The Cost of Advocacy

by Alyssa Sileo | All #FinancialFebruary posts are sponsored by State Farm.


One of my many 2018 mission to see how I can help others run passion projects of their own. I’ve seen how creating initiatives has revolutionized how I look at everything about life, and thinking about how happy journeys like these can make my fellow young people, I smile for real.

I’m looking forward to sharing more with Matthew’s Place this year about what I’ve seen working and working as Founder and Leader of The Laramie Project Project, the international theatre advocacy and education initiative that unites and catalyzes worldwide productions and readings of the play of Matthew’s story to honor victims of current hate crimes.

As much as I identify as a lifelong learner and child-at-heart, before I know, soon I’ll no longer be a student or kid. My dedication to projects like the LPP will rarely mirror the amount of money in the bank to fund the things with expenses, most namely, our merchandise. (I mean, I’m an artist and an activist. Two A words that have a devoid of financial stability in their connotation.)

With relatively miniscule actively-advocating experience but a lot of pondering, here’s a reality about passion projects: there is so very much a person can do without money. But at some point, someone has to pay up, and usually this is in order to:

1) advance the project’s caliber (bringing it to a more professionally-operating level) 
2) decrease the amount of legwork (for example, a nicer-looking website makes things seem more legit and will indirectly cause you to have to pitch/explain less)
3) further its spread and widen the audience (more pins to more people from more states = more probable partners).
 
Everything has some kind of cost, either monetary, timewise, or energy-wise. Whichever of the three is most available to you, and whichever is most necessary for the project to thrive, are two hard truths one must consider before hopping on the bandwagon…or sometimes while on the bandwagon, because I certainly walked into LPP with nothing but the “New Project!” rush, and most of my reflection and building time is occurring within its operations. Hey, current LPP groups, you’re basically the best independent-study instructors ever.

For example, I would say the two biggest priorities as LPP Leader is time and energy, and in that order. What the LPP needs to keep growing is purely the time to ask groups to join us. (And thinking from the lense of our groups on board, the time to actually hold these readings or mount productions is something most necessary). Energy comes at #2 on the priorities list, because I’m lucky to be a strange soul that finds a whole lot of joy in copying and pasting project pitches. Energy is more so at its highest demand when it comes time to making decisions about project advancement and marketing.

I believe the most essential question one can ask when it comes to money becoming a factor within passion projects is: what are you spending money on and how will it help you forward your project?

What I’ve also found is helpful for taking a solid look at project identity is list what falls underneath three things from the seat of leader: key responsibilities to run the thing, givens (as in what I always will have at my disposal), and expenses (monetary).

I encourage you to do this little exercise as wellㅡeven if you don’t have a passion project (yet!), you can even apply this to your school club, or a sports team/theatre production/organization that you love! See what makes the magic happen. It’s all just puzzle pieces and a lot of repetition and reconsideration.

Key Responsibilities
- Pitch to groups to partner with us in any capacity
 — And in doing this, explain Matthew’s Story and Laramie to those who are new to both.
- Get the registered groups acclimated to the project — A process that is always changing, and could strike at any moment! This involves delivering the name of the person they will honor, and connecting with their groups on social media.
- Keep the website updated 
— So we can show our project in its most accurate and current light! 
- Keep this all organized! — I have never been a numbers person, so I’m not going to hide the fact that lots of the LPP statistics baffle me…it’s taken a lot of lists and recounting to keep things under control.

Givens
- Communication and social media account services like Gmail, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter — Well…if we can fight this net neutrality thing…then years, they stay givens…
- Organizational online-cloud services like Evernote and Google Docs — Where the brain of our project LIVES!
- People to communicate with about this — I’m putting this in the given category because with the sheer amount of Thespian troupes I follow on Instagram just for fun, I don’t predict my well running dry. There’s also something to be said about how I’ve managed to squeeze mentioning LPP at every gathering, and in every conversation, group chat, and email intro. I just told my penpals about the LPP on our WhatsApp chat. No one is safe.
- A phone camera, and LPP pictures — We have to prove that these things happen, and have something to tweet other than words and links! The LPP Pin has proven to be the easiest way to LPP-ify any photo of any scene. Also, LPP groups who send us pictures of their performances and rehearsals literally make history and Laramie legacy. My LPP Photo album is my favorite photo diary. (Also, my phone goes in the given category just even though it’s an expense, I’m always going to have a phone.)
- Free platforms for designing marketing material — Let me tell you…the free version of Piclab has been responsible for the bulk of our design!
- A Concept — Something sort of inherent to the process, but something I count as a material in my hand anyway. The fact that our project fights for LGBTQ+ equality with an achievable mission and identifiable recipient of the advocacy is something we will always return to when anything gets cloudy. Also, our concept and goals will shift and be rearticulated many times over. That’s the beauty of a project that will maintain a start-up identity for the rest of its existence, thanks to the ever-changing worlds of media and theatre.
- Incredible support — The yesses of yesterday will never stop glowing in my heart and in the project history. The love from family, friends, organizations like Matthew Shepard Foundation, Tectonic Theater Project, and Educational Theatre Association provide a value much like the concept does — an indelible source of guidance and sunshine.

