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Interview: Ammunition Theatre Company

by Arielle Chiara

Founded by a group of artists and activists in 2015, Ammunition Theatre Company (Ammo) aims to engage and foster dialogue between communities by collaborating with local non-profit organizations to produce full-length theater productions. Ammo’s Artistic Director, Tina Huang and Philanthropic Director, Karla Mosley discuss their partnerships and upcoming projects for Folio. 

Arielle Chiara: Can you tell us about the founding and mission of Ammunition Theater Company?

ATC: Ammunition Theatre Company was founded in 2015 by Vinny Chhibber and Arjun Gupta who invited 14 founding members to create the company. Our current Co-Artistic Directors are Tina Huang, Bernardo Cubria, and Malcolm Barrett. Today we have grown in membership and associate membership. In addition to our philanthropic work, Ammo is a theater company that responds to the need for inclusivity and diversity in the Los Angeles theater scene. We produce full-length theater productions, reading series, and writing workshops that boost opportunities for underrepresented voices, specifically women and people of color. 

AC: Ammunition Theatre Company participates in annual partnerships with charities, social justice organizations, and non-profits, can you tell us about this process and how this unique relationship allows for theater to act as a tool for social change?

ATC: Each year, Ammo partners with a local non-profit organization to bring art to the communities they service. During the company’s inaugural year, Ammo partnered with My Friend’s Place, a non profit that assists and inspires homeless youth in Los Angeles to build self-sufficient lives. In our second year, we partnered with POPS the Club (Pain of the Prison System), an organization that offers community and voice to teens who have faced the pain of prison, jail, and deportation. Ammo members volunteered weekly at various high schools spread across LA county, many in underserved neighborhoods including Venice High School, Lawndale High School, El Camino High School in Woodland Hills, and Los Angeles High School of the Arts in Koreatown. At the end of the year, Ammo co-produced the POPS’ gala, which included a powerful performance of writings from the various high school clubs– with Ammo members and students performing alongside each other. Since some of the members of POPS are DREAM Act recipients, some of the pieces were performed by Ammo members, allowing them to maintain anonymity while also giving them an opportunity to have their voices be heard. Many of their writings will also be published in an anthology. Our current collaboration is with WISE & Healthy Aging, a nonprofit that advances the dignity and quality of life of older adults through leadership, advocacy, and high quality innovative services. We plan to bring storytelling and creative arts to the senior community, and end the year with another artistic event, with the hope of engaging and stimulating imaginations and making sure this particular population feels seen.

Ammo company members Michael J. Feldman, Karla Mosley & Kim Hamilton performing alongside POPS students from various schools around LA (Directed by: June Carryl) Photo: Courtesy of Ammunition Theatre Company

AC: How do you generate programming with these communities and what does the process of working with these organizations look like?

ATC: We do one piece a year that is based off our philanthropic residency. With WISE & Healthy Aging we are planning a performance either with the members of that community or based off of the work we have done with them. It’s similar in format to the work we did with My Friends Place. During that year Ammo lead weekly theater workshops and storytelling exercises called, “Find Your Story,” with the organization’s youth. The work culminated in a performance entitled “One Day” which included writing and performances by the youth alongside established LA artists. With each site we assess the way that they work and develop a program that fits for them. The intention is to bridge these communities, using theatre to connect populations.

What does Ammo see as the importance of community and the local in this dialogue? Why do you feel that theater is a particularly effective medium for facilitating these relationships?

ATC: Our first full-length production, “Judgment of Fools” by Bernardo Cubria, was very unconventional and each performance varied based on who our audience were. It relied heavily on audience participation and some times the social issues ranged between abuse in the foster care system to saving the dolphins. Theatre is alive and breathing and that time and space is shared with that specific group of people and therefore is unique to each performance. “How To Raise a Freeman” was a more traditional piece that dealt with the challenges and questions faced by a family raising a young black man in America. It was an important new work by Zakkiyah Alexander. When we produced this play many police shootings were being reported in the news. This piece often triggered dialogue in the lobby afterwards that was engaging and insightful. We continue to see the importance theatre plays in community for dialogue since it is an art form that requires people to be present. Theatre allows its audience to look into the eyes of it’s fellow community members because it provides a safe place for people to air their differences or celebrate their similarities. It is a great uniter. 

AC: What upcoming projects can you tell us about?

ATC: We have monthly performances at the Pico Theatre of “The Tragedy: A Comedy” that will run for the remainder of 2018. We are producing a full-length play in May: “The Giant Void in My Soul” written by Latinx playwright Bernardo Cubria which was developed in our writers workshops. Our director is Felix Solis. In the fall, our second full-length production will be “Fairy Tale Theatre: 18 and Over” by Michael J. Feldman. It is a musical and one of our largest endeavors yet. In between, we plan on producing another reading series of new plays and develop a project called “The Apartment Plays.” The concept is that we invite various theatre companies to commission a playwright to write a ten-minute play that has to be set inside of an apartment. The actors never rehearse, they show up and perform for each other in a casual setting in order to foster connection within the theatre community in LA. Finally, we plan to produce some kind of collaboration with WISE & Healthy Aging. Our mission, as always, is to find the best way to tell their stories and honor their existence.