…I argue that in the US arts and culture sector we have for too long ignored or denied the costs of so-called progress in the arts–meaning, for instance, the costs of professionalization, growth, and the adoption of orthodox marketing practices including so-called customer relationship management and I suggest five ways that arts organizations may need to adapt their philosophies and practices in relationship to their communities if their goal is deeper, more meaningful engagement.
Pay close attention to the behavior of the people you have on staff. People will not always be brave enough to come forward about bad behavior. Sometimes people gaslight victims by claiming that the abuse is “just the way he is,” “not a big deal,” or “just because he’s a genius and passionate about his work.” Victims begin to second-guess themselves and worry about the consequences of coming forward when others are minimizing or excusing bad behavior. There could easily be problems, even abuse, in your house without anyone coming forward to tell you about them directly.
You don’t see Leonardo DiCaprio, Sandra Bullock, and Tom Cruise painting their faces to win roles, but this color-changing gambit has practically become required of black dramatic actors who want to appear in big-budget movies. Of our A-list movie stars, the only white one regularly tinting her skin is Jennifer Lawrence, who signed a three-film contract to play Mystique in the X-Men films well before she was an Oscar-winning superstar, and whose latest go-round in the role is her least blue yet. Fox was savvy to put Lawrence’s famous white face front and center for X-Men: Apocalypse, since they now know it’s a face that sells movie tickets and magazines. So, too, could Lupita Nyong’o’s, yet since her Oscar win, no white director has cast her in a live-action role that lets her live in her own black skin.
Do research the organization you’re applying to: You will be asked how your skills and experience are a good fit. You will sound a lot more impressive if you can say things like “I saw in your last blog post that you have a challenge with blah blah. I have experience working with blah blah, etc.”
The president told of how, when Lopez traveled to Cuba and searched for her family’s old home, she had a chance encounter with an elderly woman who had been a neighbor of Lopez’s mother. The woman “recognized her as her mother’s daughter and began to cry” — later producing a baby photo that Lopez’s mother had taken of her infant daughter.
In this dilemma, nonprofit arts organizations are not unlike newspapers, such as this one, which are also striving to reinvent themselves for the digital age as their print subscription bases decline. As with the arts organizations, the media executives are trying to go where they think the puck is going, which means embracing the habits of millennials who consume individual stories (the newspaper’s equivalent of individual shows) from many different publications shared on social media. At the same time, the publications remain reliant on the revenue that comes from those still-colossal subscription bases.
If Boston is going to be a thriving, healthy, and innovative city, we need our artists to flourish. Artists can help solve big problems and heal old wounds. Artists embody the creativity that fuels innovation, and innovation is part of the fabric of Boston. Their work expresses our histories and our values. It communicates our fears, hopes, and dreams. Art brings people together. We see this in the crowds that gathered around the Echelman sculpture on the Greenway last summer, in Illuminus at Fenway, where percussionists “played” the Green Monster, and in our neighborhood festivals and parades. From the beginning of this administration, we identified the arts as a top priority. And we recognized that supporting the arts begins with supporting artists’ work. Without our artists, we aren’t Boston.
Martin and Benson invited the participating writers—which also included Annie Baker, Greg Moss, and Daniel Alexander Jones—to format their three-hour workshop however they wanted. César Alvarez had attendees write lyrics, to which he would compose a melody and start to craft a song, while Anne Washburn conducted her entire workshop in the dark and had students bring flashlights. “It was this very sort of sonic experience,” says Benson, who attended all of the writer’s workshops.
We recently kicked off the newest iteration of C1 PlayLab, and in the coming months, we’ll be using some of our time during our PlayLab Master Classes to discuss big ideas and current issues that are relevant to working playwrights. This month we are exploring the themes of Character and Identity — here are a few pieces of writing that will serve as a springboard for our conversation during this month’s PlayLab session.
A. Rey Pamatmat is our PlayLab guest this month, and this conversation is a great one to get us thinking about how one’s personal identity and experience can impact a play, as well as what it means to craft characters from a variety of backgrounds:
People need to be okay with labels evolving and redefining themselves. I also wish plays were experienced on their own. The context of the writer’s identity is totally exciting…afterward. Let that add to the conversation, not be it.
In these two posts, playwrights Kia Corthron, Jorge Ignacio Cortiñas, Kristoffer Diaz, Marcus Gardley, and several others all offer their thoughts on the ethics of writing characters from a different racial or ethnic identity than one’s self.
Are we ethically entitled to write outside of our own ethnicity (however we define any of those loaded terms)? If we do, are there any ground rules? Are we obligated to educate ourselves (even minimally) about a culture before assuming the authority to give voice to characters of that culture? Or is any such suggestion a hindrance to the creative process, at worst tantamount to censorship?
