Collaboration partners — Chicago Innocence Project, Evanston Art Center, Evanston Township High School, Literature for All of Us, James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy, and Piven Theater Workshop

a community conversation on social justice and compassion

Thanks to a 2015 responsive grant, Piven Theatre was able to team up with other local organizations to craft the Quality of Mercy Project, a community programming initiative that helped Evanstonians explore the play’s timely subjects of capital punishment, justice, mass incarceration, racial inequality, forgiveness, and compassion.

Dead Man Walking, a play by Tim Robbins, based on Sister Helen Prejean's national bestseller, tells the story of her journey as a spiritual advisor to a death row inmate. 

collaborative project

With Foundation support, the Piven Theatre Workshop’s recent production of Dead Man Walking became much more than a play. In planning the program, Piven Executive Director Leslie Brown drew on relationships she developed in the Foundation’s Leadership Evanston program. After just a few phone calls, she had lined up the project’s five main community partners: the James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy, the Evanston Arts Center, Literature for All of Us, the Chicago Innocence Project, and Evanston Township High School.

“Thanks to the Foundation, we were able to make the play the center of a larger conversation across the whole community,” says Brown. “It’s been so inspiring. And it’s definitely not a one-off. These are partnerships we will keep building on.”

related community programs

The three month project, from March to May 2016, included panels & discussions, a reading and book-signing with Sister Prejean, screenings and performances, on-going programs, and featured partner series. Each week of the play’s run, representatives from a different partner organization participated in after-show talk-backs, explaining how their work relates to the issues explored by Dead Man Walking.

As the Quality of Mercy Project gathered momentum, other community organizations came aboard. As a result, the Project also included a free series of talks, panels, and performance nights, held at sites like the Evanston Public Library, Bookends and Beginnings, Rotary International, and Curt’s Café. Topics included “The Black Male Experience in Evanston,” “Youth, Stereotyping, and Criminalization,” and “Life and Death in the Criminal Justice System.” In addition, the 2015 responsive grant helped ETHS teachers develop a new curriculum focused on the themes of Dead Man Walking, and a “morning activism boot camp” for students interested in making their voices heard throughout Evanston.