Reflecting on the year that ends this month, I am overcome with memories of remarkable theatrical work taking place from coast to coast and beyond our borders. Our calendars are filled to the brim with new plays and musicals, with solo performances and readings, with ambitious immersive experiences and savvy revivals. Not a week goes by without hundreds of new shows opening, while others end their runs, evaporating from the stage in the ephemerality that is our art form.
I see as much as possible. I also rely on the generosity of my theatregoing colleagues to give me the lowdown, to tell me every detail of something I missed. This is the beauty of storytelling—with a little help from your friends, you don’t have to be everywhere at once.
But wherever you were in 2015, theatre was flourishing. This was the year of Hamilton originating at the Public Theater, and it was the year of Deaf West’s inimitable Spring Awakening. It was the year of The Glory of the World, a Chuck Mee/Les Waters masterpiece at the Humana Festival. And, farther afield, it was the year of I Am Mapuche by the Samoan choreographer Lemi Ponifasio at the Santiago a Mil festival in Chile. The year marked McCarter Theatre’s production of Sizwe Banzi is Dead commemorating the 40th anniversary of the play’s U.S. debut, and the return of Hair with original cast members at Kansas City Rep. Hamlet came to the Wilma Theater with Zainab Jah, by all acounts the first African woman playing the role.
2015 was the year for Of Human Bondage at Soulpepper in Toronto and Daniel Fish’s Oklahoma! at Summerscape. It gave me my first experience at Shakespeare’s Globe—as a groundling—a few days after having an all-night “run” through London, an experience curated by the poet/playwright Inua Ellams. It was a year for the Hypocrites’ rendition of American Idiot in Chicago; The Humans at American Theater Company and Roundabout Theatre; and the powerful return of Danai Gurira’s Eclipsed. It was Annie Baker’s John. And it was much, much more.
Offstage, it was a year in which we continued the nationwide dialogue about how we strengthen our ecology on every level. We wrestled with questions about audience and community engagement. We talked about capitalization and budget issues. And we witnessed the ongoing painful effects of cultural appropriation and gender inequality. We saw vast gaps that persist on so many fronts, and for some there were expressions of fatigue at having to keep on talking, to keep on walking, and to be reminded that progress is slow. But there were also days on which we held a collective sense of getting somewhere…together. Our movement, we sensed, is in a new phase, and it’s gathering steam. Together we are working to dismantle systemic inequity. And this work, while difficult and sometimes slow, is just as crucial to our field as discussions about fiscal health and audience growth—topics that will never go out of style.
2015 was a year in which we gained a sense of our worldwide theatre community being its own nation—a nation whose borders stretch the globe. As theatre people, our concerns are everywhere similar—we desire to make something beautiful, to exist within the eternal now, to inspire reflection and engagement, to analyze the societies in which we live. Every issue that we face in the American theatre is similarly challenging our sister theatre communities worldwide. Perhaps we are at a turning point where we can tap into this global network to inform each other’s art-making and ecology-building.
What comes next? My dream for 2016 is that we venture forward boldly on these battlefronts: We must continue evolving our art, making new work that is vibrant with a diverse range of voices, that pushes aesthetic boundaries, that reflects on the complexities of the world we live in. We must fearlessly explore and make changes in our shared ecosystem, whether dealing with audience and community engagement; building greater equity, diversity, and inclusion; or addressing fiscal viability for our artists. We must avoid gridlock in order to make visible progress that distinguishes us as a model for the rest of the world.
One exciting prospect on the horizon is TCG’s 2016 National Conference in Washington, D.C., which will support the field in these essential efforts by focusing on the core values of Artistry, Diversity, Activism, and Global Citizenship. The nation’s capital is an appropriate locale given the election year we are entering. The conference agenda will include the launch of a second cohort of our equity, diversity, and inclusion institute, as well as the Global Theatre Initiative, a new collaboration with the Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics in Washington. I am also excited about the ongoing work of our military service member–focused Blue Star Theatres, which hit 151 participating theatres this year. In fact, I am thrilled to be partnering will the full range of TCG theatres across America as well as our counterparts abroad. Let’s make 2016 another landmark year.
Support American Theatre: a just and thriving theatre ecology begins with information for all. Please join us in this mission by making a donation to our publisher, Theatre Communications Group. When you support American Theatre magazine and TCG, you support a long legacy of quality nonprofit arts journalism. Click here to make your fully tax-deductible donation today!