part, from job to job, or I could create something from scratch for my community/with my community.

And thus Circle Circle dot dot was born. With a crew of some of my most trusted artistic friends, we set out to develop original scripts inspired by real stories in our community. We all saw something was missing in the San Diego theatre scene: a place where anyone/everyone is welcomed. Both as artists and as the stories that are reflected on stage.

Using the teachings of Augusto Boal I created workshops and interview series that led to the development of over 20 original plays that CCdd produced and premiered in San Diego and Arizona. We’ve shared true stories inspired by LARPers, Drag Queens, the homeless population, NASA Scientists, Derby Girls, and much more.

The work of CCdd was at first very unique, and slowly also became a niche as the world caught up to the value of Community-driven work and Arts Engagement. My efforts with CCdd led me to apply for a position at The Old Globe in 2012- originally titled “Community Artist”. A position I grabbed, thankfully, and has blissfully complimented the work I developed with Circle and vice-versa.

Through the “Community Artist” position I created and implemented the Community Voices program in San Diego- a Playwriting/Acting/Storytelling workshop that was developed to encourage adults that have no theatre experience to share their lives through theatre & playwriting. This program has lasted extensively because of the great impact it has with the community- empowering them to find their artistic voice.

Due to the success of Community Voices, I have had the great honor to develop another program for The Old Globe in 2016: coLAB. coLAB is a workshop/rehearsal process where community members and local artists work together to develop a fully-conceived original performance from scratch. This performance is then put on in a festival-setting that the community collaborators are involved in. For example, we have produced original works inspired by Juneteenth, STAND DOWN (an annual service for homeless Veterans), and SAY San Diego’s Dia de los Muertos.

This brings me up to my current life: one where I am developing/writing/directing original works for my company, AND doing the same with The Old Globe. I now hold the title of “Arts Engagement Programs Associate” at the Globe and am still the Artistic Director and Head Playwright for Circle Circle dot dot. It’s a wonderful existence!

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Roads are never smooth.

My obstacles include:
Resources: even if you’re a budget-cutting expert (which I am), you can’t make theatre without money. I often think folks in the community believe I am flushed with money because I started my own company when this couldn’t be more opposite from the truth. And if we want to continue to produce works, we have to continue to fundraise and hustle aggressively to make it happen. I do not have a trust fund or magical outside support, the work you see on our stages is a direct result of HUSTLE.

Gender: being a lady boss is never easy. The arts, in particular, share their own expanse of problems when it comes to respecting women in a position of leadership. I have been harassed on and off stage. By people, I thought I could trust and people I knew I couldn’t. I have had male actors demand that I expand their roles to “make them look better” in the plays I’ve written. I’ve had male directors put their hands on my body for absolutely no reason.

I’ve been told to my face that I am “not worthy” of the opportunities I’ve had because I refused to focus my writing work on cis white people. I’ve been told that I’m not pretty enough, frequently. That I need to lose weight, AND gain weight. I still get called “doll” and “sweetie” by adults that should know better. If I let the bias against my gender impact me, I simply would have been gone a long time ago. But yes, it’s real.

Artistic Director/Playwright (Circle Circle dot dot) & Arts Engagement Programs Associate (The Old Globe) – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Circle Circle dot dot is a 501(c)3 Non-Profit Arts Organization that was founded in 2010. Our mission is: Circle Circle dot dot engages audiences by creating original Theatre devised from the stories of our community. We allow each new development to be entirely collaborative and inclusive with a broad scope of the art world. We do this to bring Theatre back to the root of what has always made it important: the ability to allow the world to see and understand itself through stimulating, informative, and highly entertaining art.

One of our most well-known works is our “San Diego, I Love You” series. This production features real San Diego-based loved storied and is set in the real-world backdrop where these true tales took place. We just wrapped up our 6th iteration: “San Diego, I Love You #swiperight”, where audiences met us at Thorn Street Brewery and followed a tour guide around a neighborhood to watch different scenes staged in 5 site-specific locations.

At The Old Globe, I am specifically part of the incredible Arts Engagement Department. Our mission is: to make theatre matter to more people and to strengthen the connections between our neighbors and our institution. The Globe’s Department of Arts Engagement was created to share with individuals and families a chance to experience theatre, perhaps even for the first time.

Our work opens new doors to creativity through theatre-based activities that encourage direct participation in art-making and that engage San Diegans with every level of the institution. The Arts Engagement team strives to make the Globe truly accessible to its neighbors through a combination of new and existing programs that are innovative, participatory, and multigenerational. Arts Engagement creates new bonds of community and deepens existing ones.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
Success to me is sustainability. Since all of my work is in connection to the Community, I search for a short term and long term clues to monitor impact.

Short term: does the community want my programs to come back once they’re finished? Do I get positive responses from the participants and the partnering organizations? Does the audience come back? Do I hear positive feedback? Do they connect with each other through this experience?

Long-term success: Are my students in the arts now? Have they gone on to manifest a desire to continue their connection with theatre? Are they able to express themselves better? Do they invest in their community? Do they create art with and for their community? Are they finding their own success in the arts?

These questions are how I define my success.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Rich Soublet, Toni Robin, Anna Rebek

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