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The Artist as Citizen (Conference 2006)

THE ARTIST AS CITIZEN: Boston Theatre Conference 2006

 

On Saturday, August 5, 2006, hundreds of actors, directors, designers, playwrights, production and administrative personnel throughout the New England theatre community convened at Spingold Theatre, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts, to meet fellow artists, witnessed performances from Boston area stages, learned from and networked with fellow artists, and explored the issue of social responsibility on Boston-area stages and in our theatres. Included will be local and national artists creating innovative work, challenging and energized discussions, thoughtful breakout sessions, and opportunities to network. 

Jeff Poulos, Executive Director of StageSource, addressed the attendees of the Boston Theatre Conference at the end of the day. Below is a copy of his address:

I would be remiss if I didn't include in my remarks some acknowledgements of those individuals who have helped us make this day possible:

  • David Colfer, Board Chair and Managing Director, Brandeis Theater Company
  • The Conference Planning Committee: Sarah deLima, Shane Hudson, Rick Lombardo, Tony McLean, Amy Merrill, Bob Murphy.
  • Our session speakers, moderators, and panelists.
  • Scott Edmiston, Director of Office of the Arts, Brandeis University
  • The StageSource Dawn and Jeremy, Maureen Lane and former staff member Christine Hamel
  • The many volunteers who gave of their time today and in the months leading up to this Conference.
  • To Kennison Staffing, Bank of America, and TheaterMania, for their financial support.
  • And thank you to you, the over 170 people who attended today, and have made this historic day such an enormous success.

A recent issue of American Theatre magazine included a special report of conversations in the field from over 100 theatre company leaders and independent artists around the country. Several issues rose to the top:
- The polarization and feeling of isolation in our country: several participants spoke about how fractured our nation is becoming and people are isolating themselves in affinity groups. Dialogue is not crossing between political and cultural communities.
- Hit-making is almost required now at theatres, stars, name draws, plays that are recognizable or proven money-makers or audience pleasers. Audiences, funders, board members. Sometimes the artistic vision takes a backseat.
- Escalating costs, dwindling philanthropy: how to survive in an ever-changing and challenging economic environment for the arts. 
- But a number of them cited how in times of crisis (ie, war, terrorism, threats to our national security, high crime), people want to be part of something more, speaking out, voicing their opinion. Artists take risks, put forward bold ideas. Artistic focus can sharpen and become more directed when faced with a polarization.
- Additionally, developing new works often goes hand in hand with developing audience. New work can reflect or speak to the communities in which we live.
- Innovation is also taking place in unique ways as a response to challenges: I read about a company that has decided to speak to their funders in business terms: Creating a creative capital fund: an entrepreneurial, innovation fund allowing theatre to do research and development.

One thing is true: we are needed now more than ever. In an ever-polarizing red versus blue nation, an isolated MySpace/YouTube/BLOG-oshperic nation, where you might never see or speak to your neighbor, where there are now millions of sources of information, no one dominating over another, Our theatres are essential.

We have an opportunity to step forward, take a leadership role, be a place to convene, a bridge to communities, offer one of the last remaining locations where humans actually inter-ACT, our lobbies are more important than ever, our stages are vital.  We offer a time when one can actually HEAR laughter, surprise, anger, emotion that is not canned nor stilted, where the connection is not broken, not fragmented with “download-interruptus” where you don't hear “my provider is down”.  We ARE the providers and we aren't “down”. We are live, here and working NOW. We are offering ideas, innovation, challenging with thoughts and points of view, bringing a spectrum of messages to our communities, engaging people in our communities. We represent EVERY point of view. We are essential, because I cannot imagine the alternative, a bleak society where we are at all times separated by a series of signals through the sky, a world without live interaction, without us. People need to convene, to interact, to be live. It is why today's conference was so successful, and it is why theatre continues to be essential.

Thank you for being part of THE ARTIST AS CITIZEN: Boston Theatre Conference 2006.

- Jeff Poulos, StageSource

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A RECAP with Notes from THE ARTIST AS CITIZEN can be downloaded here.

