Tag Archives: TCG

Top Ten Reasons Why Theatre Still Matters

Letterman top tenby Kevin Brown

In the spirit of retiring “Late Show” host David Letterman’s famous “Top Ten” lists, I submit the following reasons why theatre is still important today:

#10 Human Beings
The performance of theatre is a universal cultural phenomenon that exists in every society around the world. Human beings are the only animal species that creates theatre. Understanding theatre helps us understand what it means to be human.

#9 Self-Expression
Theatre teaches us how to express ourselves more effectively. It develops our ability to communicate our thoughts and feelings to others, improving our relationships and improving the world around us.

#8 Self-Knowledge
Theatre teaches us about ourselves. It helps us understand how our minds and the minds of others work. It helps us to see how the environments in which we live affect who we are and who we will become.

#7 History
Theatre is a great way to lean about history. Rather than learning history from reading it in a dusty textbook, theatre makes history come alive right before our eyes. Theatre makes learning about history fun.

#6 The Body
Theatre reminds us that, even in this ever-changing digital age, there is a human body at the center of every digital transaction. Accounting for the body in the design of the future will help us make technology that works for us rather than us working for technology.

#5 Globalization
Theatre helps us understand people from cultures other than our own. We can learn a lot about people from cultures all around the world by studying their performance traditions. In doing so, we can learn to be less ethnocentric, and more accepting of others.

#4 Self-Empowerment
Performance permeates every aspect of our everyday lives. Power relationships are constructed through performances. Understanding how performances unfold around us can help us to recognize and take control of the power dynamics that affect us.

#3 Social Change
Theatre is a cultural space where society examines itself in a mirror. Theatre has long been looked at as a laboratory in which we can study the problems that confront society and attempt to solve those problems.

#2 Education
Theatre is a great way to learn. Going to the theatre teaches us about people, places, and ideas to which we would not otherwise be exposed. Learning in a theatrical setting makes learning fun.

#1 Creativity
Theatre helps us to develop our creativity. As our education system increasingly puts an emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math, we cannot forget the importance of art. Let’s put the “STE(A)M” back in “STEM!”

Kevin Brown

Kevin Brown

Dr. Kevin Brown is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Theatre at the University of Missouri, Columbia. He has published in Theatre Journal,International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital MediaPopular Entertainment StudiesJournal of Religion and TheatreJournal of Popular Music Studies, Puppetry International, and Kajian Malaysia.

This post is part of the 2014 TCG National Conference: Crossing Borders {Survive| Thrive} blog salon curated by Caridad Svich.

Diversity is a Noun, Not a Verb

by Carla Stillwell

Carla Stillwell headshot-thumb-166xauto-95

Carla Stillwell

Let me  get transparent with you.  I cannot stand the word “diversity.” It makes me uncomfortable because I know what it has become code for.

For the first thirty minutes or so of a plenary [at a TCG Conference in Chicago three years ago], there were several accomplished men and women of color sharing some of their experiences with diversity, or the lack thereof, in the theater community. The conversation from the panel quickly became a call to action to the executive and artistic directors in the room to make the American theater landscape match the general population in cultural and gender representations. Then it happened. A middle-aged white man from a theater company in Minnesota stood to speak. He said that he would love to put more “…blacks on stage” but he knows that that would mean that he would lose his audience base because they wouldn’t be able to “…identify with those types of stories.”  Hmmm…in that moment it became painfully clear to me that there is a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to add cultural and gender specificity to America’s theatrical landscape. People are bandying about the word “diversity” without having a real understanding of what the word means. Without a true understanding of the word, we certainly cannot move to a place of honest dialogue, and without honest dialogue we will not achieve real change.

So let’s start with defining the word “diversity.” Dictionary.com offers the following:

di·ver·si·ty [dih-vur-si-tee, dahy-]  noun, plural di·ver·si·ties.

1. The state or fact of being diverse; difference; unlikeness:diversity of opinion.

2. Variety; multiformity.

3. A point of difference.

I find a few things notable in this definition. The first is that diversity is defined as a noun and not a verb. This means that it is a state of being and not something you do. Hence one cannot perform diversity. This definition suggests that to simply do things that we think seem diverse (i.e., color blind casting) isn’t enough. The definition suggests that to achieve diversity, you have to accept difference as the rule and not the exception. Diversity has become code for throwing cultural and gender difference at a white wall and hoping that the differences stick, but being OK when some or all of them simply slide to the floor.

Per the aforementioned definition, diversity at its core means that there are a variety of things that make up a whole that have different shapes, forms, and kinds. So I think it is safe to say that a state of being diverse can only be achieved if there is variety. We have attempted to achieve diversity by keeping most things in American theater culturally homogenous and adding a dash of difference. But the definition of the word diversity lets us know that this type of thinking is topsy-turvy.

