Our mission is tell the stories that matter to Nashville as we train theater artists, produce socially conscious plays, create new work, expand what counts as theater in our community, and help artists and audiences find their authentic voice on stage and in life.
Actors Bridge was founded in 1995 by Bill Feehely and Vali Forrister. Bill saw the need to create ongoing professional actor training in Nashville and Vali longed to bring to her hometown the new socially-relevant plays she was seeing in New York, Chicago and London.
In the last 20 years, the company has trained over 4,000 students in the Meisner Technique. Those actors have gone on to perform on local, regional and national stages as well as in film and television.There are few local productions that do not include a performer in some way influenced by Actors Bridge training.
As a professional theatre company, we have produced over 90 plays, including 14 World Premieres and 60 Nashville premieres.
In 1995, Actors Bridge began in the Belmont Little Theatre. From 1996-2003,we were the theatre-in-residence at St. Augustine’s Chapel on the campus of Vanderbilt University. In 2003, we became pioneers in Germantown at the Neuhoff Site. In 2013, we joined the revitalization of Charlotte Avenue by moving our studio space to the LeQuire Gallery building. In 2015, we outgrew our LeQuire space, we moved three blocks further down Charlotte to the Darkhorse Chapel (located directly behind Darkhorse Theater).
In 2007, we took a risk on two emerging theater artists graduating from Belmont University’s Department of Theatre and Dance. Jessika Malone and Mitch Massaro honed their artistry at Actors Bridge over the next 7 years and then headed to graduate school. In 2016, they returned to Actors Bridge Jessika with an MFA in directing from Illinois State University and Mitch with an MFA in technical design and production from the Yale School of Drama.
Actors Bridge performs at our Darkhorse Chapel studio and a Belmont University’s Troutt Theater Complex where we are a professional theater company in residence.
Season: Our 2016 world premiere production of THE ICE TREATMENT by Nate Eppler is currently one of 6 finalists for the American Theatre Critics Association/Steinberg Award for Best New Play Produced Outside New York. This year’s finalists include Pulitzer and Tony winners (Tracy Letts, Michael Christoffer, David Rabe) and nationally recognized companies that regularly produce brand new plays (Steppenwolf, Court Theatre). ABE’s operating budget and national profile is not on scale with these other theatres, which makes the accomplishment even more significant.
Our recent production of Dominique Morisseau’s DETROIT ‘67 included post-show community conversations with Black Lives Matter’s Rhina Anthony, Nashville Vice Mayor David Briley, Infinity Fellowship’s Rev. jeff obafemi carr, the cast and director discussing the play’s historical content and Nashville’s current political climate. Our annual production of THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES by Eve Ensler at City Winery featured a diverse cast, including Nashville Mayor Megan Barry.
ALAG: In 2016, Vanderbilt University’s graduate program in Community Research and Action chose to study and design evaluation tools for ALAG. Year one implementation is demonstrating ALAG’s effect on GRRRLS and the circles in which they interact (school, family, neighborhood, faith group). To add to existing evidence of ALAG’s success: no reported drug abuse, truancy, unwanted pregnancy plus an increase in self-esteem, improved relationships, academic excellence, intolerance of bullying and hope for the future.
SFF: SFF has tripled in size in both performance offerings and attendance. Last year, over 100 local artists performed during the 4-day festival celebrating a diverse array of disciplines including aerial dance, puppetry, comedy, clowning, solo performance, new play readings, and family/sensory friendly offerings.
Training: We are formalizing our professional mentorship and cross-training program to provide structured, ongoing support to the next generation of theatre makers.
Season: Furthering our mission to create new work, we plan to produce two world premiere productions in our 2017-18 season, including WE SEE WHAT HAPPEN: An Immigration Play by Jonathan Alexandratos and HAUNTED: A Nashville Experience devised by ABE in collaboration with FALL Dance, Abrasive Media, and Sailors & Maidens Puppet Theater.
ALAG: We are exploring opportunities to open ALAG chapters in neighborhoods surrounding Nashville. We plan to offer facilitator training to teaching artists and ALAG graduates to staff new chapters.
Actors Bridge offers a tremendous array of important and highly regarded programs with a full-time staff of only one person. We need funding to create full-time salary support for Associate Artistic Director Jessika Malone and ongoing contract support in fundraising, marketing, grantwriting, and office management.
