The Zone of Provocation—The 2016 TCG National Conference—Washington, DC—June 25, 2016

The Zone of Provocation—The 2016 TCG National Conference—Washington, DC—June 25, 2016


(inaudible chatter) (inaudible chattering continues) (inaudible chattering continues) Hi everyone. If you want to take your seats. Hello everybody, we have
many more people signed up for this, so I suspect people will just
keep trickling in and we’ll just
keep charging on. Thank you so much for joining us,
I’m Howard Shalowitz, I’m the artistic director of the
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company here in Washington, D.C. I’ll introduce my fellow
panelists in a moment. But if you’re anything like me,
your blood runs a bit faster when you think about
Stravinsky’sThe Rite of Springin 1913 which you know
he caused a riot in theatre because of it’s repulsive
musical rhythms, and the barbary
of Nijinsky’s choreography. Or maybe you get
a thrill of excitement when you think about reactions
that first greeted the paintings of Robert Rauschenberg. Or the photography
of Robert (inaudible) the comedy routines
of Dick Gregory or nowadays Leslie Jones. Let’s close that. Or…
(chuckles) or– Thank you.
Close that, please. Or some of the plays
of John (inaudible) or Amiri Baraka
because of their shocking violence. Or the early works of
Suzan Lori Parks because of their strange,
sifting through layers of history. Or even the musicalHairbecause of it’s
use of nudity on Broadway. These works of art live
within what I like to callThe Zone of Provocation. That range of art which runs
the risk of offending some people for the sake of stretching
the boundaries of expression, stirring up debate on urgent topics, or speaking truth to power. These are not the only goals of art, but historically, they have been
among the (inaudible) of art, and they have often been identified
with it’s breakthrough moments. Our goal for the next 90 minutes is to talk about the Zone of Provocation in the American theatre today. We’ll hear from some
of the creators who produced three fairly recent projects that aroused significant controversy. We’ll try to understand their intentions, of their decision-making,
how they manage the public dialogue around these projects and what conclusions
they drew for the future. In our short 90 minutes, it will also be time
for some of you to share additional examples I hope.
So I encourage you to think of them. And finally,
I hope we can leave some time to talk more broadly
about wether the Zone of Provocation is shrinking or expanding currently, and wether there’s anything
we could or should do about it. I gave a speech on this topic in Ohio State a couple of years ago and maybe just a couple of points. to help us frame our discussion. My thesis that was hardly original, was that the Zone of Provocation
is under attack both in the United States
and around the world from forces that come
from both the right and the left side
of the political spectrum. From the right, this attack
most often takes the form of trying to reduce
funding for the arts in general, or for specific organizations. Forcing arts theaters from their jobs, or imposing censorship
either overtly or indirectly. From the left,
this attack generally takes the form of seeking to impose
standards of political correctness by labeling institutions
or works of art as unrepresentative or inauthentic or insensitive to particular groups. And thereby trying to dissuade others
from attending or supporting them. As we witnessed today,
the continuing polarization of our nation and our world, the rise of anti-immigrant nationalism, and simultaneously,
the spread of phenomena such as trigger warnings
on college campuses there is every reason to believe it’s not a hard prediction, that both of these forces,
from the left and right will continue to grow in the near future and that artists
and art institutions may have an even trickier time navigating within the zone of provocation,
should they choose to do so. I’m especially interested
in how the fear of backlash from either the right or the left operates within the minds of writers
or artistic directors as they make decisions
about what plays to create or to produce. And while we don’t have
any overt censorship in the United States, what kind of internal censorship happens because of our concerns
about what board members funders, subscribers
or audiences may think. If we retreat
from the zone of provocation, I wonder if we run the risk
of narrowing the footprint of theatre within
the larger discourse of our nation. More conversely, do we need to avoid the zone of provocation
so we can protect the footprint of theatre within our society. Two very different ways
of thinking about the question. These are some thorny issues
I’d like you to think about during our discussion today,
and I encourage you to be as honest and candid as possible, so that we can really
learn from one another’s experiences and ideas. So now, I want to introduce
the members of our panel. To my left is Lindsay Alba, who is the associate producer
at the Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles,
where she recently produced Sheila Callaghan’s
Women Laughing Alone With Saladwhich we will discuss. To my far left, Jack Reuler, is the artistic director
of the Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis. And Nataki Garrett to his right
was the director of that theatre’s production of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s playNeighborsand some of you I think
also saw Nataki’s production of Branden’s play,Octoroon, which is running
right now at Woolly Mammoth. Nataki’s also on the theatre faculty in CalArts, where she’s
the associate director of the Center for Theatre Performance. To my right, Ari Roth
is currently the artistic director of the Mosaic Theatre,
here in Washington, D.C. but he was formerly
the artistic director of Theatre J, where he produced the world
premiere ofThe Admission, by the very noted Israeli playwright
