This is the last annual Summer Festivals Preview issue of American Theatre. We’re not abandoning the focus on international festivals—but, rather than relegating them to a single special issue, from now on selected international festivals will be highlighted in every issue of the magazine. The change reflects a recognition that exciting theatrical work is happening throughout the world at all times of the year, and that it’s not just something to think about on our summer vacations (if we even have summer vacations anymore).
This change in approach bespeaks a broader change at Theatre Communications Group, stemming from our consolidation with the International Theatre Institute 18 months ago. Both organizations were products of particular times and particular political realities, and both have changed significantly in the ensuing years.
ITI was established by UNESCO in the aftermath of the Second World War; it was very much a Cold War phenomenon based on the premise that artists could and should communicate across borders even when their governments would not. Over the years, ITI centers were established in more than 90 countries. The U.S. Center of ITI operated as an independent organization under the leadership of Rosamund Gilder and later Martha Coigney (who remains its director). In November 1999, ITI became part of TCG.
TCG was founded in 1961, the brainchild of the Ford Foundation’s W. MacNeil Lowry, who saw the need for communication and mutual support among a fledgling movement of not-for-profit theatres in the United States. TCG has evolved into a nationwide network of over 380 member theatres and 17,000 individual members, for whom we offer a wide array of publications, programs and services.
The integration of two theatre service organizations, one national in scope and the other global, has been a challenge, and the process is by no means complete, even after 18 months. But the logic of bringing these two organizations together into one entity is clear and, at a time of unprecedented globalization, the moment is right.
Now that ITI is part of TCG, we are trying to incorporate an international perspective in everything we do. More consistent coverage of international theatre in American Theatre and our other publications, increased support for international exchange in our artistic grant programs, making ITI’s international theatre research library more widely accessible, providing opportunities for theatre educators to interact with international colleagues, and helping make connections among theatre artists who are traveling in the U.S. and abroad—these are some of the ways we reflect the new presence of ITI at TCG.
When TCG set out two years ago to assess the major issues confronting the not-for-profit theatre (“The Field and Its Challenges,” Jan. ’00), we began with a series of five roundtable discussions held across the country with more than 80 theatre artists and managers. At the beginning of each meeting, the facilitator asked participants to tell a brief anecdote about a “galvanizing moment” in their work. It was a bit of a contrivance to get the ball rolling, but it was a good way to get people to tell stories about their lives and careers. No one in the room remarked on it, but I was struck by how many of the stories—at least half—involved an international experience of some kind. The stories varied: Some were about recognition of cultural differences, others about recognition of commonalities among theatre professionals that transcend nationality; some involved how an international experience affected the individual, others how the experience changed a theatre company. The fact that most of these theatre professionals, who came from a wide range of backgrounds and experience, regarded an international exchange or encounter as one of the galvanizing moments in their lives was compelling evidence of the impact such exchanges have on art and artists.
In describing the Dell’Arte Players Company’s work last summer with a Brazilian artist, Eduardo Moreira, under TCG’s International Theatre Partnership Program (funded by the U.S. Information Agency, now absorbed within the Department of State), co-artistic director Joan Schirle beautifully expressed how cross-cultural exchange affected her company.
“Real exchange involves more than talking. It involves working together, the give and take of daily involvement in solving the problems of a given project, in watching how another person or group directs their energies and uses their time towards a creative end. This kind of exchange builds real bonds between individuals and companies, and for the artists of Dell’Arte, summer 2000 brought about this kind of bonding and a great extension of our international ‘family.’ The Brazilian artists with whom we shared our summer brought more to us than their roles as directors, teachers or collaborators, and all of us feel greatly enriched artistically and on a level of friendship. Eduardo Moreira and the artists of LUME have struggled with the same issues as our company—from collaborative dynamics to struggles for recognition to the balanced use of time in our roles as actor-manager-creators. Our common history and common understanding transcend language and culture.”