(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?
DAVID STEWART: I had the privilege of being the Director of Production for First Wave program based out of the University of Wisconsin – Madison and helmed by Willie Ney and Christopher Walker. This amazing program grants full academic scholarships to young people, often from inner cities, to come to and hone their crafts such as hip-hop, spoken word, dance, etc.—things often thought as outside the artistic norm, while working towards a degree in the field of their choosing. I got the chance to work with talented young people, help them develop their artistry, and take it to the next level. We would take a small touring group to various locations in the United States, such as New York City to perform on a Broadway stage, and to the UK to perform in London, Corby, and Manchester! I worked to make sure that these young people not only had the proper production needs for their pieces, but also taught them how “behind the scenes” works, so they would know how to discuss technical needs for their work in the future. As I watched them grow, they helped me grow and fed my soul as an artist and as a person of color.
JL: Who was the most game-changing theatre leader/artist you’ve met, and what do you carry forward from their example?
DS: I would have to say that belongs to my mentor, Peter Sargent, the Dean of the College of Fine Arts at Webster University. Peter helmed the Stage Management program from where I graduated and has turned out some of the most impressive stage managers in the country. He has managers that are current PSMs on Broadway, General SMs for Cirque du Soleil, General Managers for major opera companies and the list goes on and on! Back in the day, straight white men dominated theatre management. Peter was able to see around the corner and knew what changes were coming. He recruited talented women and people of color to become the theatre managers of today. He continues to influence the work I do today.
JL: What is the most significant opportunity—or challenge—facing the theatre field, and how can we address it together?
DS: Diversity. The ability to see and recognize other cultures on stage and behind the scenes. It’s my hope that major organizations such as TCG, Dallas Theatre Company, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, United States Institute for Theatre Technology, among others, can help pave the way and be leaders of change.
JL: What is the most significant challenge—or opportunity—facing the world, and what difference can theatre make?
DS: Oh, so many thoughts, so little space. I am going to say the 24/7 ‘news’ cycle. How news has transformed from delivering fact, to delivering opinion disguised as news. Media-tainment. The media no longer challenges us to think, they give us our opinion. The more divisive the content, the higher the ratings, the higher the profit margins.
Also, I would hope that theatre becomes accessible enough to the masses to get them in the doors and have audiences sit, reflect, and discuss what it is they just witnessed. Maybe we can be the salvation this country needs.
David S. Stewart is thrilled to be a part of Longhorn Nation as the Academic Production Manager for Texas Performing Arts at the University of Texas at Austin. Other endeavors include: University of Wisconsin – Madison: Production Manager and head of Stage Management, Director of Production for the Office of Multi-Cultural Arts Institute, Production Stage Manager for Varsity Band, and Event Producer for the Chancellors Office. AEA stage manager for Studio Arena Theatre, St. Louis MUNY, Kansas City Starlight Outdoor Musicals, Vienna Austria’s English Theatre. David is also the Commissioner for the Management Commission and Co-Chair for the People of Color Network at the United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT).
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