Expenses
- Internet — This project is ran online, since it’s international, even though the important stuff happens on the beautiful stages our groups build!
- Website — The decision to purchase our own domain does come with a price.
Transportation — I’ve been able to combine most of my in-person LPP-pitching and conversations with events I’m already attending because of school or other theatre engagements.
- Platforms for designing promotional materials, or contacts, whose services have expenses — Sometimes you require that expert opinion or appearance to make the biggest impact.
- Project promotional materials like pins, info cards, and other stuff I may not be speaking about yet — Pins are on sale, but all proceeds go towards breaking even, and this is including shipping costs. No personal profit is ever made on any purchase having to do with the LPP that concerns the homebase team.

From my perspective of organizing things, LPP is relatively cost-free to operateㅡour words of encouragement function as the currency. Now of course, from the perspective of the groups performing Laramie, if they’re putting on a performance that requires the purchasing of royalties, that’s on the group, and money definitely becomes a factor. The things that have expenses on my own end are the things that help me spread the word about the LPP, which is our merchandise (namely info cards and pins). The info cards catalyze the conversation between me and our contacts, and pins serve as conversation-starters between me and literally anyone in eye- and earshot.

Making sure that I focused on the essential mission of the LPP — which is:

1) honoring the victims of recent hate crimes, these souls of which are rarely given proper goodbyes
2) widening the reach of Laramie and Matt’s story, vessels that cultivate artist-advocates out of audiences
3) never sacrificing an opportunity to share Matt’s story and our mission with someone who would need it, who we’ve identified as any one person

…is the key for staying straight (haha) on this path. Making sure I’m in healthy supply of the most essential things to keep this project visible and accessible is my daily advocate responsibility.

I always want to ensure that the LPP is a transparent and collaborative process, so I’m so happy I was able to share these thing about dollar signs and the LPP’s unconventional friendship with them!

Advocates and artists — please know your greatest capital is devotion to your cause. This is something you can conjure up in a second. Read some articles. Chat with some friends. Take some time to realize how much of an impact your make daily, no matter how small, on anyone you interact and work with. You already make waves naturally; as humans, we’re natural-born project-vessels. Then it’ll become hard to ignore the pressing need for your action and effort.

And until advocates are provided with every resource gratis, I’ll keep hitting follow on the social media accounts of Thespian Troupes, modgepodging LPP collages on the Layout phone app, feeling positively rich with the possibilities of our LPP and every other project that stumbles along my way. Let everything in front of us be appealing because of its potential of smiles, and less about its potential of dollar signs. But let’s never discount finances for what it can do to make these smiles more widely-shining.

I’m starting my advocates-help-advocates journey on Instagram, too — perhaps give me a follow at @thealyssaproject. Not to be confused with any other project I’ve somehow gotten my hands on!


About the Author:

Alyssa Sileo’s Thespian identity comes first and foremost in anything she carries out. As a proud attendee of a performing arts high school (her second home), Public Relations Officer of Thespian Troupe 5480, and self-proclaimed Spotify-playlist-queen, Alyssa strives for a future career in playwriting, performance, and theatre advocacy. She is the leader of the international arts-activism initiative The Laramie Project Project, which aims to dedicate performances/staged readings of the acclaimed play in honor of current hate crime victims. Phase 1 of the project united 49 Laramies in 2017 in honor of the 49 Pulse victims. Alyssa is humbled to serve as the 2017 Spirit of Matthew Award winner and believes there is an advocacy platform tucked into every piece of the theatre catalogue. These projects are just too often lost in the bustle of ticket sales and press releases.