Motti Lerner who we’re so happy
could join us today from Israel, and I will point out
that no less than seven of Motti’s plays have been
produced by Ari either at Theatre J or at Mosaic. All of them provocative. So let’s welcome all of these– Audience clapping So we’ve chosen these three projects because they represent
three very different kinds of provocation
and any one of them might raise objections
from the right, the left or both, (laughing) probably both. And all of them certainly present
rather specific challenges to any theatre
which chooses to produce them. So, let’s start with you Lindsay, can you give us a taste
of Sheila Callaghan’s playWomen Laughing Alone With Saladand tell us a little bit about
the challenges you faced in deciding to produce it at CTG. Yes, thank you Howard. So I just want to give you
a little context about the play for those of you who don’t know it. Sheila Callaghan is somebody
that we know very well, moved to Los Angeles
and attended our writer’s workshop. so this is a group of nine writers
that we invite every year to write brand new plays in our workshop. and she began writing
Women Laughing Alone With Saladin that workshop so we were there for the very first pages of it. She was inspired to write this play
based off a meme which is that typical meme
when you see a woman laughing hysterically,
eating with salad on a fork, You know, the– she’s still thin
and attractive and she eats salad. and this marketing tool
that is used in works to market to women that if you eat salad or you eat healthy
or you go to yoga that you will be thin and attractive
and everyone will want to be you. Or want you. So, there’s a whole blog dedicated to this so she was inspired by this meme, and basically the meme came to life, these women came to life
out of these memes and what was interesting about the play is it was done
to the point of view of a man and the women in his life, so it really addressed body image, beauty and gender roles. And then in Act 2, some of the women end up playing men and the men play women. So, has almost a very Caryl Churchill kind of feel to it in the second act. extremely vulgar, offensive language. and extremely vulgar,
offensive sex acts on stage. masturbating, orgies, so you know. A fun play to read, (inaudible) I remember reading it
and being shocked in a good way where I was like, ” I have not heard women speak like this on stage before and Sheila’s voice is
so her own and so distinct. so I was reading the play
and there was the men in my office ” Do you guys– you know,
we should all read this play”, we all read it and we thought, “Can we– can we actually produce this at Center Theatre Group? At this large organization with a very large list of subscriber base, and donor base and board members are we going to shock them
and offend them a little too much? And eventually it came down to what we thought the play was and why. Why we were going to produce it, which was that Sheila was pointing out these sort of– marketing tactics
and what it meant to be a woman or a man and the way that you’re marketed too and that they are obscene and offensive. Sometimes these ads– the way
we’re marketed to are obscene. So therefore, why not use obscene and vulgar language to shock or wake the audience up and make them say,
“Oh I can’t believe they’re saying this” and if you really look at those ads you’ll feel, ” I can’t believe
we’re being marketed to this way” So anyway, I thought
we’d read a little, tiny excerpt from the show. I’m not a performer and I don’t think you are either, but we’re going to try this. Howard’s going to read the part of Guy, – and I’ll read the part of Meredith
– and this is in a bar. – we’re in a bar,
– This is a pick up scene imagine I am
a curvy, voluptuous beautiful woman. (laughing) – She’s skinny,
– Yeah. Like how skinny? Like so skinny, people worry about her. She’s so skinny,
I could shover her entire body up my ass without any lube. You want to shove
my date up your ass? Yes, I do okay? Because I’m tired
of pretending to be something that I’m not– civilized! Don’t make me civilized! Person whose name I don’t know yet. I don’t want to be your girlfriend, I want to fuck your girlfriend
while you watch. I want to make her cum harder
and louder than you ever could. I want you to fear me, I want you to fear you fearing me. I want to lead with my mass I want the gravity
of my circumference to suck you and everyone you love into me. And I want you to
stick there against my body like a suction cup. (audience laughing and clapping) It–it gets worse. I was going to say,
that was a little tamer moment in the play. So, after we decided to do this play, which was–
I feel a big, sort of risk. It felt like a big risk for us,
but something that we felt really– it was important for us to do, and so, there were preparations I think that we–took place
at Center Theatre Group. We definitely made sure
in our marketing end and our email communications
with our subscribers what the show was based upon, who Sheila was,
as a writer and that this would be a provocative play. And we–often,
most of the time give our plays ratings you know,
what kind of– how old should you be– -That’s trigger warning
– Yeah, like is it NC-17, you know? So when we try– The funny thing is you can do all that and you’re not guaranteed
that anyone’s going to read it. You know, you can send those emails and try and put that
in your marketing copy. and all that–
sometimes what we hear is, “Oh I saw that ad,
and it looked like a funny play, and I was so
insulted and shocked”. We try– we try
to do our very best to prepare the audience. But I think more importantly, after preparing them is then the follow-up,
what happens afterwards. And so, something that
we’ve been doing and I think very successfully so far, having [inaudible] after every show. We have what we call
our audience engagement – concierge program
– Is that for every play or just– Every play.
