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Cornerstone Theater Company, Inc.

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Nonprofit Overview

Causes: Arts & Culture, Arts Education, Cultural & Ethnic Awareness, Theater

Mission: Cornerstone Theater Company makes new plays with and about communities.

Results: In its 29 years, Cornerstone Theater Company has commissioned more than 50 playwrights, produced over 80 new works, trained over 2000 students in our methodology, and worked with tens of thousands of people across the country. In 2006 we embarked on The Justice Cycle, six plays exploring how laws shape or disrupt communities. It launched in 2007 with Los Illegals, written by our Artistic Director Michael John Garcés, in collaboration with day laborers, domestic workers and others on the front lines of the immigration debate. Following its success we seeded a new theater troupe entirely comprised of day laborers called Teatro Jornalero Sin Fronteras (Day Laborer Theater Without Borders), in partnership with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and funding from the Ford Foundation. Since October 2008, Teatro Jornalero has been developing and performing short plays that educate day laborers about their rights, and touring them to day labor sites across Los Angeles County [T]he diversity onstage is invigorating – further confirmation that a wide palette of humanity can make dramatic conflicts more interesting. – Los Angeles Times In our 25th Anniversary Season we produced plays with and in the communities of Pacoima, West Hollywood and Watts. Our current series of plays, The Hunger Cycle, explores issues of hunger, justice, and food equity. Over the next six years, we’re presenting nine world premiere plays in collaboration with communities across Los Angeles, including a state-wide tour of California. Cornerstone has been profiled on CBS, CNN, NPR, the BBC, among many others. We have been honored with Ovation, Drama-Logue, LA Weekly, and NAACP Theatre Awards. Worth Magazine named Cornerstone one of the Top 100 Charities in America. In 2009 we received the inaugural Unsung Heroes Award from the California Community and Eisner Foundations for our innovation and impact in improving the quality of life for low-income Los Angeles residents. “… aims to make theater an integral and relevant part of ordinary American life.” – The New York Times

Target demographics: underserved communities

Direct beneficiaries per year: This past year nearly 9000 individuals living in urban and rural communities throughout California experienced the magic of theater with our yearlong statewide touring production of California: The Tempest as member of our cast, crew and audience and as participants in our Creative Seeds programming

Geographic areas served: Our plays celebrate many voices, and are staged in theaters and in parking lots, in factories, schools and subway stations. We strive to include people who have not been on stage or even seen theater. We’ve taken up residence in small towns and urban neighborhoods, collaborating with locals from start to finish to tell their unique stories through theater.

Programs: Cornerstone Theater Company has four main programs: Our Plays During a several month residency, professional ensemble and guest artists work in collaboration with community members on a new play, inspired by their stories and performed in venues specific to the project and accessible to the participants and audience. We sometimes work in multi-year, thematic cycles in which we create several plays with a variety of communities.Cycles culminate in a “Bridge” show, a new play that explores themes common to the various and disparate communities of the cycle and participants. Commissioned Collaborations Cornerstone works with client organizations to create a unique opportunity to reach and communicate directly with their constituencies in a deeper and more impactful way than traditional education and outreach efforts. Institute and Intensives The Institute Summer Residency offers professional training in Cornerstone’s methodology through classes and an immersive, hands-on experience in the creation of a community-specific production. Our Two-Day Intensive provides specific tools and strategies for individuals or organizations looking to enhance their engagement or incorporate Cornerstone’s practices in specific projects or ongoing work. Creative Seeds A series of community engagement activities from art making workshops to community building events that are incorporated into every production supporting audience development and providing a deeper engagement and understanding of the communities and individual stories.

Community Stories

12 Stories from Volunteers, Donors & Supporters

3

Donor

Rating: 5

As a long time theater goer with subscriptions to both the Ahmanson and Taper theaters, Cornerstone is a breath of fresh air. If you believe that theater is supposed to make us think about great social issues, to take action and to change the world to a better place, Cornerstone is the theater for you. Their unique combination of community theater, social activism and art is as good as it gets. A recent play I saw, 'Love on San Pedro' dealt with the Homeless and was staged in the Downtown Los Angeles Mission on 5th and San Pedro streets. The entire setting, the neighborhood, the Mission, the use of Homeless Los Angeles people in the play made it an incredible theater experience. Bravo to everyone at Cornerstone.

Review from Guidestar

1

Advisor

Rating: 4

I worked with Cornerstone Theater Company from 2010- 2013. I absolutely love Cornerstone, respect all of the people (Community, Ensemble, Staff and Board) that makes the organization run. I had the unique opportunity to work on the Artistic and Administrative Management time while at Cornerstone. I started out as a management fellow, became a part-time employee, then a full-time employee and finally was in the producer role.

