The Courage to Lead from an Authentic Place

by Nelson Eusebio III

in National Conference

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(Photo of Nelson Eusebio at the Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Institute Pre-Conference in Cleveland by Roger Mastroianni. This post is part of the blog salon curated by Jacqueline E. Lawton for the 2015 TCG National Conference: Game ChangeThe 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?

NELSON EUSEBIO: A few come to mind: Mabou Mines’ Doll House; Diane Paulus’ The Donkey Show or Krystian Lupa’s Three Sisters at ART; and F*ck Off, Amerika by Frank Castorf at the Volksbühne. Those four, because every single one of them showed me that my ideas of theatre are limited; they expanded my perception of what was possible and both rewarded and demolished my expectation. Doll House took metaphor and made it reality and turned performance style into symbolism in way that redefined that theatre for me.  Donkey Show was the kind of show I dreamed aboutanarchic, primal, Dionysian and a wickedly sexy good time. Three Sisters was a time/space warp reality-distortion experience that I can only describe as being under a spell. And Amerika, well, I thought I’d seen it all, but if you can feed an audience smoothies of ice cream, stinky cheese, and other gross things, fire a .50 cal machine gun on stage, and make it compelling political theatre, then I need to up MY game.

JL: Who was the most game-changing theatre leader/artist you’ve met, and what do you carry forward from their example?

NE: Artist – Lee Breuer. Absolutely fearless: genius idea generator, reads people like children’s books, end-around schemer/hustler and lover extraordinaire. Even his ideas that aren’t useful are brilliant. Leader – Joe Haj and Bill Rauch, two sides of the same coin. That coin is absolute faith in the power of theatre and a tremendous humanity and humility to the mantle of leadership. The courage to lead from an authentic place and give others permission to dothat’s going to create the kind of sustainable creative culture that is key not only to institutional growth, but it is the lifeblood of the theatre.

JL: What is the most significant opportunity—or challenge—facing the theatre field, and how can we address it together?

NE: The economic and prejudicial barriers to create a more equitable field. As a field we must address it together by deciding what this future MIGHT possibly look like, figuring out what action is necessary, and then start acting to make it look that way. If we can create the space for candor and a culture of generosity to have honest, conversations about what the barriers are to equity, diversity and inclusion, then we can begin to move towards a new level of clarity about these issues.  That’s the first step.  That will dictate the next one.

JL: What is the most significant challenge—or opportunity—facing the world, and what difference can theatre make?

NE: The biggest opportunity we have is that we live in a time where everything is the most advanced it’s ever been. Technology has given us the ability to tell stories and distribute them around the world in a millisecond. We can work 24/7 from anywhere that has Internet access. A 12 year-old can make an entire HD movie on his phone. There are more theatres with more diverse staffs than in the last 20 years. Yes, there’s a long, long way to go and many more fights to fight, but we’ve literally got the best tools in the history of humanity to fight them. Yes, we’ve got big problems: the gigantic economic inequality around the world; the fact that people of color can’t seem to be treated equally over forty years after the Civil Rights Act; and the horrible state of the environment.  What can theatre do to help? Theatre can make a difference by singing the songs that need to be sung; telling stories that fly over boundaries and draw attention to our problems. Propose solutions in partnership with artists, economists, politicians, scientists around the world. Story has always been the primary way we communicate and create empathy, to show our values and how we can triumph or fall according to them. We’ve always been the place where people dare to dream and wonder and question; I think the difference we can make is not on a spreadsheet or a profit margin or a boardroom, but in a heart.

Eusebio_Nelson_color_2012Nelson T. Eusebio III is a freelance stage director, producer and award-winning filmmaker. He has directed and developed work at theaters such as the Public Theater/NYSF, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Playmaker’s Repertory, The Old Globe, and CenterStage. Nelson is a participant in the SPARK Leadership Program, funded by American Express, The Joyce Foundation and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and administered by Theatre Communications Group. Awards/Affiliations: Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab, NEA/TCG Career Development Program, OSF Killian Fellow, SDC Member, ABC/Disney Diversity Showcase Director. Former Artistic Director: Leviathan Lab, Creative Destruction. Education: B.A.:UC Irvine; MFA: Yale.

conf13_jacqueline_lawtonJacqueline 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.