live / 2014

Imagination Workshop

Imagination Workshop

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Imagination Workshop

IW proposes applying its 45 years of proven service to the mentally ill to helping homeless veterans and veterans suffering from PTSD.


Please describe yourself.

Solo actor (just us on this project!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

We help mental health consumers live fuller lives using the theater arts.

Does your project impact Los Angeles County?

Yes (benefits a region of LA County)

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

  • San Fernando Valley
  • Westside

What is your idea/project in more detail?

One hundred homeless veterans and veterans suffering PTSD have a series of 20 weekly structured hour-long meetings (in groups of 15) where they are mentored by professional theater artists (actors, writers, directors) in the creation of four original theater works, which are then mounted professionally for the general public in Los Angeles professional theater venues, and are performed by the veterans and professional actors together, under the direction of a professional theater directer and produced by a professional theater producer.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

We train and supply the professional theater artists, and continue our 20 year relationship with services at the Veterans Administration such as New Directions, the Salvation Army, and the California State Home for Veterans, as well as other veteran homes and services all over Los Angeles in serving their clients (the veterans), but on a larger scale than before by supplying more artists in order to serve 100 vets. We arrange for the meeting space, and then rent the theater spaces for performance

How will your idea/project help make LA the healthiest place to LIVE today? In 2050?

Scientific testing at the UCLA Semel Institute has shown that among those who suffer mental illness, participation in Imagination Workshop’s theater workshops for the mentally ill leads to a higher functioning, better life, which includes improved social skills, higher functioning in job interviews, the establishing of ego boundaries through the experience of creating and embodying fictional characters, better participation in groups and programs, and the ability to stay out of the hospital. Our work with homeless veterans and those suffering PTSD in the past has been very successful and helped hundreds of vets live fuller lives. By helping 100 Los Angeles veterans live healthier lives, we help La become the healthiest place to live today. By creating a continuing program that reaches out and serves this many vets every year, we help make a heathy LA in 2050.

Whom will your project benefit?

Our project will directly benefit 100 homeless veterans and veterans suffering PTSD, their families, and their community. Through professional theater presentations, we will reach audiences of several hundred theater-goers and share with them the nature of our work and the needs of our veterans.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

In 2012, IW, with a a grant from Metabolic Studio, led 20 weekly sessions at the Calvet Center with 40 senior vets and homeless vets from the California State Home for Veterans and the Salvation Army Veteran Home that resulted in an original theater production at the Odyssey theater, seen by 150 people. From 2000 to 2010, IW ran a weekly group of homeless veterans at New Directions that resulted in three original theater productions at Theater Theater and The Greenway Theater. All of these organizations have issued IW a standing invitation to work with their vets, but have not, of late, been able to fund our work. With funding, IW is definitely invited to work with these organizations.

How will your project impact the LA2050 “Live” metrics?

  • Rates of homelessness
  • Rates of mental illnesses

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

Imagination Workshop seeks to help psychiatric patients, homeless veterans, at-risk youth, and other disenfranchised individuals synthesize thoughts and feelings in the realm of metaphor through creating and portraying fictional characters far removed from themselves under the direction of specially-trained professional theatre artists. We provide weekly hour-long sessions in which two or three IW theatre artists lead fifteen mental health patients in structured exercises, based on acting and playwriting training techniques, that lead the patients to create fictional characters far removed from themselves, improvise and write scenes and sometimes whole plays featuring those characters, and finally to embody those characters on stage, in a professionally mounted production, staged and designed by professional theater arts.Among the results of this experience for the patients are often improved social skills, enhanced performance in job interviews, and higher self-esteem, all buttressed by the accomplishment of writing and acting in a play. Scientific studies at the UCLA Semel Institute have proven these results.

Imagination Workshop currently serves psychiatric outpatients at the UCLA Semel Institute, seniors suffering from Alzheimer’s at the Virginia House in Sherman Oaks, and high school students with behavioral issues at Olympic High School in Santa Monica. In the recent past we have served homeless veterans at New Directions and the Salvation Army at the VA in Westwood, aging veterans suffering PTSD at the California State Home for Veterans, and the criminally insane at Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino and Metropolitan Hospital in Norwalk.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

  1. Veterans participation in groups, the writing of an original script, and the public performance.

  2. Doing screenings of the veterans’ participation in their programs (12 Step, New Directions, etc.) in partnership with staff at New Directions, Calvet, and the Salvation Army, before after and during their participation with IW.

  3. Follow up reports on the participating veterans’ progress in job finding, self-care, sobriety (for 12 step veterans, and in controlling PTSD.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

  1. Everyone has the creative spark.

  2. The experience of creating and performing original theater involves disciples that positively effect the happiness and fullness of life for the mentally ill.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

Weekly sessions with homeless and PTSD veterans could begin immediately at with Calvet, the Salvation Army, or New Directions, or at a rented space. The connections with the veteran agencies are already established. During six months of weekly sessions with our professionally trained theater artists, the scripts for the four theater works will be written by staff and clients together. Each theater work will take two months of rehearsal, which can all be simultaneous. The theater is a rental, and the publicity is a three month process. IW has been creating original theater with the mentally ill for 45 years.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

  1. Getting the veterans from the various agencies to meet together at one time is a difficult problem. With this funding we could solve it by having several groups going that offer an array of meeting times.

  2. Scheduling a professional theater venue in LA with performance space available at the right time. This is solved because IW has long-standing relationships with LA area theaters, and they do their best to accommodate us.

What resources does your project need?

  • Money (financial capital)
  • Volunteers/staff (human capital)
  • Publicity/awareness (social capital)
  • Community outreach
  • Quality improvement research