"There is no “national theatre” in American theatre because our theatre is defined not by a single place, but by singular people, crisscrossing our country like fireflies, with each particular twinkle contributing to the light of the whole."
~Teresa Eyring TCG Executive Director
In the Fall of 2006, I worked as the Allen Lee Hughes Fellows and Intern Program Coordinator at Arena Stage. At our first all staff meeting, we were divided into several groups of five or six and tasked with planning a season for Arena Stage. For this exercise, we had to be mindful of the Mission Statement, the demographics of the audience and the production history of Arena Stage as well as other area theaters going back seven years. We also had to consider when each show would run and select the performance spaces. What's more, the five or six of us had to come to a consensus. After twenty minutes or so, we presented our seasons to everyone and shared our artistic vision. It was an arduous, complex and exhilarating exercise, and an absolutely brilliant introduction to the spirit, passion and vision of the theatre. What's more, it taught me one of the most lasting and valuable lessons that I have learned about theatre thus far: Season planning is hard and so is being an Artistic Director.
Here is how culture reporter, Robin Progrebin, describes season planning in her article, Building a Theatrical Season, Month by Month:
"A nonprofit theater's season planning is a craft all its own, one of mundane logistical maneuvering as well as lofty creative ambition; of sleepless-night angst and pride-swelling triumph; of big-picture matters like building audiences and details as precise as choosing a hat. It's a balancing act of egos, schedules, budgets and creative visions. The planning is conducted at many levels, depending on an institution's finances. And it almost always involves a deep and consuming commitment of passion and time."
Since my time at Arena Stage, I've gone on to select plays for theatre seasons and new play development festivals. It's always a challenging, passionate and tiresome endeavor. When theatres announce their seasons, I can't help but applaud, herald and champion the accomplishments of their selections. I know how challenging it was to bring together those 3 to 6 plays, plus additional programming. I know how hard it was to say no to the countless number of plays and playwrights they wish they could have included.
Here's a short list of what has to be considered when selecting plays for a season:
For theaters with diversity and inclusion embedded in their mission and values, the following will be reflected in their decisions:
When Theater J decided to produce the world premiere of my play THE HAMPTON YEARS, they hit the jackpot: I'm an (1.) emerging (2.) D.C. based, (3.) woman playwright (4.) of color who wrote a play about (5.) Black and Jewish relations in the arts, military and academia. WooHoo! But even before they established the amazing Locally Grown Festival, now in its second year, Theater J has had a long, rich, and deep commitment to diversity and inclusion. Their continued investment and inclusion of local playwrights makes it really exciting to be a part of the 2012-2013 D.C. Theatre Season.
As more and more theatres work to include emerging and local playwrights in their seasons, I am reminded that the very best theatre seasons introduce a wide, more diverse and inclusive, range of plays to their community. It is essential for the vitality, growth, and health of the community that they continue doing so. I'm appreciative that there is no national theatre in the U.S. and that playwrights across the nation are encouraged to write in their own voices, styles, and rhythms about any and everything that moves them. By no means is it a perfect system and it sure takes a while to find your tribe of people, but as an audience member, theatre artist and lover of the theatre:
Basically, I want it all. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is yet another reason why it is so extraordinary to be a theatre artist living and working in the D.C. Theatre community.
In my next post and over the course of the next several days, I'm going to introduce you to the amazing, brilliant and talented Women Artistic Directors of D.C. being featured in this series. I'm so excited and can hardly wait to share these deeply powerful and moving stories with you. Please stay tuned!
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I'm a playwright, dramaturg, and teaching artist. It is here where you'll find my queries and musings on life, theater and the world. My posts advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity in the American Theatre and updates on my own work. Please enjoy!