Post image for Innovation in 17

(This post is a part of the Artistic Innovation blog salon curated by Caridad Svich for the 2013 TCG National Conference: Learn Do Teach in Dallas).

Innovation in 17
(With a knowing nod to Bill Drummond)

Heraclitus taught us the only constant is change. And theatre is a fluid, social art form that, as Hamlet would have it, ‘holds the mirror up to nature.’ So a commitment to innovation seems like an inevitability in the arts and especially theatre. However, change and innovation live in very different houses. So, instead of writing an essay on innovation, here is a manifesto for thought.

The poised pen over the blank page

The “Yes” over the “It’s difficult” (I knew that already)

Eyes of wonder and the audience gasp – like the child at Christmas

A playground of possibilities

Committing to knowing nothing, then deploying experience to tell a new story. Take those years of knowing nothing and combine them, mould them, discard them on the quest for something new worth knowing

Embracing failure as an inherent part of the creative process

Creativity lives beyond the stage in the very essence of our organizational being

Shared expertise trumps the single expert. Power to the collective “We”

There is a, probably apocryphal, story of Kennedy visiting NASA in the early 60s He journeyed the facility asking people what they did. He came to the cleaner of the wash-rooms and asked the same question, “What do you do here?” To which the individual replied, “Sir, I’m helping to put a man on the moon.”
Even if its not true, and I hope it is, the point is…

What are your washroom attendants telling your customers about what you do? What do they say about your art? Your organisation? You?
Oh, and “We choose to go to the moon…” How high are your goals?

Be unique, distinctive and present. Commit to global ambition and inspiration then invest in local connection. Why be generic when there are a myriad of local stories to be told and even more hungry ears to hear them? Leave ubiquity to the malls and the coffee shops

Start conversations with “What if” not “We used to” or “Historically”

What’s changed? When historians look at theatre of the last century (say since Chekhov and Stanislavski) and they write scholarly tomes about our age, as we do of Shakespeare’s theatre, what will they say? Electricity? A Method? The Musical? A business model? I suspect the regional repertory model is a thing that will become a core. 1915 in Cleveland was first Rep. And so, where is the innovation in the repertory movement since?

Have you got 15 (20, 22, pick a number) years of experience? Or just one or two that you have repeated 15 times?

Abandon instrumentalist outcomes, worry less about what theatre does and worry more about what it is. Invest in the journey not the destination. With a theatre-as-product mentality comes the quest for a ‘gold plated hit’. Which begs the question, “How do you define the hit?” Awards? Cash? The Broadway transfer? Global domination? Great art is successful because, in it’s moment, it speaks a truth that resonates. The rest is silence

Homogeny is boring and the antithesis of innovation, but the temptation is so strong. It is so easy to attempt recreation of someone else’s hit rather than create your own

Where Education and Learning are not a department but a way of being

There is no ladder. There is barely a road map. If we invest in the new with the same vigor with which we cling to the past, what dreams may come?


Some people say I’m a dreamer. But, I’m not the only one.

Stephen Wrentmore was raised in London. He joined Arizona Theatre Company two years ago. Directing at ATC includes; The Great Gatsby, Emma, Freud’s Last Session, Macbeth and Copenhagen. He founded Cafe Bohemia at ATC as an experimental place to workshop and read new plays. So far, twelve writers and over 100 actors have contributed. For Cafe Bohemia Stephen directed Used to Was (Maybe Did) by Brian Dykstra, Hunka by Larissa FastHorse and Kill Shakespeare by Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery.

Highlights of Stephen’s directing career include: In the United Kingdom, the world premiere of Howard Barker’s Wounds To The Face, Picasso’s Women by Brian McAvera, Bedevilled by Richard Hurford and Loveplay by Moira Buffini. He was Artistic Director of The Byre Theatre in Scotland from 2004 to 2007 where he directed, among other plays, Not About Heroes, The 39 Steps, and Vincent in Brixton. In Russia, he has directed The Cripple of Inishmaan at Meyerhold Theatre in Moscow and Theatre5 in Omsk and Far Away, by Caryl Churchill at the Meyerhold. In Kosovo with ODA, The Vagina Monologues, and at The National Theatre, The Lieutenant of Inishmore. At the National Theatre in Belgrade, Serbia, he directed The Country by Martin Crimp and helped established a new department for new writing called NADA and supported an exchange between with the National Theatre in London. Other projects include directing, teaching, directing studio readings and masterclasses in Norway, Latvia, Kazakhstan, Sweden, Denmark, USA, Ireland and Cyprus.

In 2009 Stephen worked with Tate Galleries in London to explore and articulate their ethos to learning and he spent 2009 as a visiting academic at Hertford College, Oxford University, developing a thesis on the relationship that theatres in Britain and America have with artists.  He formed Try-This Consulting, a creative consultancy company to specialize in report-free analysis, supporting creativity, strategy, learning and communication portfolios.  Mr. Wrentmore studied at Cambridge University and the Central School of Speech and Drama, as well as being a recent graduate of the prestigious Clore Leadership Programme.