"How do institutions and artists negotiate between sincere attempts at 'bridge-building' and creating productive 'multicultural' explorations without falling into the potential traps of audience pandering or cliché?"
Accountability: How to Avoid Pandering and Cliches
I think back to what Ralph Pena (founding member/current artistic director of Ma-Yi Theater Company) said during the sustainability plenary session in Boston: "We have to get the leaders (of theatre institutions) to acknowledge their own biases." Absolutely. I also believe we have to stop thinking of them as large institutions and start looking at and talking directly to the individuals who run them. By the same token, those individual leaders must stop perceiving themselves as large institutions and begin behaving as individual artists who want to create great theatre...because at the end of the day, isn't that what we all want?
We can holler til the cows come home, but if the individual leaders of those institutions cannot - or refuse to - self reflect and recognize their own biases, then we might as well be talking to a brick wall. An endeavor such as this must be a two way street.
If the attempts are truly sincere - and there are equal amounts of give, take, interest, curiosity and real listening, then while we may not always succeed, I would bet that, more often than not, honest, productive and "multicultural" explorations and theatre experiences will be the result.
I think what it boils down to is people (leaders of theatre institutions as well as individual artists...but mostly those leaders) need to hold themselves accountable. People need to also have a genuine interest and curiosity in "multicultural" explorations in order for any of it to be a real bridge building experience. They can't do it just because it's what they think they're supposed to do...you know? That's when the pandering and cliches come in.