We’re doing it at the Doug– We have three theaters,
at the Kirk Douglas Theatre we’re doing it at every performance because it’s like
a David Mamet Play and you can’t do that. and then at the Taper
we’re starting to do it as well. so we have a highly trained staff I think one of our–
Tom [inaudible]. He helps lead this program for us and we have
highly trained staff that not only are there
at the beginning of the play, to have conversations
with the audience. They carry their iPads
and they also send out reports at the end of the night of conversations that they’ve had. Several of them are trained to lead these [top hats]
at the end of every show. So we do it in our lobby
and we have a bar and we try to make it
very conversational and less about an expert leading a [top hat]. More like conversation
amongst the audience. So we allow people who are really– perhaps offended or they
don’t know what they just saw or they want to talk about it– they can have a space to talk about it. But also particularly,
that’s if we have a different play, on this play,
our director is Neel Keller, who’s an Associate Artistic Director. And I think it was very helpful
to have a staff member direct a play because
he was so present and available for anything
that might have come up all throughout the run. So he wrote this really beautiful response that could be used for anyone who wrote complaints and we got quite a few. And he wrote
this really beautiful response as an artist,
why he was drawn to direct this play and why he felt
it was important to stage this play and we understood and we heard
that people would be insulted by the vulgarity that
they were seeing on stage but there was a reason why. And so we were able to use his words and reach out to anyone that sent us those sort of letters. Did you– I thought you said you brought
a couple of those letters along. – I did.
– Do you want to share one– – is there one you can share?
– I have one here that I thought you might enjoy. We do audience reviews
at the end of every show which I’m sure
many of you do that as well. And it’s pretty extensive, and I just wanted to point out–
I have 70 pages here that I just–
which I’m not going to– but just so I could refresh myself and it was very interesting to see the comments about the play and just keep in mind that on the surveys, for us at least, that primarily, people who respond are subscribers, older, white women. that a large majority of– I think it was 67% were–
yea, were white women who were subscribers, so we always have to
take that into account when we’re looking
at that kind of feedback. Our single ticket buyers,
there’s less information in there from those people who chose
to come see the play. And one of the questions on the survey is,Why do you come to the theatre?you know what makes you
want to even come– the highest answer is,I’m a subscriber.The second highest answer is,To see something new.So I always think
that’s really interesting, to see something new,
but there are so offended and insulted by a blow job on stage. Okay so this says,
blah blah blah let me preface by saying
that I invited my daughter-in-law, and her mother to what I thought would be– to what I thought would be
a ladies fun night out (audience laughs) to a somewhat [inaudible]. instead, what we experienced
was immediate and continual bombardment of over-the-top, explicit bordering pornographic, sexual language, graphic and [inaudible]
physical enactments of sexual acts,
all which did not lend itself to art. We chose to leave
at intermission as a result of what essentially was an assault that showed no sense of story at all. Much to my dismay, it was traumatizing for my poor,
open-minded daughter-in-law. (audience laughs) Many others–
many others walked out before intermission
and we assumed based on the audience reaction at intermission as well. Maybe things get more [inaudible]
in the second half but we doubt that. It seems that at least
80-90 percent of this play was written and performed
for nothing less than shock value. A really gifted writer does not need
to constantly and incessantly use the termscum, fuck,
blow jobs,sucking dicks,swallowing load. (audience laughing) I’ve always wanted
to say that in a conference. (audience continues laughing) and numerous other [inaudible] depictions of sexual intercourse to make the [inaudible] essence
of a truly great play connect with the audience. I’m not sure what to make of this, but I needed to voice my disappointment in your choice of selection. – Wow. That’s good.
– Woo! (audience clapping and cheering) Some good reading. We’ve got many others, yes. – We have a wall of hate mail, believe me.
