Teresa’s Weekly Update: My America Edition

by Teresa Eyring

in Weekly Update

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Perhaps we’ll look back on the first half of the twenty-first century and see a revolution of process, with deeper collaborations among theatre artists leading to an explosion of innovation. Perhaps that revolution will get us closer to resolving the contradiction between, “the advance of theatre as an art form and the discovery of new and larger audiences.”
-Howard Shalwitz, Keynote Address, 2012 TCG National Conference: Model the Movement

I was thinking again of Howard’s speech as I mulled over this startling statistic from Theatre Facts 2011: Attendance at staged readings and workshops increased by 15.9% from 2010 and 80.5% over five years. Though these events made up a smaller percentage of overall attendance, the question still arises—what could be driving this rapid increase? Theatres are offering more of this kind of programming—a 42.2% rise over five years—but that difference can’t fully account for the larger rise in attendance.

In a time of recession, do staged readings and workshops provide a lower-cost theatre experience? Yes, but could it also be that audiences are hungry for process, eager to participate in the development of plays? While many theatres and artists fear consigning plays to “development hell,” it could be that opening up the process to the audience is just as much about developing community. Perhaps this is one key to resolving Howard’s contradiction: We can advance theatre as an art form through engaging an audience in the process of making it.

A new and larger audience will only be possible, however, if we expand beyond our usual comfort zones. We recently announced that Manuel Pastor will speak at our 2012 Fall Forum on Governance: Leading the Charge, joining an exciting list that includes Katori Hall, Kwame Kwei-Armah and Paul Nicholson. Pastor is a noted author of books on our shifting economic and demographic landscape, and he will help us take a wide-angle look at our evolving United States. Space is limited, so register today!

A more intimate look at our evolving country is underway, courtesy of CENTERSTAGE’s “My America” video series. In the spring of 2012, CENTERSTAGE asked 50 American playwrights to answer a simple question: “What is my America?” Their humorous and moving responses were performed by actors and recorded by acclaimed filmmaker Hal Hartley. Visit their website to watch videos from playwrights like Lydia R. Diamond, Danny Hoch and Quiara Alegría Hudes, with more to be released every Tuesday leading up to Election Day.

Watching these videos and looking forward to the Fall Forum, I want to take Howard’s question one step further: Perhaps we’ll look back on the first half of the twenty-first century and see a revolution of impact, where the voices of theatre artists are central to defining—and re-imagining and remixing—our Americas.