Call and Response: Michael John Garcés

by Michael Rohd


Post image for Call and Response: Michael John Garcés

“I cut off my ponytail, grabbed a script, and jumped onstage. It was terrifying.” – Michael John Garcés, I AM THEATRE

It’s not the most poetic thing Michael says in that video; its not the most connected to Cornerstone’s mission, to the decades of community engaged work that has had a profound impact on our national theatre landscape as well as on community after community, individual after individual.

But it grabs me.
The action of it.
The simultaneous humor and violence in the image of a man literally transforming his appearance to leap into a fiction (made by, about, for and with those he leaps to join) all to allow the show to go on.

And the terror he describes as he makes that leap.

What calls us to action?

I worked with Cornerstone for the first time in 1990.
I became a Cornerstone Associate Artist in 1994.
I asked Cornerstone to be the fiscal agent for my own company, Sojourn Theatre, when I and seven others incorporated in 2000.

And in 2007, I watched from afar as Michael took over at Cornerstone, and, as one of his first actions, created Los Illegals in a remarkable blend of Cornerstone practice and his own unique and powerful artistry.

We talk about action in the theatre a great deal.

In schools where theatre is taught, including the one I teach at, Northwestern, doing is the grail. Yes, pretend. Yes, imagine. But most importantly, do. Do with courage. Do with skill. Do with ferocious determination.

Do what?

Take on a project that seems impossible?
Start a theatre company in a challenging economic climate?
Make theatre in the politically and ethically charged context of ‘communities’ you agree to see as collaborators rather than potential audience?
Commit to change the world when merely speaking the word change runs you the risk of being branded naïve, presumptuous, unrealistic, and worst of all…an activist masquerading as an artist?

Why do you do what you do?

You (and I)-
we are individuals who make choices about our actions.
About our time and energy and resources.
About what is important to us, and about what we want to imagine into being.

I think about Deb Cullinen at Intersections for the Arts.
I think about Bill Rauch and Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
I think about David Dower and Polly Carl on their way to ArtsEmerson.
I think about Jawole Willa Jo Zollar and Urban Bush Women.
And of course I think about Michael John Garcés and Cornerstone.

I think about the terror of leaping, and the joy of landing someplace that can only appear once the leap has occurred.

Where and when do you have conversations about the ‘why’ that you allow to have serious, transformative implications on your what and how?

When have you leapt?

And, what’s the leap you haven’t yet given yourself permission to make…?

Call and Response extends the conversation surrounding the I AM THEATRE videos (and hopefully inspires you to make your own video). You can watch Michael’s video and catch up on I AM THEATRE here.

Michael Rohd is founding artistic director of Sojourn Theatre, an ensemble-based company centered in Portland, Oregon that has made 24 major works around the nation over the last twelve years andis a 2005 recipient of Americans for the Arts’ Animating Democracy Exemplar Award. Rohd is a recipient of Theatre Communication Group’s New Generations Grant, and their Extended Collaboration Grant. He is on faculty at Northwestern University’s Theater Department with a focus on Devising Performance, Directing & Civic Engagement. From 1991 through 2000, he founded and ran Hope Is Vital, an international theatre and community dialogue resource through which he trained and facilitated more than 100 ensembles of youth and adults in practices of performance and democracy within rural, suburban and urban communities. His widely translated book, Theatre for Community, Conflict & Dialogue (Heinemann), chronicles that work. Recent projects include Wilson Wants it All at The House Theater in Chicago (2010 Jeff Award Best New Work) and WillFul at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Upcoming projects include a collaboration between Sojourn Theatre and NYC’s The TEAM called WAITING FOR YOU (on the Corner of…) that will premiere at Kansas City Rep in February 2013, and leading the newly formed Center for Performance and Civic Practice.