Post image for Who to Invite

(Photo Credit: Taylor Carter-Jones.)

From August 4-7, 2014 in New York City, The National Black Theatre is hosting Catalyst: Moving the Black Theatre Legacy Forward, a 4-day intensive tackling the financial and structural crisis Black Theatres face nationwide.

We’re now 5 months away from Catalyst and we’ve made a lot of progress; from gaining a hotel sponsorship with Aloft Harlem, setting up a training day at The Foundation Center in collaboration with The Black Theater Network to sending out the initial invites to this national convening.  Who to invite however, has proven to be one of the most challenging aspects thus far.  How do we choose the 20 Black theaters that receive an invite?

Black theaters across the country, regardless of size, aesthetic or location are facing a financial crisis and Catalyst provides the Black Theater Community an opportunity to come together and truly tackle these issues.  We’ll examine each other’s best practices, specific challenges and work with professional strategic planners and financial consultants to build innovative solutions for each company to take home and instill in their organization and regional theater communities.  This is work all theater companies would benefit from, however there is only so much funding and capacity we can accommodate to insure the summit is as fruitful as possible.  Unfortunately, not all can be invited.

Jonathan, Sade, Michael Dinwiddie and I sat at the table, studying our very long list of Black theaters and the politics of producing a conference such as this became all too clear to me.   Discussions of who wasn’t invited to previous conferences, what issues would arise within our and NBT’s  relationships depending on the organizations we choose a “less well known” one over an “established” one?  The conversation wasn’t just, who is invited, but what are the ramifications of who is not invited.

As I sat, and listened I realized this is part of our problem as a community at large in terms of how we produce, how we collaborate, and whose work we support or deem “worthy”.  We, myself included, get caught up in the politics, of who deserves or needs to be at the table especially when many of us are fighting for similar funding streams and audiences. This mentality has driven a wedge between our Black Theater organizations young and old.  We each have a unique perspective, approach and aesthetic that serves different facets of our community. the invitees therefore could not be chosen based on who deserves to be at the table, but with our limited resources what combination of theaters, thinkers and experience will challenge the group as a whole and create the most diverse and robust solutions.

photo(Photo Credit: Taylor Carter-Jones.)
As we talked ourselves in circles, with a list that never seemed to get smaller, we threw it all out and started over.  Establishing two things: we needed at least two companies from each region, and it had to be a mix of established and emerging organizations that had either a new approach or a tried and true approach to tackling the financial and/or organizational challenges we face.  This provided us with a means to examine each potential organization in a holistic way and in relation to a community and the conversation we are trying to build.

We slowly narrowed our list down and have sent our out of town invites, however are still deciding on the New York and New Jersey companies.  As confirmations come in, I imagine the politics surrounding our choices will continue to come into question, however, my hope is that the field can look beyond that and focus on the work at hand.  That the field will take advantage of the many ways we are working to include the entire Black Theater community in the conversation, from blog posts on platforms such as this, to our public summit that will conclude the conference, to the online materials we aim to create following the summit.  The challenges we aim to tackle are large and complex, and Catalyst is just the beginning of the conversation and we hope, regardless of who is physically present that the energy created will overflow and continue the conversation nationwide.

Harrington Headshot 3DEADRIA HARRINGTON, a multifaceted theater artist based in New York City is currently a member of the Producing Artistic Leadership Team of The Movement Theatre Company [TMTC]. With TMTC she has served as a Producer developing numerous new works by emerging artists of color, most recently look upon our lowliness by Harrison David Rivers, conceived and directed by David Mendizábal, which premiered in April 2013. As the lead producer on TMTC’s eco friendly theatre initiative GO GREEN she produced a new piece, 4 Sustenance, in the 2012 Planet Connections Theatre Festivity, receiving the Greener Planet Award and 8 nominations within the festival. Harrington is currently a Time Warner Foundation Fellow of the 2012-2014 Lab at Women’s Project Theater [WP], NYC and was the Lead Producer on WP’s World Premiere Production of The Architecture of Becoming at New York City Center, February 2014.  Current theater board member of The Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York.

The intent of the MetLife/TCG A-HA! Program is to enable theatres to dare to try new approaches to problem-solving artistic, managerial, production and/or technological challenges–to try things the organization doesn’t and couldn’t normally do. To learn more about the program, click here.