(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?
HANNAH GRANNEMANN: Seeing Anna Deavere Smith’s Fires in the Mirror at City Theatre Company in Pittsburgh when I was a teenager was the moment that theatre’s fundamental purpose became clear to me: to create empathy. That was the moment of inspiration for why I chose to devote much of my life to theatre. What keeps me in the field are the amazing people who work in and support theatre towards this aim of building understanding across difference. Also, The Changeling by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley, directed by Robert Woodruff, at Theatre for a New Audience in 1997. It was entirely absorbing on all levels: intellectually, visually, and aurally. It was the first production that I had seen that pushed me to grapple with how all the aspects of our art form—design, directing, acting—work together to make a lasting experience.
JL: Who was the most game-changing theatre leader/artist you’ve met, and what do you carry forward from their example?
HG: I think the influence of Cornerstone Theater Company can’t be underestimated. Their work started all of us thinking about how to erase the lines between artists and audience. We all now recognize this as the essential piece for remaining relevant. Most of us serve primarily local audiences. Cornerstone’s influence has been to inspire, to teach us how to get to know and pay attention to the people who comprise our communities, to listen and be influenced by our audience, and finally to recognize that we are all one community in a constant dance of serving each other.
JL: What is the most significant opportunity—or challenge—facing the theatre field, and how can we address it together?
HG: Like never before, we have tools at our disposal to measure and describe the impact of our work on the people we reach, both quantitatively and qualitatively. If we embrace and use these tools—which we can do without destroying the mysterious creative spark of our work—we will be much better positioned to gain financial support and broad-based buy-in for our goals.
JL: What is the most significant challenge—or opportunity—facing the world, and what difference can theatre make?
HG: The most significant challenge I see facing the world is lack of a true understanding of others’ experiences. This underlies our global inequality problem. If we could pair increased empathy with increased self-awareness of privilege, most of the major health and economic problems would be reduced to technical problems. We could then think and plan our way to solutions. The solutions are currently out of our grasp because we don’t understand others’ lives. Theatre creates empathy and self-awareness in those who see it and create it. We can inspire one or thousands in ways that in turn has a local or global impact.
Hannah Grannemann joined Children’s Theatre of Charlotte as Executive Director in July 2014. Prior to joining Children’s Theatre, she was Managing Director at PlayMakers Repertory Company, Associate Managing Director of Yale Repertory Theatre, Associate Consultant at C.W. Shaver & Company, and worked with New York Stage & Film. She is currently a Board member of Theatre for Young Audiences/USA, Arts NC, the statewide advocacy organization, and on the editorial board of the Yale Theater Management Knowledge Base. She has been Secretary of LORT and was a member of the Diversity Task Force. She holds an MFA/MBA from Yale School of Drama/Yale School of Management.
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