AGENDA

 

Citizen Theatre (9:05-9:10 AM)
“Citizen Theatre”: Throughout the day some of Boston's well-known actors share familiar and compelling speeches and lines highlighting the inclusion of social and political themes from some of the greatest plays written spanning The Greeks to Shakespeare to Modern Drama.

Welcome (9:10-9:20)
StageSource Board Chair and Brandeis Theater Company Managing Director David Colfer welcomes the gathered, gives a brief overview of the day.  A special welcome from corporate sponsor Bank of America.

On Our Stages (9:20-10:20)
Using examples of recent productions from Boston-area stages, playwright/director Wes Savick, WBUR commentator Bill Marx, and Whistler In the Dark co-Artistic Director Meg Taintor will share perspectives on current work exploring “The Artist as Citizen”, why these directors choose this work, and what impact it might have on the artists involved and audiences attending. 
Excerpted performances include:
Wes Savick's Shouting Theatre in a Crowded Fire
Whistler in the Dark's The Possibilities by Howard Barker

Break (10:20-10:35)

Citizen Theatre (10:35-10:40)

Citizens Creating Art (10:40-11:55)
Attendees are invited to join a conversation among creators of plays including:

  • Catherine Filloux, (Lemkin's House, 2006 PeaceWriting Award; The Beauty Inside), a playwright based in New York City writing on themes of genocide
  • Laura Kepley and D. Salem Smith, co-creators of Trinity Rep's Boots on the Ground, based entirely on interviews with nearly 70 Rhode Island soldiers and their families, medical workers, journalists, ministers, and teachers who have offered up their personal tales of courage, sacrifice, and dedication, both in Iraq and here at home.
  • Emerson College Assistant Professor Melia Bensussen and Associate Professor Robbie McCauley, collaborators for Emerson Stage and Roxbury Community College on Alice.  

Round Table Lunches (12:00-1:00)
Attendees will break out by category (Directors, Playwrights, Actors, Design/Production, Administrative, Producers, etc) in round-table discussions. Lunch discussions will center on key questions including:

  • What did you hear from the speakers or in the panels that resonated particular to your category?
  • Are you affected or involved by this topic in your work? 
  • How, why, why not?

Citizen Theatre (1:00-1:05)

Implicit/Explicit (1:05-2:05)
Panelists from the New England area react to the topic about art and social responsibility, on our stages, in our plays. Where is it implicit in our art? Explicit? What are our challenges in Boston
? Strengths? The panel discussion will include a Q&A with the audience. Moderator: Rick Lombardo, Producing Artistic Director, New Repertory Theatre. Panel: Ben Evett, Artistic Director, Actors' Shakespeare Project; Mary McCullough, Playwright; David Miller, Artistic Director, Zeitgeist Stage; Debra Wise, Artistic Director, Underground Railway Theater.

Break (2:05-2:20)

 

Breakout Session: WHY CREATE THE THEATRE WORK YOU CREATE? (2:20-3:40)
Attend the session below that most interests you most around the following question:
What drives you as an artist or as a producer of art…
1. To Create Work That Explicitly Expresses Political or Social Themes?
2. To Create Work That Implicitly and Subtly Incorporates Themes?
3. To Work in a Collaborative or Community Centered Environment?
4. To Create Work Serving a Specific Audience (ie, Youth Theatre, Ethnic-Specific, GLBTQ, Irish, etc)?
5. To Fight the Good Fight, ie (Creating Work In the Face of Economic Realities of Producing a Season)?
6. WAIT A MINUTE, What's Wrong with Just Making Entertainment and Making a Living?
7. Who Says My Work Matters at All?

Break (3:40-3:55)

Citizen Theatre (3:55-4:00)

Reports from Breakouts (4:00-5:00)
Spokespersons from the Breakout Sessions will each have five minutes to summarize the key points raised from their session. Facilitated by StageSource Executive Director Jeff Poulos.

Closing Remarks – Jeff Poulos

Reception (5:30-7:30)
Sponsored in part by TheaterMania. Celebrating the Boston Theatre
Conference

The Boston Theatre Conference is sponsored in part by Bank of America, TheaterMania, and Kennison Staffing.




Read about Risk, Rewards, Results, The Boston Theatre Conference 2004


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