– Oh do you? Just really quickly to wind up and see So what conclusions did you come to– so you went through quite a bit–
pushed back and I’m sure– people who loved the play
and people who really hated the play but how do you think you influenced
the theatre in the future? I will say we were really proud we did it. We felt like it was very risky, and we were all very nervous
about the entire pre-production, production and despite the push back we got from our audience,
it solidified our commitment to– to being an artist first and not placating a subscriber base and part of our mission at the– especially at the Kirk Douglas
but across CTG is pushing the boundaries
and bringing new work to the stages. And what that means is that we’re going to piss people off
sometimes and it’s okay. Michael Ritchie,
our assistant director can say, “You know, if somebody
is so offended that they leave, they decide to cancel their subscription, that’s okay, because what if a couple
of those single-ticket buyers came and said, ‘ I just saw something, and I can’t believe what I saw
and I have to come back’ and those are the subscribers
that we’re hoping to gain for a repeat audience.” So, it’s just a shift in thinking about– about who– what are our allegiances to. Is it to your subscriber base
or is it to the art? is it to yourself as artists
and what you believe in? and it’s a tricky thing in a large institution because that is a fine balance. We can’t just piss everybody off
all the time, We count on those subscribers. So, it is a tightrope. And I think you said it may affect
sort of balance and tonality – next season
– Yes. You go over it one season, – You find balance the next–
– Yes, so I did– I did mention–
so last season we did a couple plays that were really out there for our audiences,
and I think we pushed them more than we’ve ever
pushed them before so we didSalad, we did a show
calledKansa City Choir Boy, I don’t think any of you know that, It’s a Courtney Love piece I won’t go into describing it
but it was very– really outside the box for our audience andThe Object Lessonby Geoff Sobelle where we really transformed the theatre, it was just less of a narrative
and more of an experience. And so we were looking at season planning for this coming season,
there was a play that I was really passionate about
that fit– fit in with this
Women Laughing Alone With Saladtheme and we just decided that we had put our audience through a lot. And that we were
going to program that and not because we–
it wasn’t– necessarily because we were scared
of losing the audience, we just felt like,
let’s balance it a little bit more. We’re still doing some
really beautiful risky work, but that play might push them a little too much. Yeah, these questions of balance in relation to giving offense. Or more befuddlement for some people they’r really with us. Ok, thank you so much. I was going to get these three stories and then open it up to you all to talk, So, Jack and Nataki,
let me turn to you to talk a little bit aboutNeighbors
by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins which I think many of you know as Branden’s kind of breakout play in a way. It’s only had a few productions to date. You want to, just tell us that story of what the struggles were
in deciding to do it and you too, Nataki as a director,
putting your stamp on it. First, I guess we should describe that–
is that on? – Yeah.
– First I guess I should describe– So,Neighborsis about
an African-American man who’s married to a white woman
and they have a mixed-race daughter and they are from San Francisco. They moved to the Northeast
to teach at one of those Northeastern schools
like [inaudible] maybe. And he’s a professor of– of the Greeks, I can’t remember now because it’s been a long time since I’ve–
the classics, thank you. I can’t remember he was–
I can’t remember his focus he had an actually very specific focus. so he’s an adjunct professor
at this university and he’s trying to move up. And a family of blackface minstrels
moves into the house next door. And the pandemonium ensues. That’s probably the most concise
way of describing it. I think I would add that all the nonsense that this minstrel family
really represents – is every fear of this subconscious.
– Definitely, well okay. so no,
the minstrel family actually represents every fear
of all of our subconscious. It represents themeilleur
of blackface minstrels in American entertainment, so that’s
MammieandSamboand Jim Crow and Zip Coon and Topsy were all the characters. Mammy was the mother,
their father had– Jim Crow Sr. had just passed away, and left the insurance company
for the family to buy a house. in any neighborhood they wanted to
so they chose to move to the south, next door to this professor. And then the children are–
Topsy’s the daughter, Sambo’s the oldest son
and Jim Crow Jr. is the youngest son, who really doesn’t want to be
a part of this family the way that he’s being asked to, He has to step in the shoes of his father, he wants to be the stage manager, or do something else something a little bit behind the scenes. And they’re really pushing him forward to do this, and they come in full blackface and all the regalia
of those particular caricatures. And there’s a big question
about wether or not the lead character actually sees those characters as blackface minstrels because they are black people moving into the house next door or wether or not they’re
just a family of entertainers that move into the house next door. So it has to do with
a certain amount of self-hatred, a lack of self-reflection, this desire to move away from something in order to fit into the status quo. This inability to be settled with who you are and how
you represent yourself. And it’s written because Branden said
that a really good friend of his had disclosed to him that he
was married to a white woman, he is still married to that woman. Beautiful couple, I met them personally. And they had never really
had a conversation about race in the entire time
that they’ve been married. And probably still, they haven’t. And this particular person
didn’t feel it was important to have that conversation,
and Branden thought, “I wonder what that’s like.” (audience laughs) You have a little excerpt from
stage directions I believe. – iIf you care to share.
