Early this fall, while I was riding the 6 train on the East Side of New York City, an older gentleman wearing overalls and work boots leaned over and, after we exchanged a few pleasantries, explained to me that everything we do in life is like the ticking of a clock—the number of times we blink in a day, the number of steps we take to the subway, the minutes it takes to get dressed for work. “Time is definitely accelerating,” he went on to say. Googling that idea later, I discovered that there is a plethora of Internet commentary on the subject. I was reminded as well of Ismail Azeem’s poem “God’s Rolex,” a piece of writing, turned into a film this year, that combines beautiful words and images to explain the tickety-tock clockwork inherent in every aspect of life and nature.
Indeed, 2013 has seemed like an ever-accelerating time machine hurtling us forward: January was yesterday, and everything between then and now has vanished into a colorful blur. But as I reflect on the year, I am heartened to see so many vivid examples of accomplishment, so many occasions in which strategy and focus have aligned to help TCG and its collaborators move the needle on important issues in rewarding directions, and in clarifying ways.
TCG’s Audience (R)evolution program is a prime example: It kicked off with a successful convening in Philadelphia in February, where 220 theatre leaders came together to share models for audience engagement and community development. Through work with a national advisory task force, our research partner AMS Consulting helped us arrive at terminology to describe the audience strategies we all have in common—a vocabulary that is inclusive and has the potential to unite practitioners across a spectrum of activity.
For some, say, a main concern is selling tickets to a classic play in a traditional theatre space. For others, a primary goal may be to build community through site-specific theatre, with a social-justice aim. What are the ways we can engage people in work that falls on all parts of the spectrum? Five strategy clusters were identified to help do so: relationship, content, segment, pathway, and income (meaning who funds the work, admission prices and other financial factors). The Audience (R)evolution project also includes such initiatives as a survey of strategies currently being employed in theatres across the country; a recently completed survey of 14,000-plus audience members; a granting program; and an upcoming dissemination project, which we look forward to bringing to life in 2014.
Discovering new ways to build audiences and engage communities in ways that ensure the vitality of our art form has always been on the front burner for our field. As the Ford Foundation’s W. McNeil Lowry put it back in 1984, when the regional theatre movement was growing out of adolescence into adulthood, “I shall risk the prediction that the struggle for survival will not be largely financial. Survival will go to those willing to bring the most focus to bear.” Focus, not funding, he believed, was the key.
And today we’re at a crossroads: While TCG’s fiscal survey shows the field holding steady, if not growing slightly after post-recession declines, we are always challenged with how we can make our work as excellent, engaging and relevant as possible—so that our audiences don’t decline but rather grow in numbers, reflect the diversity of our communities, and perceive theatre as a way to be engaged emotionally, intellectually and civically.
TCG’s Diversity and Inclusion Initiative, another major element of our strategic plan, took root at TCG’s Fall Forum on Governance: Leading the Charge in 2012, then received additional momentum in June when the newly launched Diversity and Inclusion Institute brought together theatre leaders for a preconference in Fort Worth, preceding our National Conference in Dallas. A cohort of 21 theatres and 46 individual practitioners convened to explore personal and organizational relationships to the topic of diversity, and to determine how theatres could establish policies and practices to build inclusivity within their organizations. The diversity and inclusion “home room,” in its final session, invited honest, passionate conversation about the core assumptions that sometimes keep us from advancing our diversity aims field-wide. The work of the Diversity and Inclusion Institute continues; members began crafting specific plans over the summer and early fall. Al Heartley of Cleveland Play House wrote: “It is a continuous process of accountability, progression of ideas and meaningful change throughout our organization.” Michael S. Rosenberg of La Jolla Playhouse added: “To be successful, we must be willing to devote real resources to this process.”
Institute members’ field reports, including Heartley’s and Rosenberg’s, are now published at www.tcgcircle.org. Other elements of TCG’s Diversity and Inclusion Initiative include a census of the current state of the field; a legacy video project; a literature review; a year-round Young Leaders of Color program; and an initiative to strengthen theatres of color.
Knowing what we’ve been able to accomplish on two important initiatives in 2013 gives me great hope for what lies ahead, whether we think of the coming years as 365 days—or 5 million blinks of an eye. With continued focus, honest conversation, and hard work, we can make sure that time stays on our side.