A mild day in Dallas, Texas on the 7th of June brought forth spirited discussion amongst Will Power, Kevin Moriarty, Wendy MacLeod and Ed Sobel, Tim Bond and I on a panel on playwriting residences moderated by Fran Kumin.
Words that kept rising throughout the conversation: trust, open-ness, patience, solitude, company, and family.
Questions that kept circling throughout the 90 minutes of panel time:
How does a theatre welcome not only an artist but an artist’s family into a residency?
How are partners and children and even pets made welcome?
How does living in the city where the theatre company is based change an artist’s relationship to the company?
What compelling, realistic and genuine goals can be met at the end of three years or even six weeks of collaboration on a project?
These lingering questions and reiterated words stayed with me as the deep Dallas sun touched my skin under the festive atmosphere outside the Winspear Opera House where food trucks were parked and colleagues queued for jambalaya, vegan tacos, sliders and chips, slushies and barbecue meat, while others sat on the lawn, drinking cola and water, reflecting on the morning’s panel sessions.
On this second day of full conference activities, the onset of bleary eyes and restless tweeting and quick hugs with colleagues in the halls signaled that kind of “we are in it for the long haul” feeling. An outdoor performance by participants in the Exoteric Theatre site-specific workshop interrupted lunch “down time” with the beating of drums, and a large Barney the dinosaur piñata batted about by volunteers from the crowd. After lunch, there was a general gathering at the Dallas Center Performance Hall for the presentation by Philip Himberg of the Sundance Theatre Institute of the Peter Zeisler Award to Kinan Valdez, which was then followed by Dafina McMillan introducing a live interview between dramaturge Gabriel Greene of the La Jolla Playhouse with playwright Ayad Akhtar, winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for his play Disgraced.
Akhtar’s gracious disposition belied a rigorous and very playful intelligence, as he discussed with eloquence and humor and passion his love of film as an art form, twenty years of working at his craft only to be “discovered” in the two years by a wider audience in the worlds of fiction and theatre, his “encounter” with himself – an encounter that led to a flurry of writing focused on identity politics, larger questions of faith and morality, and his own insistence on being awake to the possibilities of “dissonance” in writing – a necessary dissonance in understanding the complexities of human nature, culture, and spirituality.
Ahktar’s words resonated throughout the rest of the day as breakout sessions began for each conference track: artistic innovation, audience engagement, diversity and inclusion, and financial adaptation, and for me, it is his phrase “opening up to the possibility of dissonance” that remained in mind throughout the rest of the afternoon and well into the late evening. How indeed as artists do we in our work open ourselves up to its possibility, especially when the desire for harmony is so strong? How do we grapple with and embrace dissonance for the kind of “troubling” music it brings, and through it, how do we find coherence?
Lit from within
Under a baking sky
Striving for unity
What do we see when we dream of theatre?
What do we dream of when we walk midst and through our culture(s)?
Search for the definition of passion
In your web browser
And it will come up full of meanings
Not the least of which
Is the one for which you do not have a name.
This radiant thing
Brimming with promise
Spills its trouble with the weight of anger
And the soul of fire
Even before Aristotle.
What lessons here on a sunny day
When the local kids skateboard against the cathedral walls
Perfecting their style,
Barely registering that down the street
Tough, serious talk is happening about art and life?
Dissonance alive in each stop and start,
In each sway and hey,
As the kids seek to get it right,
Until the next day.