During the time that i was at Cornerstone, the organization was coming of age and going through some very difficult transition. However, just like in life; when organizations reach a certain age there is time for reflection, re-evaluation and implementing systems that will support an organization executing its mission and moving (on the administrative side) to the next level.

COMMUNITY is what Cornerstone does! It has always been good at this and hopefully will continue to be a leader in the field. I was there when the transition of General Management happened. I can say that this was a difficult transition along with the soon after firing mentioned in the other review. When new folks come in; it can take time to adopt the Cornerstone culture. I will say that the General Manager is a worker, goes above and beyond for the company and has put in place some important policies and systems that allows the organization to function better administratively. Could the transition been handled differently? Maybe. However, I respect the leadership that was and is at Cornerstone and as a member of the staff I have agreed to trust the decisions that they make. Along with that; I understand many of the concerns of the staff.

The work that Cornerstone does in the community by creating a space for opening dialogue, skill sharing and transformation outshines any of the office talk. That is the reason I spent over 700 days engaging in the work of the company and why so many people have done and do this work.

Cornerstone is an amazing place and so many lives have been changed because of creating plays in community.

1

Professional with expertise in this field

Rating: 4

Cornerstone does absolutely life changing work. It is not easy work, but it certainly alters every one of the communities in which they work.

1

Professional with expertise in this field

Rating: 5

I am most impressed with Cornerstone Theatre Company.
Cornerstone brings the power of theatre to people who have never (or rarely) been exposed to it. When I was in college I had the fortune of taking an acting class with an extraordinary couple who completely opened me up to the possibilities of life. I was a shy kid with a severe stutter. The fact that I have gone on to have a career in theatre is almost beside the point. They, through theatre, opened all sorts of doors within me. The act of creating theatre is a very empowering experience. It breeds confidence. It fosters self expression. It encourages us to step outside the boundaries that we tend to draw around ourselves. It lends us a voice when we thought we had none. It can be a magical experience for someone who has never set foot onstage before. And most in America have not.
I am most impressed with the quality of Cornerstone plays. All are completely original. Established playwrights are commissioned and sent into a community to investigate a particular issue of great concern to the community. Many interviews throughout the community take place. All sides of an issue are investigated and woven into the scripts. Community members often see their concepts, words and opinions wind up in the finished plays, again, a very empowering experience for somebody who has never been heard. Playwrights use their skills to shape the various facets of the issue into compelling drama. Questions are raised rather than answers given. Factions of a community are often brought together through the play production process. Barriers get dropped, future bonds formed.
I am most impressed with the level of production that Cornerstone regularly achieves. The directors and designers are top professionals. Full professionalism is brought to the rehearsal process, though many involved have never been onstage before. I love the way that Cornerstone sprinkles the community cast with Cornerstone ensemble members, all top professional actors themselves. The ensemble members usually play the more difficult roles, as well as teaching, mentoring, coaching and being role models for the first-time actors. I am amazed at how good the community performances can end up being. It's really fun to see the glow, the excitement on their faces as they participate in an endeavor this accomplished. The excitement of the audience is likewise fun to see. Many are of the community. It's their people on stage, their issues, their voices being laid out in a public forum. It is most empowering. The power of theatre.
I am most impressed with the staff and organization of Cornerstone. There is a lot at play here. Many, many people are usually involved in any one project. Other projects at different stages of development are usually happening at the same time. Managing communities of people unschooled in the ways and means of theatre with all of their real life issues added in can be a huge challenge. The Cornerstone ensemble members and all their needs have to be attended to, as well. The commissioned playwrights working on future projects have to be guided and monitored. There are always workshops going on, the training of Cornerstone techniques and the development of new ones. Relationship building with institutions, theatrical and otherwise, are always taking place. This, along with the normal hustle and bustle that it takes to run a theatre company keeps staff members extremely busy. Cornerstone is a unique and invaluable institution. They know what they are doing, and what they do, they do very, very well.

3

Donor

Rating: 5

As a donor and former Cornerstone employee I can say without equivocation that this company gives no quarter. I spent a number of years as the Director of Community Partnerships and was on the front lines acting as a conduit between the company and the communities they work in collaboration with to create art. During my tenure I also say a number of people evolve and grow in their connection to Cornerstone: story circle participant to actor; actor to volunteer; volunteer to staff member. CTC commits themselves to communities and participants not just for one play, but for the life of the artist. They remember. They circle back. They invite you in. This generosity of spirit is the central nervous system of the company. As a nonprofit arts supporter myself I rarely have an abundance of cash, but I will always carve out a small amount to give to Cornerstone. That's how it works with family.

