(This post is part of the blog salon curated by Jacqueline E. Lawton for the 2015 TCG National Conference: Game Change. The following questions informed the final plenary session, “Artistic Leadership: How We Change the Game.”)
CARLOS-MANUEL: Coming up with an answer for this question is not easy. I say this mainly because I have been transformed by theatre in different ways depending on the genre. For example, in musicals, In the Heights by Lin-Manuel Miranda has been the most transformative for me because I finally got to see “myself” on the stage. In dramas, however, The Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime (National Theatre of London) adapted by Simon Stephens truly became a game-changer in terms of directing and technology used. But, if I have to choose ONE single production, I will have to say the play John (National Theatre of London) conceived by Lloyd Newsome and co-produced by DV8 physical theatre. This production truly encapsulated acting, movement, dancing, and raw emotions into one. I have never been so moved and so exhausted by the end of the production as I was with this one.
JL: Who was the most game-changing theatre leader/artist you’ve met, and what do you carry forward from their example?
CM: This one is easy, while in graduate school I had the opportunity to have my work evaluated by Susan-Lori Parks. At the time I was working on (writing) my first ever one-man show and I was having a difficult time coming to terms with certain aspects of the script. When I asked Susan-Lori for help, she came to the rescue. And how did she explain how to approach the script? With M&Ms. There was a bowl of M&Ms on the table near by where we were sitting. She took different colored M&Ms and explained different processes and approaches to solve my internal conundrum. After our meeting, I immediately went back to the computer and used her advise. I created a very good one-man show, now published and often produced. Today, whenever I find myself in “tight writing situations,” I think back to what Susan-Lori said to me and I always find a way out. That exchange with Susan-Lori Parks still is one of the most magical moments in my writing career. Magic and chocolate, and yes, we both ate the M&Ms.
JL: What is the most significant opportunity—or challenge—facing the theatre field, and how can we address it together?
CM: I think the most significant challenge facing the theatre field today is the fact that minority theatre artists (including women) continue to be ignored by producers, artistic directors and stage directors. Minorities and women writers continued to be overlooked, just as minority actors continued to be replaced by Anglo actors. I believe this happens because the directors are completely ignorant or because the producers/artist directors think the plays are not “safe enough” and/or “commercial enough” or simply for the fact that such plays seem to only speak to a “small portion of the community” so they are all afraid. Yes, things are changing but the main theatres around the country continue to mainly produce established authors, Broadway is so scared to have anything that might push away ticket sales so everything is safe and comfortable. At the same time, in many instances minority roles continued to be cast with Anglo actors while in other instances roles are cast with recognizable faces.
One way we could help solve this problem is by working with professional theatres so they can include more minority plays in their seasons and festivals, and not just a “token play” at least one play by a minority and about a minority in each season, festival, and event. (For six years I attended the Humana Festival at Actors Theatre of Louisville and never saw a play by a Latino dealing with Latino issues. I do believe I saw two plays by Latinos (in their regular season) and only one of them dealt with minority issues. That is a sad reality.) And unfortunately I see this happening all over the country over and over. I wish we had a National Theatre like in the UK, where they produced all sort of works from all sort of people. And everyone is exposed to those plays for very cheap prices, which is another major problem with our theatres today. Who can afford to go the theatre anymore?
JL: What is the most significant challenge—or opportunity—facing the world, and what difference can theatre make?
CM: Wow! This is a colossal question. I sincerely think I am not capable of coming with an answer for that. Sorry.
Carlos-Manuel He’s a playwright, a theatre director, and an actor, teaching theatre classes at Contra Costa College where he’s also the Chair of the Drama Department. His academic and artistic work focus on the US/Latino Immigrant and Queer Experiences. Published plays include Esno White, La Vida Loca, Creation, Vaqueeros, and Lloronas. Several of his essays have been published in journals and/or anthologies. He’s the editor of “Vaqueeros, Calacas, and Hollywood,” an anthology of Latino plays. He’s a 2015 NEH award recipient and a 2015 ASTR Collaborative Research Recipient. For more information on his work, visit www.carlosmanuel.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.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