Performers wanted for TCG site-specific presentation on Friday June 7th. No wages, no budget, no script, minimal rehearsal, success not assured- slight recognition in event of triumph.
Motivated by the Artistic Innovation Arc and the “Do” in this year’s conference’s theme, a group of brave artists will volunteer to stage the first ever taco truck encircled site-specific performance in (TCG) history. The performance will surely be the most delicious theatre workshop TCG has ever produced. Participants will perform outdoors without a safety net and will come armed with little more than their wit and a few lazzi… maybe. Our hope is that the workshop will help illustrate some key elements of a brand of performance that specializes in shattering the obstacles that keep real people from consuming theatre… and what exactly are the obstacles that keep lay people away from the theater? I can think of five: geography, practice, price, quality, and relevance, but this post is not about this list of obstacles, rather it is about how bringing theatre outside of the theater is paradoxically a key to the survival of theaters.
How fortuitous that this year’s exoteric theatre: site-specific workshop will take place in Texas, the birthplace of the Chuck Wagon, the precursor to today’s food truck. What better culinary symbol could we ask for as an illustration of the power of stepping outside of our structures and bringing our product to the masses, than a food truck? The fact is that for all the amazingly delicious meals that a restaurant can produce it depends on the customer to come to it. It is as if a group of the best and brightest foodies scooped us theatre hacks and figured out that what people, especially the youth, want proximity, affordability, familiarity, and value at the core of what they consume. I believe this to be the new reality and just as food trucks are becoming a permanent part of the gastronomic landscape so is theatre that does not confine itself to a theater fast becoming America’s blue plate special.
Last year the James Irvine Foundation published a study titled Getting in on the Act: How Arts Groups are Creating Opportunities for Active Participation. One of the things that struck me most about this study was the implication that the audience of tomorrow not only wants, but also expects to be a part of the creation of work. There seems to be a developing expectation from the current generation of teens and twenty-somethings that in order for art to be worthwhile, relevant, and or complete, this generation needs to participate in its making or presentation. The ideas of art living everywhere and within us all and that the spectator is equal to the performer seems to be taking root.
Understandably the idea of having to change the way we create and or produce theatre can be unnerving, after all youth, and everybody else for that matter should understand and embrace the intrinsic value of having a talented group of professional artists bring a hand crafted art to a docile community of people in a safe and controlled environment. Unfortunately, the next generation seems to have no appetite for this perspective and we as theater makers either adjust our menu or be compelled to close our doors.
I believe that when the theatre that exists around us starts to lose its “flavor” for a vast majority of people, it becomes a duty to search for ways to make theater more appetizing. When the theatre that exists seems comfortable creating work that speaks to fewer and fewer non-theatre people then a theatre that welcomes all needs to manifest. What would happen if we experimented with constructing a theatre that could only exist if people actively engaged and participated in it, a theater not belonging, limited, or pertaining to an inner or select circle? What could we call a theatre that was open to new recipes and new ingredients what if the new ways to prepare old dishes was explored, would this increase the people walking to the door and taking a place at our table? Seven years ago I conceived a project to explore these questions I called it Meet Me @Metro (MM@M).
MM@M was an interactive, trans-disciplinary theatrical journey for both incidental and traditional audiences taking place aboard and around the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority System (MTA). It was born from my commitment to finding new and innovative ways to bring theatre to people who do not or cannot go to the theater, MM@M brought people from geographically distant and diverse communities together to share visual and performance art in new and unexpected locations as well as build relationships between artists and audiences through the innovation of new work. MM@M delivers affordable, quality entertainment and served as a mechanism for expanding the ridership of Los Angeles’ Transit System. It should be noted that not one element in this project could claim the coveted “this has never been done before badge” people have found ways to marry performance and transit as far back as medieval times. And the concept of processional theatre is older than that, what made this project the success that it was, was the way the stories were created, with and for the people of the particular communities on and around the MTA rail system. In one regard MM@M was innovative and iconoclastic: it managed to simultaneously bring performances to people who would otherwise not be able to see theatre and to inveigle traditional theatergoers out of the theater to places they may not go otherwise. The site-specific nature of this project also provides the added benefit of reaching incidental audience members who stumble upon the performances during their commute. Producing MM@M was not more or less difficult than the other traditional shows I had produced but the product was in many ways more flavorful.
The first year of Meet Me @Metro, the production was free of charge and it attracted an audience of over 5,000, the vast majority of that audience was non-ticketed. MM@M also commissioned Obie Award winner Rick Burkhardt, five Los Angeles based theater companies and employed over 100 local artists and staff in just its first year. With colorful and inspiring performances happening all along the way, audiences were immersed in theater, dance, puppetry, music and spectacle—all highlighting the historical, cultural and artistic significance of Downtown and South Los Angeles. Each theater company performed a 5 to 10 minute piece to engage the community. In the three years that Meet Me @Metro was performed the most memorable moments involved members of the community participating in the production. The relevance of this type of project is that it holds the potential to shift audience demographics, over the last three years an average audiences has included over 50% ethnic minorities, over 70% female, over 50% from underserved communities throughout the greater Los Angeles area, and ages ranging from 6 to over 65!
Please share your thoughts, questions, and or comments in the box below, and we’ll add them to the mix as we build our performance for the Conference.
Guillermo Avilés-Rodríguez a National Hispanic Scholar, was born in Compton, California, and raised in Watts, a small community famed for its history of civil disobedience and social unrest. He has built a career around using theatre as a way of exploring issues of social inequality as well as self-empowerment. His study of theatre has taken him all over the Americas and to the Caribbean. He has collaborated and studied with some of the world’s best known and most respected theatre playwrights, directors, and scholars including Athol Fugard, and Les Waters.
He holds a Bachelors of Fine Arts from the University of Utah conservatory Actors Training Program where he earned the distinction of being the first Chicana/o ever to star in a main-stage production at the University of Utah, and Masters of Fine Arts from UC San Diego Department of Theatre and Dance.
He is an Associate Professor of Theater and Cinema at Los Angeles Mission College and an Artistic Associate with Company of Angeles. Some of Guillermo’s directorial and literary highlights include two commissions from Center Theatre Group to write Student Discovery Guides for En Un Sol Amarillo and Culture Clash’s Palestine, New Mexico. He is currently working on Towards a Moving Theater a book exploring exoteric theater in America.