1 LeeLouLaw

Board Member

Rating: 5

My first experience with Cornerstone was seeing a play at the Central Library in 1997 in downtown Los Angeles. I have been an avid fan of the company ever since. I have enjoyed many shows since then and I have travelled to many interesting and diverse communities of California. I worked on staff for 5 years and have been a Board member for over 2 years.
The entire staff of Cornerstone, including Artistic Director Michael Garces, Managing Director Tali Pressman and General Manager Sara Adelman, are all dedicated to the mission of Cornerstone and are very professional and kind. Working at a non-profit can be both stressful and challenging, but is also very rewarding. I am impressed how the company has grown and flourished under their leadership.
Cornerstone uses the generous donations of individuals and organizations to create memorable artistic events and also to create opportunities for dialogue and social change.

Review from Guidestar

Advisor

Rating: 4

I have been fortunate to participate in various ways with Cornerstone Theater Company. First, was as an audience member where the two productions I experienced left me with a sense of gratitude and wonder at the company's ability to frame issues well and inclusively. Although there is an obvious mixture of experience - I remember - how I felt in watching them - completely present ...
I also worked with the staff when they were asked to host a program on cross-sector collaborations targeted mainly to arts leadership. I was so impressed with their welcoming and supportive role in hosting and participating in the program. It was a day when there was filming on the street - meaning that parking was difficult. The staff jumped in with solution - without stress - and never made me feel badly about this added level of work. I also greatly respect the ways in which the various and extensive partnerships stretches Cornerstone - in terms of imagining the perspectives of others - in sharing control over ideas and outcomes and being flexible in considering the needs of their partners - to assure their authentic participation.

General Member of the Public

Rating: 4

As an audience member and fan, I have benefited from the great work Cornerstone does to bring theatre to the community. I have engaged with various members of the team at shows they sponsored and supported. I have found all of the employees (including Sara, the general manager) to be incredibly fun, outgoing, and passionate about the work they do. I look forward to engaging with this organization more and continuing to check out the amazing work they enable!

1

Donor

Rating: 5

As an audience member and donor to Cornerstone Theatre Co., but also as a former Educational Consultant to Shakespeare Center LA's youth programs and former Board Chair of About...Productions, another LA-based small, community-centered theatre company, I wanted to share my experience.

Making high-quality theatre in collaboration with community members and artists, often on a shoestring budget is a demanding proposition in our city. Few do it with the generosity of spirit, honesty, ethics, and sheer doggedness as does Cornerstone. I have been delighted with the quality of productions under John Michael Garces. And I have known Sara Adelman for many years. She is a pro who knows her job and performs it with heart, intelligence, and dignity. And in a hardworking field, you will find fewer harder workers than Sara.

I have participated in limited ways, as a facilitator, with the work of Cornerstone and have found them all to be professional and kind. I am happy and confident that my donations have been thoughtfully used towards the mission of the company.

1

Professional with expertise in this field

Rating: 5

Mi nombre es Lorena Moran y soy la directora de Teatro Jornalero Sin Fronteras programa de Cornerstone Theater Company, deseo compartir mi experiencia de los últimos cinco años de convivencia, colaboración y trabajo como miembro del Staff de Cornerstone Theater Company y los puedo resumir, en igualdad, oportunidades, desarrollo, amor y respeto, razón por la cual me incomoda saber de comentarios negativos en contra de Cornerstone Theater Company así como y para alguno de mis colegas, no es cuestión de camaraderismo sino es una realidad, en el Sr. Michael John Garces quien es nuestro Director Artístico, siempre he encontrado un extraordinario director, un colega profesional y ético, una persona sensata y justa, y por ultimo pero no por eso lo menos importante un ser humano excepcional y un buen amigo.

Sobre la Sra. Sara Adelman nuestra General Manager puedo decir que admiro de sobremanera su capacidad para organizar, dirigir y coordinar la administración de Cornerstone Theater Company, es la persona ideal para lograr mantener el equilibrio de los requerimientos, responsabilidades, obligaciones y compromisos de una organización como Cornerstone Theater Company. Siempre he encontrado en ella una respuesta respetuosa y eficiente a mis requerimientos, colaboración y ayuda para resolverlos.

