"New Documentary Series Explores the Power of Service" by Ali Skye Bennet

“Work is love made visible.” — Kahlil Gibran


Serving others -- work undertaken in the spirit of love, for the benefit of all -- is essential to the process of one’s own self-discovery. When approached with the right spirit, service to others becomes a gateway to one’s own personal happiness and freedom in daily living.


“Can self-interest and serving others actually reinforce each other in the work we do or the goals we pursue? Does this operate on scales from personal to global? What might it mean that instead of being mutually exclusive, these two directions of action are interdependent? What might it look like to be conscious of, and to wield this power?” (CompassNeedle.org)

This Untitled episodic documentary series will explore organizations that embody this hypothesis in practice, and the individuals who benefit from their service. We will chronicle the inherent struggle between need and ego, selflessness and self-interest, resistance and acceptance, as we follow those in service and the beneficiaries, and tell their stories of personal evolution.

Current Topics & Organizations of interest include:

  • Prison Reform through the Arts -- the impact of creative arts in supporting successful reentry into society and alternatives to incarceration.

  • The Role of Theatre in the Global Refugee Crisis -- the leaders at the forefront of healing, representation, and diversion.

  • The School of Practical Philosophy -- “Since its founding in New York in 1964, The School of Practical Philosophy has sought to communicate what the great teachers of mankind have told us about the true nature of humanity, and how we might live a happy, full, and useful life. The school has drawn men and women of all ages and all walks of life, who want to simplify their lives and realize the benefits accorded by true wisdom, consciousness, and joy. Through the school, these students have found guidance that is both systematic and gentle; techniques that are simple yet effective; and the good company of others searching for truth and a methodology to apply it for the good of all.” (website)

  • The Nurse-Family Partnership -- “Empowers first-time moms to transform their lives and create better futures for themselves and their babies. Specially trained nurses regularly visit young, first-time moms-to-be, starting early in the pregnancy, and continuing through the child’s second birthday. The expectant moms benefit by... developing a close relationship with a nurse who becomes a trusted resource they can rely on for advice on everything from safely caring for their child to taking steps to provide a stable, secure future for them both. Through the partnership, the nurse provides new moms with the confidence and the tools they need not only to assure a healthy start for their babies, but to envision a life of stability and opportunities for success for both mom and child.” (website)

  • Hurricane Maria -- one year later, what does relief look like, and where is it coming from? Organizations like Chef José Andrés’s World Central Kitchen, All Hands and Hearts, and Americas for Conservation + the Arts (AFC+A) are thinking outside the box.

  • Accessibility + Theatre -- organizations like TCG, HandsOn, Deaf West Theatre, and Scripted-IMPROV are revolutionizing the way individuals with illnesses and disabilities not only engage with theatre, but have become an integral part of the industry’s national conversation about accessibility and inclusion.

  • Emerging Artists in New Media -- new podcasts and web series are sprouting up everywhere, all with one goal in mind: to provide emerging artists with a platform to share their voice, their art, and their work. Notably, many of these sources are focused on women, artists of color, artists with disabilities, and other minority groups, like Theatre: Re, The Parsnip Ship, and “You’re Gonna Hear About Me”.

  • Have an idea for an episode, topic, or organization I should look into? Submit them here!

Pictured: CompassNeedle director Charles Goforth, Maria Gambale & Ali Skye Bennet

Film has never been my primary medium; I’m a theatre artist -- an artistic producer, playwright, and former actor/dancer -- interested in bringing to life inherently theatrical, politically-relevant stories in an environmentally-active, visually-stunning, boundary-crushing way. That said, I’ve always been a docuphile, drawn to and wholeheartedly believing in that old adage, “Life is stranger than fiction.” So perhaps it was only a matter of time before these separate approaches gelled together in my mind and in my work, compelling me to create a vessel through which to tell these stranger-than-fiction stories about the individuals for whom the world is becoming more and more unstable everyday.

Although I’ve been on producing teams for several short films and web series, this is my first documentary project, and the first on which I’ve taken the creative lead -- where the stories and concept are my brainchild. Perhaps I should feel more intimidated... but mostly I just feel somewhat audacious: like, who am I to bypass the typical track of years of education in a film school, training, hands-on experience, and paying my dues? But then I’m reminded of how I got my own start as a creative producer in the theatre: I was young and yes, audacious, and I simply did it. I was 20 years old when I started a theatre company in New York City -- Theatre of Mass Destruction, circa 2003-2006. I did everything -- artistic programming (selecting work for the season), script development and dramaturgy, marketing, fundraising, casting, press, producing, and acting in the company’s work (in addition to new plays, we produced concerts, art exhibitions, dance showcases, a comedy festival, and one full-blown fashion show). Clearly, I was ambitious; I was also too inexperienced to know how difficult it would be—and it was. But through that experience I learned perhaps the greatest lesson of my life and career: collaboration is key. By surrounding myself with other smart, skilled individuals, and by using our collective strengths, we can create powerful art through a well-rounded, collaborative process. This principle has exponentially served all of my creative endeavors since then, and is why I’m so lucky to be working on this project specifically with CompassNeedle, one of the most collaborative organizations I’ve ever had the good fortune to come across.

I know that my background -- as a storyteller, artist, and producer -- is solid, but more importantly, I’m wise enough to know what I don’t know. So I’m doing a lot of self-educating on the process of creating a documentary series, meeting with and asking a million questions of the experienced filmmakers I know (including the lovely Maria Gambale, pictured here with me and Charles Goforth, director of CompassNeedle), and ravenously ingesting any and every article, video, blog, and how-to guide I can find on that process, and on the specific subjects and organizations I’m exploring within the series itself. And thankfully, in addition to being collaborative, CompassNeedle is an incredibly artistically-diverse collection of creative individuals; their collective knowledge, skills, experience, and support rounds out where I may fall short on my own.

I’m still in what I call the “dreaming phase” of the process, but the body of the series -- its vital organs, its lifeblood -- are slowly taking shape on paper, catching up with the vision in my mind. As I continue to develop my vocabulary for this medium, it gets a little bit easier each day to verbalize that vision just a tad more concretely and elaborately (and confidently!) than I could the day before.

I look forward to keeping you posted on my progress next month!

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