In August 1964, the Stratford Festival convened theatre leaders from the U.S. and Canada to discuss common pressing issues: increasing the professional standards of actors, directors, designers, technicians, and administrative personnel. In a New York Times article announcing the meeting, Howard Taubman wrote, “It is the destiny of theatre nearly everywhere and in every period to struggle even when it is flourishing. A tour across the country indicates that regional theatrical enterprises are on the upgrade, even as they battle to improve their status and standards.”
At the Stratford, Theatre Communications Group’s inaugural board of directors, including luminaries such as Arena Stage founder Zelda Fichandler and Alley Theatre founder Nina Vance, ratified articles of incorporation and bylaws.
Through extensive discussion a month later in New York, TCG articulated a commitment to the professional development of approximately 40 theatres, most already in the process of becoming established, ranging from the Alley and Arena to the Actor’s Workshop and the Free Southern Theater. Among the goals: to promote cooperation among regionally decentralized theatres with strong artistic and administrative leaders who were committed to artistic experimentation and developing new talent, and had the highest levels of ethical integrity in their administrative practices.
In subsequent years TCG built its own staff to work closely with the board to assess the needs of a growing field and implement programs and services. How could TCG both lead and respond to the needs of the rising theatre movement? How could we celebrate the accomplishments of theatre, while, as the Times put it, also be alert to the ways in which the field could improve its status and standards?
These questions continued to inspire us in the coming decades as the field grew. Whether it was the acknowledgment in the 1970s of the need for a wider form of communication (a newsletter), or the recognition that growing experimental and black theatres needed “services and programs similar to those that so greatly helped resident theatres in the past decade,” or the co-founding of the American Arts Alliance (now the Performing Arts Alliance) to advocate in Washington, or the declaration in the 1980s that our national conference should both give succor and aid in difficult times, and help us develop an understanding of the enormous changes taking place in our society.
As we head into a new season amid enormous changes in our society, with a field both flourishing and facing struggles, here are some areas of focus for the year:
Advocacy: Theatre Communications Group is the primary advocate for the not-for-profit professional theatre in the United States. TCG represents the theatre field both in Washington, D.C., and nationally, to provide timely information for theatres and theatre artists on federal legislation, regulations, and other significant issues.
In the new fiscal year, TCG will continue to advocate for increased funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. Despite proposals by the president to eliminate the cultural agencies, as of this writing both houses in Congress have approved $155 million for the NEA, and our advocacy continues to ensure that this modest increase included in the final spending bill. TCG will continue to partner with the Charitable Giving Coalition to support a Universal Charitable Deduction to preserve and expand incentives for charitable giving. In coalition with the Performing Arts Visa Working Group, TCG will continue to advocate for the timely processing of visa petitions for artists from abroad. TCG will also advocate for increased funding for arts education at the U.S. Department of Education, and the protection of wireless microphones used in the performing arts.
Arts Coverage: The tiny newsletter TCG launched in 1972 became American Theatre magazine in 1984. In the nearly 35 years since, it has covered trends, movements, organizations, and individuals. Now, as arts coverage dwindles across the U.S., American Theatre has become a primary news source for our field. How do we adapt the magazine’s mission and capacity to take on more serious, independent, and even investigative nature reporting of our own field? The #MeToo movement—and our lack of readiness to pursue the reports we received—prompted a board-level discussion last fall. In subsequent meetings, the board charged the staff with determining what capacity would be needed, legally and organizationally, for AT to investigate egregious reports on a case-by-case basis. We are also studying the impact of reduced arts coverage nationwide, and what American Theatre’s role may be in addressing it.
Learning and community: That early core of theatres from 1964 helped pave the way for hundreds more, and for thousands of theatre practitioners over multiple generations. Growth and evolution are constant, and we strive to keep up with what theatremakers need to build valuable networks, resources, and skills. An online platform, in development and set to launch this year, will provide both social networking and a library of up-to-date resources where theatre practitioners can explore a range of topics and best practices in artistry, audience and community engagement; equity, diversity, and inclusion; fundraising, succession planning, and more. The Fall Forum on Governance, to be held in New York City Nov. 9-11, will tackle how we go about creating healthy organizational cultures, both at the staff and board levels. Against the backdrop of #MeToo and at a time of unprecedented transition in our field, this topic is on the minds of many.
Finally, when we wrap up the year in Miami, June 5-7, 2019, we look forward to celebrating the myriad creative ways we are approaching the struggles, so that we may flourish both individually and collectively for decades to come.
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