“Their very presence… said volumes to me about the power theater has and the difference it makes in peoples lives; and not only the potential we have as an artform, but the responsibility we shoulder when we seek to take a stage.”
- Ben Cameron, I AM THEATRE
About five years ago, very shortly after moving into the house my and partner and I had bought, my neighbors’ son knocked on our door. He had locked himself out his house and needed to call his parents—my neighbor’s son was about sixteen years old at the time. While he was waiting, we sat at the dining room table, talking. My partner is a costume designer and there were renderings on the table that caught my neighbor’s attention. When I explained to him that we work in the theater, he got a surprised look on his face and asked me, “people still do that?”
I’ll be honest with you… in that moment, before getting all defensive and probably even a little high and mighty (which I don’t specifically remember doing, but I know myself well enough to know that I probably did)… I was embarrassed; embarrassed to be an artist and embarrassed to be a part of a field that failed this young man. Here was someone who’d been left of the power and potential of theater. Did I (we) bear any responsibility towards this exclusion?
I know. I know. I know. There are all sorts of reasons why he might have been disconnected from the theater. But then (as now) I just couldn’t help feeling as if we’d failed him. How could theater be so absent from his life? Shouldn’t a vibrant field reach everyone? Or at the very least, shouldn’t he know that theater still exists?!!
At this present time when we are increasingly segregated by “micro-communities,” it becomes all too easy to overlook one another. Yet I have to believe that theater can offer communion to everyone — much in the way that Cornerstone Theater does. And not just Cornerstone, but Carpetbag Theaterand Artspot Productions and Albany Park Theaterand LAPD and Jump Start, and many others. These companies are creating with and for their communities. They have committed to an inclusive, often difficult, and always time-demanding PROCESS.
I suspect we’ve all experienced the community building that occurs when we create work (not just perform it). How can we open up that process and can it be more inclusive of our communities, not just our audiences?
In his story Ben talks about “the responsibility we shoulder when we seek to take a stage.” To whom are we responsible? To what end? Are we living up to that responsibility?
Have we become too insular?
Should we care that some people don’t care about theater?
How inclusive are we willing to be?
Mark Valdez is the Executive Director of the Network of Ensemble Theaters, a national coalition of ensemble-based theaters that aims to support and sustain ensemble practice. Current NET projects include the Micro-Fest: USA initiative (theater festivals in Detroit, Eastern Kentucky, New Orleans and Honolulu) and the creation of an artist-to-artist touring network. Based in Los Angeles, Mark has worked as an educator, writer and director. Current directing projects include:Learn to be Latina at Mixed Blood Theater in Minneapolis and the premiere of a new community-based play created with the residents of Weedpatch, CA for Cornerstone Theater Company. Directing credits include the first ever approved adaptation of the Kaufman and Hart classic, You Can’t Take It With You, adapted to LA’s Muslim community, and a bi-lingual, Spanish-English, adaptation of the musical comedy, The Pajama Game. Mark has directed world premiere plays by Erik Ehn, Tracy Scott Wilson, Jose Cruz Gonzalez, Peter Howard, Rickerby Hinds, and others. His play, Around Atlanta on $80, an adaptation ofAround the World in 80 Days was recently presented through the Alliance Theater’s Collisions Project. Mark has led workshops and participated in panels for TCG, Lincoln Center, Southwest Arts Conference, Leadership for a Changing World, REDCAT, NYU, The New School, ATHE, NEA and the Ford Foundation, and many others. He received an MFA in Directing from UC Irvine and is the recipient of Princess Grace Foundation Award for Directing.