Then there is this third part of the definition, “a point of difference.” A “point” is defined in its second definition as, “a projecting part of anything.” From this one can infer that diversity is the center, the focal point, from which difference and variety project. We have attempted to introduce diversity into the American theater landscape without diversifying the centers of artistic decision-making (producers, artistic directors, board of directors, etc.) in our theatrical institutions. How can we project difference into the entire theatrical experience when the points are culturally homogenous?

I have been at the center of many of these conversations about diversity. But I believe that none of these conversations will bear the fruit of change until we all embrace the state of being diverse and stop acting out diversity.

Carla Stillwell is a theatre director, playwright and performer. She is the Managing Producer for MPAACT as well as a Playwright-In-Residence and Resident Director with the company. Additionally, Ms. Stillwell is a teaching artist for MPAACT and The Steppenwolf Theatre.

From John Malkovich on World Theatre Day: “Teach us about the beating of the human heart in all its complexity.”

Today is World Theatre Day. Stage and film star John Malkovich delivered this year’s message from Paris at the headquarters of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and its theater wing, the International Theatre Institute.

Malkovich’s Message:

“I’m honored to have been asked by the International Theatre Institute ITI at UNESCO to give this greeting commemorating the 50th anniversary of World Theatre Day. I will address my brief remarks to my fellow theatre workers, peers and comrades.

“May your work be compelling and original. May it be profound, touching, contemplative, and unique. May it help us to reflect on the question of what it means to be human, and may that reflection be blessed with heart, sincerity, candor, and grace. May you overcome adversity, censorship, poverty and nihilism, as many of you will most certainly be obliged to do.

“May you be blessed with the talent and rigor to teach us about the beating of the human heart in all its complexity, and the humility and curiosity to make it your life’s work. And may the best of you – for it will only be the best of you, and even then only in the rarest and briefest moments – succeed in framing that most basic of questions, ‘how do we live?’ Godspeed.”

– John Malkovich

Tuesday, March 27, is World Theatre Day

John Malkovich to give International Message

Theatre Communications Group (TCG), the national organization for theatre and home of the U.S. Center of the International Theatre Institute (ITI-US), invites all theatres, individual artists, institutions and audiences to celebrate the 50th annual World Theatre Day on March 27, 2012. Created in 1961, World Theatre Day is celebrated annually by ITI Centers around the world and the international theatre community.

Each year, a renowned theatre artist of world stature is invited by ITI Worldwide in Paris to craft an international message to mark the global occasion. This year’s message was written by award-winning actor, director and producer John Malkovich.

In honor of World Theatre Day’s 50th celebration, TCG asks its membership, theatre makers and audiences to participate in ongoing World Theatre Day projects like the I AM THEATRE video project and by submitting essays for the Circle on the theme of Generations Without Borders.

TCG also encourages the dissemination of Malkovich’s message through email, Twitter and Facebook, as well as in theatre programs and pre-show speeches to help raise awareness of World Theatre Day.

Visit the World Theatre Day website for more ways to get involved!

Ben Cameron: “Why Must We in the Arts Exist Today?”

Ben Cameron

by Ben Cameron

We must begin by asking, why must we  exist today? Because we have a building is not enough. Because we have a history and awards and a reputation is not enough. What is it in the world—in an external world—that mandates the flourishing of the arts in our communities today?

I expect the artist to do more than engage in expression—I expect the artist to refine that expression through discipline, craft, patience, listening—to essentially think more deeply, feel more deeply, express more deeply and to lead me more deeply into unexplored terrain where I have yet to wander. I believe the arts invite us to access, not the easiest or most facile parts of ourselves, but the best parts, the deepest parts, the deepest emotions, the most generous impulses, and yet at times the most urgent fears. ”When you meet your life in a great poem, it becomes expanded, extended, clarified, magnified, deepened in color, deepened in feeling,” says poet Jane Hirschfield. ”Aren’t we enlarged by the scale of what we are able to desire?” writes poet Mark Doty—a question that invites the reverse: aren’t we diminished by the scale of the easy with which we content ourselves? In the arts, we not only ask for more: we demand more—more of one another, more of ourselves.

In essence, we must recognize and celebrate the role of the arts in the search for common meaning.

Many of us did not choose this work; it chose us. But when we choose to answer that call, what we really do is, we honor the past, we commemorate the present, we shape and we change the future in a way that does honor to all and violence to none. I don’t care how much opponents may try to shame us from that path. For those of us who are spiritually inclined, it is God’s work we do.

A thrilling and inspiring talk on The Power of the Arts by Ben Cameron

Ben Cameron assumed his current position as Program Director for the Arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation in New York, NY, in 2006. Previously, he served for more than 8 years as the Executive Director of Theatre Communications Group (TCG), the national service organization for the American nonprofit professional theater, significantly expanding its programs, membership base and grantmaking activities.

Which of These Plays Have You Seen? Will You See?


Alfred Molina in "Red"

What will be the most-produced plays in regional theatres across the United States in the coming season?

Topping the list is John Logan’s “Red“, a play about abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko and his urgent, fevered relationship with his art and canvas.

