StoryWorks creates immediate artistic responses to some of the most controversial and challenging issues our society faces. We take investigative journalism, commission playwrights to create plays based on the stories, and then produce the shows both in the San Francisco Bay Area, where The Center for Investigative Reporting is based, and in the communities most directly affected by the issues. Over the past four years, StoryWorks has commissioned and produced ten productions, toured in affected communities, translated and performed work in Spanish, and challenged theater and journalism to work in innovative ways to represent our world and the immediate issues that confront us.
For StoryWorks’ inaugural season in 2013, we commissioned two plays based on CIR’s reporting: “A Guide to the Aftermath,” about female veterans suffering from military sexual trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder, and “Headlock,” which confronted abuse in California’s adult care facilities. What began as an experiment to bring journalism to the stage and give voice to the marginalized and oppressed became a challenge to both our community as a whole and the artists who work with us to tell these stories. Our process evolved as we worked; this had never been done before. Our guiding principles were to proceed with integrity, following best journalism practices, and to allow arti sti c expression and the creative process to thrive.
Once we began rehearsals, it became clear that we wanted to give communities an opportunity to participate, ask questions, tell their story and listen to those directly affected by our reporting. After each performance, the journalists, artists and community members join the audience for a conversation about the play and its themes. As we delve into the facts of the investigation and the personal stories of those involved, these conversations often are as long as the play itself.
Jennifer Welch is the artistic director and co-creator of StoryWorks, a groundbreaking documentary theater project launched by The Center for Investigative Reporting in 2013 that transforms investigative journalism into theater. She has developed 10 new plays across the country – in North Dakota, New Jersey, Mississippi, Missouri and California. Each play exposes the human cost of injustice and structural inequality to help drive social change. Her work reveals the emotional truth of investigative reporting as well as the factual. Dedicated to the development of new plays as a director, dramaturge and producer, Welch has directed over 20 new plays and collaborated with visionary playwrights such as Eugenie Chan, Octavio Solis, Jon Bernson, Donte Clark and Al Letson. She is also a contributing producer for “Reveal,” the Peabody Award-winning public radio show and podcast from CIR and PRX, and the director of Reveal Live. Welch is a 2017 recipient of the Midwest Innocence Project’s Sean O’Brien Freedom Award for her work bringing the story of Bryan Sheppard, who spent 22 years in prison, to a national audience through StoryWorks and “Reveal.” She is based in CIR’s Emeryville, California, office.