The push and the pull… The innovation dance

by Jennifer Maisel

in Artistry & Artistic Innovation,National Conference

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(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).

It was very telling to me that when approached with this subject all I could see was the scoreboard of the game of Artistic Innovation pitted against Technological Innovation – Artistry vs Technology. Home vs Away. Sometimes it seems to me that technological innovation is kicking artistic innovation’s ass. Technological innovation gains traction over us in a catching fire, sensationalist, warp speed, sexy/slutty way these days. Technological innovation is thrust in our faces, making us feel like we’ll never catch up, screaming: look at me! over here! you want me! you need me! now!

Artistic innovation is the sensual underdog, the not-very-well-kept secret you can find if you’re looking for it, but you have to be looking for it. Artistic innovation shakes you because you’ve found the thing you needed but hadn’t known exactly what it was. It quiets your body with recognition, it soothes the wounds of the every day. It connects you to who you are and who other people are. But getting there, being there, isn’t easy.

The push/pull between the technological innovation and artistic innovation exists in the personal and the public. The daily scrimmage of checking in on line, skating away from that one article for research to the sidebar of the lifehack for streamlining research, to the status update about a fascinating tidbit we just read in the news.

It’s so easy to be seduced by the technology, when really you’re hoping for the romantic love of the artistry. It’s so easy to single out technology for being a distraction, the junk food tempting us at the checkout, the guilty pleasure you enter into for what you delude yourself will be a quick few moments, only to addictively resurface hours later. It’s so easy to blame the technology for not getting the artistry done.

I am as guilty as the next at finding being with the quiet mind unsettling these days. And we talk about needing quiet minds for inspiration and innovation. Quiet minds in our incessant universe. When the power goes out, we joke, only theatre will be left, theatre will be the power. Behind that joke lies a little bit of hopefulness mixed with fear that this is the truth; that only when technology fails in our dark nights we will all revert to being live audiences in intimate settings without other options. That only when there is nothing else left for people to do, we will be brought together again. As if we need that to be brought together now.

But we are brought together now. With the hashtag, with email, with Facebook and Instagram. We’re brought together in a way that seems close but no cigar because in theatre we know that being in a room with other people sharing a common experience is life-affirming. That intimacy comes from breathing someone else’s experience of what we’re sharing. That we can only move forward collectively and collaboratively. It takes an us to make the words resonate.

But what happens when the artists grab the technological innovation and intertwine it with their artistry? When Howlround creates a virtual speakeasy where dots on the New Play Map can dally with eachother? When the hashtag #2amt brings us instantly into conversation with our extended theatre family? When Caridad Svich and NoPassport theatre alliance & press put out a call through the ether for pieces in support of gun control and writers are inspired to create work, work that is performed live and ephemeral weeks later, then solidified into hard copy that can be bought by our hot little hands within another month – word spreading through Facebook, twitter, social media, the press – work that in the span of a few months spawns performances throughout the world, more intimacy, more genuine conversations?

What happens when we stop battling and belittling and start dancing?

When the push/pull becomes a dance we come back. We come back to the place that grounds us. We settle into the uneasy quiet and make it our own. We start the motion of thought against paper. We take three words from a magazine, a sentence dropped at a coffee house, a misinterpretation of a colleague, a tweet that won’t get out of our heads, a fight we can’t escape from and we springboard to what’s possible next. We posit “what if” rather than “what is”. We have questions we keep trying to answer and we get more questions –

And we find each other, we connect to the page and beyond; we can put the work out there into the universe a litte further, play tag with each other a little longer, dance through the ether until we come together, in one place, to experience the beautiful quiet as the story begins again.

Jennifer Maisel ‘s The Last Seder recently premiered Off-Broadway after productions in Chicago, D.C. and Los Angeles; her Pen West Literary Award finalist There or Here was workshopped at PlayPenn before its critically acclaimed run at New York’s Hypothetical Theatre. Plays include Goody Fucking Two Shoes (ATL’s Humana Festival), birds (Rorschach Theatre), Eden (Theatre of NOTE, Original Works Publishing). She received an Ensemble Studio Theatre/Alfred P. Sloan foundation commission for Out of Orbit, developed at the Sundance Theatre Lab. MATCH was workshopped at the Inaugural University of the Arts Playwrights Festival before its presentation at the 2012 Great Plains Theatre Conference. She also writes for film and television. Her website is