I write to you now from Poland, where I’ve been a guest of the Divine Comedy International Theatre Festival in Krakow. I’ve attended 12 shows and engaged in conversation with Polish theatre-makers about aesthetics, funding, national histories, local context and more. I will depart with much food for thought, especially concerning TCG’s strategic plan’s focus on diversity and audience engagement
Diversity—a core value for TCG—means something different in Poland, where a racially homogenous population means characters of color are usually played by white Polish actors. While jarring for me and other U.S. audience members, the Polish audience didn’t question a white Pole as a Japanese tourist or shirk away from very stylized versions of blackface. Instead of race, it is memories of World War II and the Holocaust, and historic tensions among Poles, Germans, Russians and Jews, that haunt theatrical narratives here.
Regarding TCG’s strategic focus on audience engagement, I couldn’t help but notice how young this festival’s audience was, with the majority of attendees seemingly in their 20s and 30s. Polish theatre-makers report that building audiences is not the major issue here: They’ve got them and they are young. Most find theatre as engaging—if not more so—as TV and social media, with realism less popular than more abstract, non-linear and poetic work. Theatre is considered a primary medium for intellectual investigation and civic engagement, and I was struck by a comment made about the late great Polish theatre director and visual artist Tadeusz Kantor. A question was raised as to whether contemporary Poles were familiar with Kantor’s legacy, and the answer was, “If they know who the president of Poland is then they know who Kantor was.” What a powerful testament to the integration of theatre into their country’s cultural and political life!
I want to call your attention to our newly released Special Report on Education 2011: Indispensable Resources. This report highlights several essential arts education resources published this year, as well as the tabulations from the TCG Education Survey 2011. Thank you to the 103 TCG Member Theatres who made time to report on their programming, staffing, audience demographics, assessment and evaluation tools—use the reporting tools to compare your theatre to these field-wide benchmarks.
Education was also on my mind in Poland as I observed exchanges and tracked aesthetic influences between multiple generations of Polish theatre-makers, but I’ll share those reflections next week in round two of my Polish adventure. Until then, a reminder that the charitable deduction still hangs in the balance in the D.C. fiscal cliff negotiations. Please let your Members of Congress know what percent of your income is generated by donations from individuals and foundations and what programs would be lost if these donations were cut—we need to send thousands of letters to make a difference.