(This post is part of the blog salon curated by Jacqueline E. Lawton for the 2015 TCG National Conference: Game Change. The following questions will inform the final plenary session, “Artistic Leadership:How We Change the Game.”)
JACQUELINE LAWTON: What was the most game-changing production you’ve seen or created, and why?
LARISSA FASTHORSE: I hate to be on a bandwagon, but recently it was Hamilton at the Public. I was fortunate enough to see it twice and both times I sat in that audience and believed American theater was being changed. It broke so many “rules” as a historical play about a little known figure done in ten different styles of music. It also made all the talk for/against/about ethnicity in casting obsolete. I wish we would use Hamilton as a reset button and stop writing musicals for a couple years then start from a new place. Unfortunately, that isn’t happening. I just saw a new musical that takes us backward forty years in the way it depicts women and minorities. So is there a game changer when the game is this big? I don’t know.
JL: Who was the most game-changing theatre leader/artist you’ve met, and what do you carry forward from their example?
LF: As a theater maker I’m walking on a road made for me by generations of artists and leaders. As hard as it is to be a theater maker today, this road was cut and paved by the incredibly hard work of others who barely had a footpath to follow. But if I start naming those people I will inevitably leave out too many.
Today there are so many theater artists changing the game through their work and advocacy and allyship as leaders. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by many of these people (like you!) as peers. Occasionally I will find myself in the middle of an old school theater situation and it feels like I’ve stepped out of a time machine because that is not the theater-making world I dream in. So I try to carry forward compassion for where everyone is on the game change spectrum. We are all in different levels of the game, but this is our community. We will all move forward faster if we bring people along instead of beating them down.
JL: What is the most significant opportunity—or challenge—facing the theatre field, and how can we address it together?
LF: So many thoughts, but to keep this blog length I’ll go with equity. We have the opportunity to make this an equitable field where artists and leaders of all kinds are seen and heard. A field where it is no longer assumed that people in marketing and sales and artistic leadership get salaries and health care while the artist who pay those bills get neither. We have the opportunity to pay artists a commission on each grant we get based on their project, thus recognizing the equity of their name and work. We have the opportunity to make access to theater equitable for all, and to create a world on stage that every one of those people wants to see. There are American theaters already doing these things. As a field we simply need to be brave and join them.
JL: What is the most significant challenge—or opportunity—facing the world, and what difference can theatre make?
LF: Yikes. It’s all relative, right? I can whine about my health care bills while someone else doesn’t have health care at all. A person can be facing death but relative to saving the ideals of a nation it’s less significant. The world is simply a collection of individuals whose challenges are shifting moment by moment. The best thing theater can hope to do is enlighten one authentic moment and hope someone sees themselves and is encouraged or sees something they have never experienced and finds empathy. I write for that one person. As an artist it’s the best I can do.
Larissa FastHorse is a playwright, director and choreographer from the Sicangu Lakota Nation. Her produced plays include Average Family, Teaching Disco Squaredancing to Our Elders: a Class Presentation, and Cherokee Family Reunion. She has written commissions for Cornerstone Theatre Company, Children’s Theatre Company of Minneapolis, AlterTheater, Kennedy Center TYA, Native Voices at the Autry and Mountainside Theatre. She developed plays with Arizona Theater Company, the Center Theatre Group Writer’s Workshop and Berkeley Rep’s Ground Floor.
Jacqueline E. Lawton received her MFA in Playwriting from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a James A. Michener fellow. Her plays include Anna K; Blood-bound and Tongue-tied; Deep Belly Beautiful; The Devil’s Sweet Water; The Hampton Years; Ira Aldridge: Love Brothers Serenade, Mad Breed and Our Man Beverly Snow. She has received commissions from Active Cultures Theater, Discovery Theater, National Portrait Gallery, National Museum of American History, Round House Theatre and Theater J. A 2012 TCG Young Leaders of Color, she has been nominated for the Wendy Wasserstein Prize and a PONY Fellowship from the Lark New Play Development Center. She resides in Washington DC and is a member of Arena Stage’s Playwrights’ Arena. jacquelinelawton.com