(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?
FANSHEN COX DIGIOVANNI: The plays I participated in during high school were game-changing for me. I’m fortunate to have been nurtured in a theatre environment that welcomed people of all hues, experience levels, and socioeconomic backgrounds. We developed shows collaboratively – and everyone’s voice counted. Although we shared stories of distant lands and people – Chushingura and Lorca’s Blood Wedding were two favorites – we came to see their relevance to our personal lives. It was hard to later learn that not all theatre environments would be as open and supportive, but at least I’d experienced an example of what could be.
JL: Who was the most game-changing theatre leader/artist you’ve met, and what do you carry forward from their example?
FCD: Does it count if meeting the person is on my bucket list!? Anna Deavere Smith has had a great influence on me as an artist/activist. She changed the game by openly revealing her development process. From Letters to a Young Artist, to her giving agency to the characters she portrays through their authentic voices, her work consistently inspires me to have high artistic standards and to use art to make change in the world.
JL: What is the most significant opportunity—or challenge—facing the theatre field, and how can we address it together?
FCD: One of my acting teachers used to always say, ‘Never rest on your laurels.’ I think we need to be constantly mindful of not getting too comfortable in our work and in our values. Evolution can be challenging – especially in a field not always appreciated by the larger society, and that suffers greatly from a lack of resources. We can, together, stay committed to learning and growing and pushing boundaries and being open to change.
JL: What is the most significant challenge—or opportunity—facing the world, and what difference can theatre make?
FCD: I’ve been focused a lot lately on researching, acknowledging and working with others towards dismantling the legacy of white supremacy. This is challenging because this legacy often feels invisible – or like ‘every day life’ – to those who benefit from it. Theatre can make a difference by carefully examining how we perpetuate racism in our work. Theatre professionals can commit to making their processes and work accessible to those who have not previously been welcomed to participate. Theatre companies can include historically underrepresented peoples in positions of power. Theatre already addresses some of this far better than other forms of entertainment – but we still have more work to do, so let’s not ‘rest on our laurels.’
Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni is currently touring the one-woman show she wrote and performs in: One Drop of Love. One Drop travels near and far, in the past and present to explore history, family, race, class, justice…and love. The show is produced by Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and Cox DiGiovanni.
Cox DiGiovanni served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Cape Verde, West Africa. She holds a BA in Spanish and Education, an MA in TESOL, and an MFA in Acting and Performance in TV, Film and Theater. She is a proud member of Ensemble Studio Theater/LA Playwrights Unit, and a board member of MixedRootsStories.org
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