Power in the Margins

by Victor Maog

in SpotlightOn

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For the 25th National Conference in Cleveland, TCG is highlighting the current recipients of the Fox Foundation Resident Actor Fellowship and the SPARK Leadership Programs. These programs are unique to the field, and provide critical support and mentorship for the future leaders of our art form. In honor of our longstanding commitment to professional development across the field, we feel the time is right to expand the Spotlight On brand beyond the Conference. With this in mind, we are excited to be hosting the Spotlight On Series throughout May and June—all content leading up to the Conference.

Leadership has always come naturally to me. I coached for my speech and debate team, studied Global Leadership at NYU, and before all that I somehow was President of a local Junior Division of Toastmasters International—“Where Leaders are Made” — doing speeches at the Holiday Inn. You see, I was exposed to so much wrong at a young age, I think I just wanted the opportunity to do something right.

Galois - Dream(Galois, a new musical by Sung Rno and Aaron Jones | 2g)

I was born and raised in the Philippines during a period of Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law. There was abundance for some, scraps for others, and corruption all around. Lots of people died. We all know our own Marcos’ or have been that someone. Closer to home, I’ve seen women in my family run national banks, postal, and audit systems, as well as do diplomatic work. So I’ve always been aware of the significance of the role, but equally cautious of it. Some people hunger for the glory and not necessarily the job. But to me, leadership is, in fact, a service. And service is challenging.

See Rock City(See Rock City by Arlene Hutton | Chester Theatre Co. )

At the age 20 (old enough to be in the program) I became the youngest Artistic Director of the Theater Arts Project in San Joaquin County that paid economically disadvantaged youth (ages 13-21) to perform full-scale, free-of-charge outdoor musicals to crowds of 500-4000. I instituted an actor training program, and call it luck, but we won a national award under my first year of leadership: The Department of Labor Presidential Award for Outstanding Academic Enrichment.

There’s a bigger story here. In the 1930’s and 40’s, Stockton, California, had the largest Filipino population in the United States. It also boasted signs that read: “Positively No Filipino’s Allowed”. The classic musicals like Damn Yankees and the Music Man, with a diverse cast, under the direction of a young, but willing Filipino immigrant were making these former asparagus fields sing with a new and revolutionary “76 Trombones”!

Rather than politics, my vehicle has been theater. I respect the craft, and the togetherness, but mostly I wanted to see how these little dark spaces could become public campfires and experiments in how civilizations might thrive; under one roof. My simple premise is: if it can happen in art, it can happen in life. After 20 years or so of “leading,” I realize more and more that this sh*t is hard. And to be honest, sometimes I do want to run from it.Three Man Tempest(Three-Man Tempest adapted and directed by Victor Maog  | The “Old” Ohio)

Just when I think I’ve figured out this ancient, sacred art, I come to realize it’s even more screwed up than any economics professor, industry mentor, or Buzzfeed article tells me it is. It’s a hard game out there and no one gave me instructions on this thing. And if they did, it had hundreds of pages of footnotes, addendums, and adorable, winking emoticons. Oh, and by the way, this thing is supposedly dying, and also desperately wants my subsidy. While my friends are cashing in on this tech boom, our AEA actors in L.A. are in a dispute over minimum wage. (Sigh.)

Real talk?

There’s a not a lot of  people in executive leadership that look like me.

I can retell stories of entering a building and being pointed toward the janitor’s meeting, or casually given drink orders at an opening night soiree. And this is theater in the age of Hamilton, Fun Home, and Obama!

When I’ve tried to diversify historically white institutions, I get the side-eye. When I’ve tried to diversify culturally-specific projects, I hear the whispers. Even though lots of folks have put their necks out on the line for this, it’s still a lonely and slow-going game. People want their people. There are mafias, and there is historical precedence. Mostly it’s about comfort. And fear. And money.

I get it. I order the same thing all the time at restaurants. Like most, I’m stubborn, so it’s taken me more than a handful of moments to accept the challenges and opportunities in our field. I accept leadership roles in order to honor all the people in my life who’ve taken that chance on me—visionaries who see theater as an extension of democracy. I believe that all leaders should wrestle with the doubt (one of our great commodities), refuse the call, suck it up again, and enroll our will to serve.

Journey Theatre - Masks(Journey Theater | Immigrants’ Theatre Project and Safe Horizon) 

Leadership means possessing a vision, integrity, and a pioneering spirit.  It’s also being a shareholder in a community’s success. I’ll be honest, there were many moments in my life where surviving in this business— getting the job, putting the play up, filling seats, making payroll— was enough for me. For the many folks who have been doing this for decades, I salute you. And I also see why some of the most brilliant minds decide to leave. At some point, we all just want to put on an astonishing show, have some top-shelf booze, and call it a day. That feat alone is obituary worthy. Then, there are projects, moments, and people in our paths who remind us to sober up quickly, move the needle on the status quo, and aid in capturing our culture.

My own work meets at the intersection of art-making, community-engagement, and education. And no, it’s not always in the name-brand theatres. A few fully grasp the power in the margins. It is now, as communities diversify and institutions seek bridges to new and shifting markets, that my experience prepares me for that challenge. I want to celebrate who we are: people who struggle and aren’t articulate and don’t do the right thing, or people who can’t individually save the world, or who feel oppressed and then oppress others… I find those struggles incredibly moving because that is what the human condition is all about. I also want us to laugh and give a big ole high five to our seatmate.

Nature Of Captivity(Matthew Paul Olmos’ The Nature of Captivity | Mabou Mines)

Our marginalized communities must be encouraged to put pen to paper and document these highs and lows, and in-betweens. In the decades and centuries from now, what people will know of us will be what we capture on the complexity of our times. Let’s engage with these neighbors. Let’s commission these artists. Let’s stage them. Publish them. Get them on film. The “in-between” is at the heart of inquiry and the life-blood of the once and future theatre. And if I decidedly want to be a servant to anything, it’s that.

image12 (2)Victor Maog is Artistic Director of Second Generation Productions (2g) and a NYC-based freelance director and arts-educator. For the last 20 years, his work has thrived in professional, community-based and educational settings, and now has reached over half the continental United States. Credits include: The Public Theater, Hartford Stage, Williamstown, Signature, Mabou Mines, Lark, New Dramatists, NYU, Yale, Fordham, UPenn, Emory, and many others. Received the NEA/TCG Career Development Award, Altvater Fellowship at Cornerstone, Van Lier Directing Fellowship at Second Stage, and the Presidential Award with the Theatre Arts Project, where he served as Artistic Director at age twenty. Currently, he’s the Vice President of the National Board of Directors for CAATA, on the directing team of the ABC/Disney Casting Project, and in the inaugural class of the TCG SPARK Leaders Program. B.A. in Global Leadership and Performance Studies – NYU/Gallatin. www.victormaog.com

  • chemaha

    1000 times YES. Victor Malana Maog, Ladies and gents.