Muy atentamente,

Lorena Moran

My name is Lorena Moran and I am the director of Teatro Jornalero Sin Fronteras, a program of Cornerstone Theater Company. Our mission is to improve the lives of day laborers everywhere through the creation of plays by and for the day labor community. I wish to share my experience of the last five years of coexistence, cooperation and working as a former community particiapnt, and current staff member of Cornerstone Theater Company I can sum up my experience in these words: equality, opportunities, development, love and respect, which is why it bothers me to hear about negative comments against Cornerstone Theater Company and some of my colleagues, this is not a matter of camraderism but is a reality on the individuals addressed in previous comments. I always found Mr. Michael John Garces, our Art Director, as an extraordinary director, a professional colleague who is ethical, sensible and fair, and last but certainly not least important an exceptional human being and a good friend.

Regarding Ms. Sara Adelman our General Manager I can say I greatly admire her ability to organize, direct and coordinate the administration of Cornerstone Theater Company, she is the ideal person to achieve balance of the requirements, responsibilities, obligations and commitments of an organization such as Cornerstone Theater Company. I've always found her to provide respectful, friendly and efficient responses to my requirements, always working in collaboration, in helping to resolve them.

Sincerely,

Lorena Moran

Review from Guidestar

Volunteer

Rating: 2

Unfortunately, I have to agree with Elizabeth. I was a volunteer at Cornerstone a couple years back and I loved the experience. I felt that the work was thrilling and impactful and the team was supportive and on mission. However, since the hiring of the new general manager the mission and love that Cornerstone used work around is diminishing. I had an interview for a position there and the general manager was rude and condescending. She didn't even know what the mission was! She seems to see the staff and community not as unique and valuable individuals but as resources to be used and disposed of. It is very sad to see that this great organization has fallen into such reckless and unequipped hands and, like Elizabeth, I hope it is able to get back on track.

Review from Guidestar

3 Elizabeth40

Professional with expertise in this field

Rating: 2

I am a former employee of Cornerstone Theater Co. I came to this company with a positive spirit that was broken. I was told in my interview that I would never move up. Their Value Statement states, "We believe society can flourish when its members know and respect one another, and we value theater made in that spirit." - In my short time there I witnessed first hand: 1) the separation between Teatro Jornalero Sin Fronteras and the Company. Due to TJSF's language barrier they were intimidated of asking questions, and felt a hierarchy between the Company. 2) The Artistic Director, Michael John Garces, was feared as well and known for getting angry, what my co-worker called, " putting you in your place." I will remember my first conversation with him. I was making some lunch for myself as he spoke with a co-worker and tried throwing his trash in the can. My co-worker told him (I'm paraphrasing) " Michael, you know, you missed?" to which he responded, " I know, but I'm the boss so I'm the King I'll leave that for less kingsley people..." I was not respected by the upper management, and the week after I shared how I felt about the unethical work relationship I had with the GM I got fired. I am okay with being rejected; however, I feel that it is important for me to share how I was treated. 3) Still on RESPECT, being fired without cause...I know this is legal but it is unethical, and I did not deserve to be let go on the basis that the new Manager, Sara Adelman, may be OCD. An example of this was one time I was filing in her office I asked her if she'd like me to place one file in my desk. To which she said yes but then asked me, "so are you going to do that right now, or?" I let her know I'd file it as soon as I finished up in her office, and she said agitated, " I touched it," and placed it on my desk. I felt very uneasy at witnessing her demeanor and smirked nervously. She then raised her hands and chest and said, "what!"
The following pieces of the Value Statement "We value art that is contemporary, community-specific, responsive, multilingual, innovative, challenging, and joyful.
We value theater that directly reflects the audience," made me feel so happy to go to work everyday. I only had an issue with their management; however, I feel it is important to share so that any donor can try changing the management practices being used. Unlike I, who felt worthless in a company that values Respect, I hope you will take action. I hope you will question the work being performed by the Managing Director and Artistic Director. I was punished for not knowing but they are just starting to learn as well. Crucial information was just being taught to the MD, where the money is going, how to deal with workers comp. issues, etc....
We value the artist in everyone. - I was taken away the opportunity of becoming more involved in the process because taking out the trash was high priority. As a former employee, Cornerstone Theater Company is below my expectations because of their lack of proper leadership that can set an example to the staff (New Generation of Artists). Additionally, a leadership that promotes ethical relationships in the workplace which ultimately leads to a more productive collaboration. They fired the previous General Manager via email leaving me to deal with the mess and then gladly taking on the role of guiding the new manager. Little did I know, after I'd show her all I had barely been taught, she'd say," I feel like I cannot give you projects because you might not complete them." In Performance Studies we see everything we do as a performance, so when I was there working without proper breaks, I was an artist. Was I valued, no. I was not valued as a person let alone an Artist. There were many financial errors and personnel errors which I can gladly speak about to you if you are trying to help their management team. Thank you for taking the first step, Elizabeth. ( Information shared is real, may be paraphrased, and to the best of my knowledge.)

Review from Guidestar