Another measure of success is participant improvement as tracked through pre- and post-program surveys and year-round follow-up with an adult support person in each GRRRL’s life (GRRRL VIPs). We examine emotional well-being, resiliency, self-agency, family and peer relationships and academic performance.
To date, 100% of our graduates have gone to college. There is no reported drug use, truancy or pregnancy among GRRRL participants. They do report a significant increase in self-confidence, academic excellence, improved relationships with family and hope for the future.
Of course, the most meaningful measures of success always come in the form of stories: the GRRRL who becomes the first in her family to go to college; the one who stands up to an abusive father and helps her mother find the courage to move to a safe place; the bully who recognizes her behavior and becomes an anti-bullying activist; the girl who thought her only options were teacher or secretary who expands her dreams and becomes a National Science Foundation fellow getting a PhD in atmospheric chemistry.
Our first generation of GRRRLS is now entering graduate school in fields like social work, law, creative writing, atmospheric chemistry, nursing. We continue to maintain relationships with 90% of past program participants. Many report that they discovered their passion for the career they are now pursuing because of an initial inspiration by a guest artist at ALAG.
Vali is the chief executive officer and producing artistic director of the Actors Bridge Ensemble, which she co-founded with Bill Feehely in 1995. She has produced over 90 productions for the company, has acted and directed over 25, and authored six. She created and serves as vision-keeper of Act Like A GRRRL, a year-round autobiographical writing and performance program for teenage girls to gain public voice by articulating their lived experience.
Vali is a recipient of the 2016 Louisa Nelson Award from Green Brier Distillery, Nashville Business Journal's 2013 Women of Influence Award as a “Trailblazer,” Vanderbilt's Women Mentoring Women Award, Broadway World's STAR Award and is consistently listed as one of Broadway World - Nashville's "Top Directors" and "Top Actors." She was a member of Leadership Nashville's Class of 2014.
Vali is a member of Actors Equity Association, and her work as an actor has been called “a tour-de-force,” and “seemingly effortless” by the Tennessean, “consistently excellent,” “major league” and “expert” by the Nashville Scene, and “a lesson on the acting craft without revealing that craft,” by stagecritic.com. BroadwayWorld describes her acting as "exhilarating and heartbreaking at the same time,"
Vali holds a master's degree in Performance Studies. Her thesis work in the scripting and performance of intimate personal narratives as a means of personal and social change became the research basis for the highly-praised ACT LIKE A GRRRL program.
Vali is on faculty at Belmont and Lipscomb universities where she teaches the Meisner Technique.
Broadway World recently celebrated Vali’s 20th anniversary as ABE’S Producing Artistic Director, praising her leadership of Nashville’s “cutting-edge, forward-thinking, boundary-pushing, status quo-challenging theater company that has helped to make Music City USA somehow more creative and more welcoming to artisans who flock here to pursue their dreams.”
Indirect Public Support HelpIndirect public support represents revenue received through solicitation campaigns. This includes funding United Way and other federated fundraising organizations, but does not include donor designated contributions.
Earned Revenue HelpEarned revenue represents income generated in direct exchange for a product or service.Earned income includes income from government contracts.
Actors Bridge experienced deficits in fiscal years 2014 and 2015. These deficits were covered by budget reserves. During those two years, expenses outpaced revenue due to two major factors. First, ABE was forced to move from its 10-year location due to gentrification in the Germantown. We were given only 30 days notice for this move. The related expenses (moving, build-out of new space) were unplanned and therefore not budgeted. Operating expenses increased by 300% at our new location.
At the same time, ABE lost 3 of its 4 part-time staff. One retired; Two took leaves of absence to pursue graduate degrees in theater. These departures impacted our ability to generate revenue through classes and production income.
While it has been an adjustment, in 2016, we ended the year with no deficit and a significant increase in operating budget.
In FY 2017, part time staff on leave to pursue graduate degrees have returned with Master of Fine Arts degrees to help bolster the future of the company.
All Tennessee families should have access to high quality, developmentally appropriate child care and after-school programming for their children, regardless of income level.
In Tennessee, gang presence has been on the rise since the late 1980s and early 1990s, when gangs first made a concerted push into the state. Since 2011, police have identified at least 5,000 gang members in Davidson County, and gang-related crimes have increased by 25%. Meanwhile, cities with 50,000 or fewer inhabitants have seen gang-related crimes triple in frequency nationally since 2005.
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