We all know it has been a challenge coming back after the pandemic—not because the artists aren’t eager and just as creative—if not more so—but because there have been seismic shifts around all of us.
People have changed since COVID. We didn’t know how they would change but we knew they would. We are in this time where it is difficult to find the path. The whole field experienced being drastically closed and during that time conversations were flying about the future of the American theater. Our whole system was destabilized.
There have been a lot of discussions about what audiences want and what the right projects are, and from this moment of personal learning, I see a common thread.
We all want to be taken on an adventure. We want fantasy. We want to be immersed in the world of the play. We want to really be taken out of our everyday world and taken to a place of imagination. Everyone wants magic.
The desire to uplift and produce theater in one’s hometown instead of going to see commercial theater in NY, instead of waiting for touring productions, was a revolution. Real indigenous theater, created out of one’s community and authentic to that community—that’s what these pioneers wanted.
We now have over 1,200 theaters nationwide. Revolution WON. And I’ve been wondering for the past several years, what’s the new revolution?!
Well, we are living in it. Discussions about pay scales. The We See You, White American Theater manifesto. Intense discussions around equity, diversity, and inclusion to new ways of gauging success and progress. Generational shifts and stress between the millennials and the boomers. Sharing power. The #METOO movement. Different hours of work to flatten hierarchical power structures. We are in it. And I believe it will take ten years to fully achieve a time of symmetry. Right now, all of the theaters are rocking and rolling in the middle of a hurricane. We have to keep moving forward, and making decisions that will help our theaters survive until we can thrive.
Yes, ten years. Does that scare you? It should. Scare and energize you. I think being in the middle of a revolution about so many ideas is partly why people are having a hard time really speaking about it. In time we will have fewer critical incidents that are rocking the theater and we will be able to see the path more clearly.
Right now, sadly, many in the theater world are eating each other, turning their angst about the world inside instead of pushing outside to have the conversations there. Climate change. Racial relations. America's complicated and frightening history. The continuing struggle between young and old. The clash between right and left. So many subjects to discuss better on our stages rather than eating each other alive inside our organizations. It’s time to put these ideas into our work and reflect the world back to itself.
Out of chaos often comes ingenuity. I see the brilliance of new voices and new ideas coming from every part of the field. This desire to communicate and make a difference in each community. I believe in the resident movement of theaters–I’m a child of it. I looked up to the first generation of leaders—I am part of the second generation, and now we are passing the baton to the third generation.
I am saddened when I look around the country and see new artistic directors taking over theaters with a ‘burn it down’ attitude instead of a ‘let’s build on this’ attitude. There is so much to change in the theater and in each of our houses but without recognition and understanding of a particular theater’s history, how can one go forward? How can one actually take the audiences and artists who have been with a theater for years or decades forward if the new leadership doesn’t fall in love with the present and past history? It’s all about learning and educating oneself and synthesizing.
Radical rethinking is required. One of the best aspects of an artist’s mind is that we value different approaches. We are so fortunate to be theater makers. We have the ability to reach hearts and minds directly and indirectly.
We can suggest, shape, touch, embrace—and change the world.
Author's Bio: The author has been an artistic director of two very different theaters in radically different parts of America for 44 years and a leader in new play development for over 40 years. About to evolve, the author looks forward to traveling, throwing pots, and returning to nature.