Hmmmm … sound familiar?

Maybe next season, we hope to see a play on The List about a certain art expert who visits a certain woman in a trailer park to authenticate a canvas by an abstract expressionist painter who had an urgent, fevered relationship with his art and canvas …

In the meantime, as printed in American Theatre Magazine‘s annual Season Preview issue in October, listing each play and the number of planned productions:

2011-12

Red (23)
by John Logan

God of Carnage (23)
by Yasmina Reza

In the Next Room, or the vibrator play (13)
by Sarah Ruhl

The 39 Steps (11)
adapted by Patrick Barlow from Buchan and Alfred Hitchcock

Time Stands Still (11)
by Donald Margulies

Next Fall (11)
by Geoffrey Nauffts

To Kill a Mockingbird (8)
adapted by Christopher Sergel from Harper Lee

Spring Awakening (7)
by Steven Sater (book and lyrics) and Duncan Sheik (music), adapted from Frank Wedekind

Race (7)
by David Mamet

August: Osage County (7)
by Tracy Letts

 2010-11

The 39 Steps (23)
adapted by Patrick Barlow from Alfred Hitchcock

Circle Mirror Transformation (15)
by Annie Baker

Superior Donuts (10)
by Tracy Letts

Ruined (10)
by Lynn Nottage

August: Osage County (9)
by Tracy Letts

God of Carnage (8)
by Yasmina Reza

In the Next Room, or the vibrator play (8)
by Sarah Ruhl

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (8)
by Rachel Sheinkin (book) and William Finn (music and lyrics)

To Kill a Mockingbird (7)
adapted by Christopher Sergel from Harper Lee

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (7)
by August Wilson

The Big Time in LA: TCG National Theatre Conference

by Eliza Bent

As I watch As You Are Now So Once Were We, one of 15 productions mounted in June at RADAR L.A., an international festival of contemporary performance, I’m thinking about Theatre Communications Group’s giant 2011 National Conference that’s about to kick into high gear in Los Angeles. As You Are Now, performed by a Dublin–based group called the Company, started out as an adaptation of James Joyce’s Ulysses, according to program notes. But when the troupe and its director, Chilean–born Jose Miguel Jimenez, realized that Joyce’s sprawling epic was virtually impossible to stage, As You Are Nowmorphed into a witty examination of the everyday. Four young characters whisk an array of cardboard boxes around the stage to create distinct set pieces: a doorway, a sink, a mirror. But the players’ individual interpretations of quotidian events vary wildly—each sees what he or she wants to see. A dance with the boxes at the beginning elicits entirely new meanings when we see it again at the end.

Watching the reconfigured boxes change from bed, to table, to chair, I consider the grand-scale, three-day confab of theatre leaders that’s about to commence at downtown Los Angeles’s historic Biltmore Hotel, where conversations about new models of theatremaking will morph (not unlike the boxes in the play, I figure) into discussions about artistry, advocacy and administration, and then veer back to the challenge of the new. Over the course of June 16–18, a record 1,100 conference-goers, hailing from all corners of the U.S. and many points abroad, will launch into conversations and debates about theatremaking. Much as the actors in As You Are Now swap verb tenses from past, to present, to future and future perfect, each seeing the cardboard constructions in front of them with different eyes, so will participants in this exhaustive get–together chart their own one-of-a-kind responses to the array of programming TCG conference planners have on tap. How can one reporter represent all 1,100 versions of the event?

Terence McFarland made my dilemma all the more apparent the following night: This was to be a big meeting in a big town. The executive director of the conference’s host organization, the LA Stage Alliance, in his opening remarks at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, asked conferencegoers for a show of hands if they were from St. Louis, Cleveland, Milwaukee or five other cities. As audience members raised their arms they called out hoots of hometown pride. “Well, guess what?” McFarland declared. “All of your cities could fit into L.A.”

In fact, Los Angeles is less a city than a string of suburbs slapped together with freeways and palm-lined boulevards. The Biltmore, the epicenter of conference activities, sits in the heart of city center, an amalgam of offices by day and hip restaurants by night. The cutting-edge performance venue REDCAT, the Los Angeles Theatre Center complex and Central Los Angeles High School #9 for the Visual and Performing Arts—one of the nation’s best-equipped arts high schools—are all within walking distance, and TCG planners took full advantage of their proximity.

If L.A.’s big, the world beyond is bigger, as the opening plenary speaker, Egyptian–born journalist Mona Eltahawy, made eloquently clear. Her subject was the Arab Spring that swept across North Africa and the Middle East earlier this year, and how social media, rap music and documentary filmmaking played vital roles in inspiring citizens to take action. Calling on such examples as Tunisian rappers El Generaland Balti, Eltahawy pointed out how political action was fostered by critical artistic voices who gained traction via the democratic wheels of social media tools like Facebook and Twitter. Social media would continue to mediate the TCG conference, but first some face-to-face socializing was in order.  Continue reading