Link Roundups feature articles and bits of internet goodness that our dramaturgy team digs up. If you find something you want to send our way, drop us a line on Facebook or Twitter!
Violet Newman is one of five young girls who make up the cast of Employee of the Year, one of the plays being featured at this year’s Under the Radar Festival. Maria Baranova/Courtesy of the Public Theater
Meiyin Wang and Mark Russell, co-artistic directors of Under the Radar, crisscross the globe every year trying to answer a single question. “In this day,” Russell says, “when there’s all sorts of great ways of telling stories and everyone’s got a camera … we’re looking at: Why do theater now?”
Thursday morning, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the nominees for this year’s coveted golden statue. For the second year in a row, not one nominee in the four major acting categories is a person of color. Furthermore, people of color are virtually absent from all the other categories as well.
Since I first wrote about color-conscious casting, I’ve learned—by directing my own productions as well as casting plays that I did not direct—that color-conscious casting doesn’t guarantee a color-conscious production. Diverse casting is a cause; a more challenging and/or inclusive conversation is not inherently an effect.
Compare Walsh’s response with what happened in 2003, when the city faced another crisis in the Theater District. Back then, the Wang Center for the Performing Arts—now the Citi Performing Arts Center, the same one Citi is pulling out of—summarily booted the Boston Ballet’s beloved production of The Nutcracker to make room for a carpetbagging production of New York’s Rockettes in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. The next morning, Mayor Thomas Menino was on the phone trying to secure the Hynes Convention Center as a new home for the ballet. (Thankfully, that never happened—right sentiment, absolutely wrong venue.) Menino worked behind the scenes for months to seal a deal for the ballet, which leased the newly restored Boston Opera House at affordable rates and eventually took its toe shoes and tutus there for its entire season.
“The arts act as an antidote to that estrangement,” Zaki added, “[and] provide you with a very low risk way of entering worlds and lives and minds that are far from what you would normally experience.”
One study found that reading literature, but not junk fiction, increases a person’s ability to be empathetic. Though Zaki wondered “does reading make you more empathetic, or does being more empathetic make you want to read more fiction?”
People, and some animals, come into the world ready for empathy, because we’re born with what are called mirror neurons. And Zaki believes the arts can stimulate those neurons.
Hayley: I love this notion of “casting” the audience into the piece. Imagining them. And that’s been a shift for you in this residency, even though you’ve written for Ten Thousand Things before.
Kira: I think I’m getting better at it. And I think it is making my plays better. I think, actually, if every playwright—even if they didn’t have access to these amazing audiences—were to think about their plays with a bigger range of humanity in mind for receiving their play, we would have a canon of beautiful, complicated expressions of the world we live in.
That throat-clearing you hear is the Women’s Voices Theater Festival, an unprecedented wave of world premiere plays by women that has already begun to take over Washington’s stages. It’s a coordinated attack on the nagging gender gap that no city has tried before, with 46 theaters offering 52 full productions of new works by women.
“As far as I know,” says festival co-producer Nan Barnett, “there’s never been anything this intensely focused, in this kind of time period, on full productions.”
Vu Lee’s post on equitable funding on the Nonprofit with Balls blog has some good insight into the funding process and what makes grant applications accessible to organizations of all levels:
For the past few years, everyone has been talking about Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Cultural Competency. This is good. But when these things do not actually come with profound changes in systems and processes, they can actually cause more harm. Equity, in particular, has been a shiny new concept adopted by many funders. A basic tenet of equity in our line of work is that the communities that are most affected by societal problems are leading the efforts to address these challenges. And yet, many foundations’ application process is deeply inequitable, leaving behind the people and communities who are most affected by the injustices we as a sector are trying to address.
Lisa Kron’s acceptance speech for winning Best Book (Fun Home), which was frustratingly not aired on the live telecast, spoke to the variety in this year’s Broadway season. Her fantastic speech is below and well worth watching:
Campaigns by civil rights groups like the NAACP to integrate public pools often turned very, very ugly. “Groups for and against segregation threw rocks and tomatoes at one another, swung bats and fists, and even stabbed and shot at each other,” Wiltse wrote. Even after Brown v. Board of Education ostensibly desegregated America’s schools in 1955, a federal judge sided with Baltimore’s pro-segregation argument that pools “were more sensitive than schools.” (That decision was later overturned.)
When the group of white and black integrationists refused to leave the motel’s pool, this man dived in and cleared them out. All were arrested. Horace Cort/AP