By Molly Loughman
Millions of Americans continue to stay home this summer amid COVID-19 restrictions, leaving children without their normal activities and performing artists without work. Jade Zaroff ’16 is bringing both groups together, and for good cause.
As founder of the nonprofit organization Entertainment for Change (EFC), Zaroff is connecting children with artists nationwide via online classes aimed at empowering youth on how to lead through art and activism. EFC is offering new online courses this July and August, designed to inspire sustainability activism and led by Broadway and arts and entertainment professionals.
“The quality of these classes, because the artists care so much and because I have such personal relationships with them and young families, is why I am so heartset on getting these classes filled,” said Zaroff, an entrepreneur, activist, voice-over actor, and a nanny in New York City.
Ten percent of the summer courses’ proceeds will be shared with Broadway Black to directly support the Black Lives Matter movement, specifically amplifying the voices of Black artists and entertainers.
Zaroff, who grew up on stage in Florida’s theatre scene, came to Emerson in 2013, majoring in Theatre Studies and minoring in Emerson Experience in Entrepreneurship (E3), a yearlong immersive Marketing Communication program in the School of Communication. E3 teaches students how to build and launch a new business venture. Zaroff used her E3 minor to found EFC — a nonprofit organization “committed to providing a positive platform and community of impact artists that inspires youth and promotes the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals through the power of arts and entertainment.”
EFC hosted two virtual Saturday master classes for ages 13-20 in June, and is now holding weekday courses through July for ages 7-13. “It’s getting kids in these classes that provide safe support towards using art as a medium to express themselves internally, and externally with the [sustainable development] goals,” said Zaroff.
Classes run the creative gamut in the performance arts, songwriting, activism, and sustainability, such as: Movement Matters, Makeup Muse, Unique Performance for Collective Action, Impact Artists Showcase, Character Creators, Writing Authentically, Digital Storytelling for Young Activists, Finding Your Voice, How to Organize Change, Producing for Social Change, Lyricism as Expression, History Repeats Itself, and Sustainable Cooking.
The series invites youth to participate in healthy conversations in safe spaces as they address topics such as reducing inequalities, embracing good health/well-being, peace, justice and strong institutions. The courses are led by dozens of well-respected artists, including alumnus Taylor McMahon ‘16, who is teaching Character Creators.
“It is always my goal to utilize my craft to better serve my creative community, as well as the greater good of the world,” said McMahon. “Knowing that an organization like EFC supports this type of conscious artistry for the betterment of our world inspires me to think more deeply about my craft, reflect on the topics that matter to me, and discover ways to share that knowledge and perspective with the world.”
Like other initiatives that she has led with Entertainment for Change, Zaroff sees this line-up of courses as a response to issues of the day. “It really is a learning exercise every single day since starting EFC,” she explains. “The networking has grown stronger and the community has grown stronger. The organization meets the world where it is, and I build initiatives around it, like what we’re working on came from COVID-19 and now we have those resources. It’s a shape-shifter.”
Creating Entertainment For Change
Zaroff’s passion for environmental activism was influenced by her mother’s career in sustainable fashion since the 1990’s. Her idea for EFC stemmed from her experience in 2015 creating and producing the first Emerson Green Gala, which is now an annual event that celebrates international Earth Day through diverse forms of young artistic expression. That effort also inspired Zaroff’s idea for EFC, which she developed in her senior year as part of her E3 minor, and filed as EFC as a 501c3 nonprofit during her last month of college in spring 2016. (Last year, Zaroff spoke with Emerson students in the SOC Challenge for Sustainable Change, a first-year student seminar that took on the UN’s sustainable development goals in the fall 2019 semester).
Zaroff credits EFC’s growth and success to her network of contributing performing artists and activists. “I joke that networking is one of my favorite things to do. I just find that my skill sets and passions come with connecting, and I know that’s kind of cheesy, but I really prioritize relationship-building.”
While running EFC, Zaroff has continued her voice-over career, which helps her connect with New York casting directors and theatre artists. Her great uncle, Joe Masteroff, who won a Tony Award for writing the 1972 musical drama Cabaret, has been a source of inspiration for Zaroff, who adds, “Cabaret was such a game-changer for activism in the theatre world.”
Through EFC, Zaroff created the “#SDGGROOVE,” an original song and dance that spreads awareness around the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. The song features diversity and raw talent, with the mission to activate youth surrounding the SDGs. EFC’s latest song, “This is Our Shot,” was composed to empower young children with the SDG goals. The nonprofit recently released a podcast, Amplify, based on the Emerson Green Gala where each episode is aligned to a different SGD, featuring three artists per episode and listeners voting for their favorite artist. Zaroff says it’s like, “an America’s Got Talent for social activism.”
“I always say, ‘Welcome to the Entertainment For Change Family, no matter who you are.’ I think when people feel invested on a personal level, they’re more likely to get excited and it feels more organic when they feel personally connected to EFC,” she said. “Especially if we’re going to be teaching the future generation, it’s so important to have transparency and communication as a driving force.”
Entertainment for Change: Amplifying Artistic Activism