“I’d see the next play he [August Wilson] was working on come to life in front of me as he started talking about the characters in his head and what they were saying and what he was discovering about them. . . I had the privilege of hearing these stories . . . before he ever wrote them down. . .”
-Michael Maso, I AM THEATRE
Michael’s (and Huntington Theatre’s) 19-year producing relationship with August Wilson inspires us to think about the amazing impact that long relationships among artists and producers can create, particularly in these days of extreme transience in our business. The idea of making an artistic home for a playwright is also near and dear to me, and to my institution, Indiana Repertory Theatre, where, for the last 14 years (and counting!), James Still has been our playwright in residence. The benefits to a relationship such as this are incalculable: our staff, board and audience have come to know a playwright, and his work, and his world view in a deep and profound way.
Often what I’m struck by most is the ability that extraordinary artists have to surprise each other—perhaps that sense of surprise is even more profound and sweet among artists that have collaborated with one another over time. While we commission a variety of plays from James—and he is commissioned by others—some of my most delighted moments come when he shows me something he’s been working on that we haven’t commissioned, something that is a project that has compelled itself from him, where (as with Wilson), the characters demand to be let out into the world to tell their stories. Experiencing the creative depth and variety of an artist’s work is what makes long-term relationships so entirely fulfilling: there is always another heart-spinning story around the next corner.
As producers, we have to continuously seek inspiration—amid the mentoring and handholding—and our inspiration often comes from these deep, personal, and creative relationships we have nurtured over time with artists with whom we share values of art-making and story-telling. Sometime we simply need to sit around the fire with them and hear the story.
How can we make artistic homes of all kinds for artists in these trying economic times?
How do long-term artistic relationships deeply benefit our institutions, not just the individual artists involved?
How do we stay open to being surprised everyday by our artistic colleagues and share that surprise with our audiences?
Janet Allen is the Indiana Repertory Theatre’s fourth artistic director, a position she has held for 16 years. Janet’s passion for nurturing playwrights has led to the creation and production of twelve new works that examine Hoosier and Midwestern sensibilities, five of them from playwright-in-residence James Still. Her collaboration with playwrights has brought the theatre prestigious grants from the Pew Charitable Trusts, a Joyce Award from the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation, as well as numerous grants from the National Endowment for the Arts.