As a theatremaker, I have spent two decades working on projects which live inside the proscenium. And I love it.
But during COVID, like many of us I had an opportunity to put on the brakes. I reflected on what theatre means to me, personally, and to the Venn diagram of communities to which I belong. And to ask: What is online theatre? What should it be? What other ways can we share live performing arts experiences, if we can’t be in an indoor proscenium space?
Being the dramaturg and theatre geek that I am, I turned to our history of performance, reading about the Egyptian “Passion” Plays on the banks of the Nile, the chants of the Rigveda in India, the festivals of Greek drama, the sacred Chou Ritual at the time of Confucius, the hoop dance of North America’s Indigenous peoples, the inextricable bonds of theatre and society in ancient Africa, and so much more.
When I was invited to chair the 2022 Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas (LMDA) International Conference, the pulse of performance—very broadly defined and very much rooted in our various histories—was at the forefront of my mind. I wanted to create a future more informed by our collective history, a future that breaks down the the artificial walls that rigidly define theatre in many of our communities. I don’t want to destroy the proscenium, but I think it’s time that we cracked it. This will allow our artists a chance to breathe new air and evolve ideas about creation, place-making, and audience connection.
I hope that this year’s conference—to be held July 20-24 online and in Philadelphia on the traditional lands of the Lenni-Lenape—will share and use our resources well, allowing more voices to speak and be heard in our rigorous conversation. I hope that we can joyfully reunite artists, administrators, educators, historians, and archivists post-COVID in the shared goal of learning from our past and dreaming about the future. I hope that participants leave the conference with specific ideas on how to move forward.
Most importantly, I want to create a space where we can all connect and reframe our art and industry as a more inclusive and more exciting place to work, with less arbitrary distinctions between types of live performance, and more emphasis on what the work needs to be in order to be “successful”—however individual artists and communities define success.
Together, I think we can support these goals and move them forward a step or two. As Pete Seeger sang, “Inch by inch, row by row, gonna make this garden grow.” The pace of change varies, but the change is what’s important. I hope you can join me and my colleagues, either online and or in person in Philly this summer, to help our beautiful community garden grow strong and more beautiful than ever before.
Even if you can’t attend, my wish for you is that COVID has provided you with the space, time, and rest you need to move forward in the way that is best for you and your community as well.
You can read more about the conference and contact organizers at www.lmda.org/2022-conference.
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