– If you’ve ever read a Brendan Jacobs-Jenkins play,
you read it. The stage directions are very precise. So because it’s a long–
it’s called an interlude. Because it’s a long interlude,
I’m going to describe the beginning and then I’ll read the rest of it. So Sambo, the oldest son,
has been asked to– to mow the lawn,
he goes to get this lawn mower and of course, because he’s Sambo, he can’t really quite do it right so the lawn mower gets away from him and he has to chase it around the stage. he comes back because he’s being chased
by that lawn mower until it stops. And then it chases after him, grabs his skirt off
which reveals this very large penis. So I’ll read from there. Okay. (audience laughs) So Sambo stands in the middle
of the stage, completely naked, holding his privates. He blushes to the audience. He sees someone in the audience,
he waves with only one of his hands,
and his enormous, firehouse hose-esque fallace ravels
from his groin and off stage. (audience laughing)
Sambo blushes again, tries to pull it back,
but it’s stuck on something. Sambo works hard to pull his penis back but what ever the object
is stuck on ends on whatever the object is stuck on. When he finally gets back on stage, he realizes that it’s roped
to a watermelon. Sambo [breathes]. He goes up to the watermelon,
tries to untie his penis from around the watermelon. he fails at the knot,
he [helps] for a bit. Then he gets an idea and then proceeds
to chew through the shaft of his penis. With half a penis and a watermelon, he is a success.
He poses. He pats himself on the back.
[Prees], then he licks his lips, looks around to make sure no one’s looking at him. He looks at the watermelon, he looks at his half a [inaudible] penis, which is now I guess
the size of his semi-normal penis, and he gets an idea. He pokes a hole in the watermelon, and then inserts his penis
into the watermelon and proceeds to make wild, passionate,
savage love with the watermelon. I think I’m going to stop you there. (audience laughs) One more.
– Yes. there’s two more. He ejaculates, he pulls out, he’s exhausted. then he drinks it. With the semen dripping from his face
and the watermelon juice, he wipes his mouth. Wow. (audience laughs)
Whew. So, I’m going to confess something. – But, I won’t do that.
– Go ahead. I was just going to confess that you know, when I read this, but I was just– it was a sensation in a couple of workshops, production and public theatre, and then I want to ask Jack you know, what it took for him to decide
to doNeighborsespecially as the play that launched theRadical Hospitalityregime there. But, what I want to confess is that
the only time that I can ever remember sitting down with a playwright, and in my office,
which is when I first met Branden and saying to someone, “I love this play,
I can’t do it in Washington, D.C.” It really was a play that for me,
set the limit in a way that [inaudible] exactly. In some ways,
it’s just that one step more comfortable. So even at Woolly Mammoth,
there are limits. I think our jobs as artistic directors for non-profit theaters
is to lead audiences to see that which they don’t get
nor they want to see. and we’re sometimes at our worst
when we ask the audience what do you want to see
or what can you handle and respond to that, that’s really
the domain of the commercial theatre. (audience clapping) And sometimes–
and sometimes we actually can gage
the success of a play by how many people leave the room. And that may have been the case on this, so as Howard suggested, in the 16 months that preceded
the opening ofNeighbors, Mixed Blood’s board
and staff had undergone a great introspection and reinvention, and launched this thing
calledRadical Hospitalityin which we demonetize
the theatre experience and let everybody come without charge and we made a lot of
pretty [set] positions there’s suggestions to ourselves
about what that might mean. One of which was that by doing that, we would go–
our programming would become [inaudible], that we would do easy stuff
that everybody could digest and we wanted to show
that wasn’t quite the case. (audience laughing) And so we really–
started that season of you know, fall of 2011 with
Radical HospitalityandNeighborsand I had gone to– I’d read the play, I’d gotten the play from Branden’s agent, I really liked it and then [inaudible]
a small theatre in Kentucky talk about it–
tell me their name. – Matrix
– That the Matrix theatre in LA. There was a production mounting,
I went to see that and my concerns about the play,
quite honestly, how did you feel watching that play where it’s just
cemented that this was a play [inaudible], we got the rights and then [inaudible]
and I was thrilled that Nataki was going to direct it–
to some of the actors in town we sent the script saying, “We’d love to have you come and audition”. And at that time at the Guthrie–
a small theatre with a 200 seat theatre,
Pillsbury House Theatre was doing one ofThe Brothers Sizeplays
and I’d given it to one or two actors in that show and the word spread Mixed Blood’s doing this show,
stay away. There was a boycott for local actors to audition for this show at the time we did it,
but I was actually more heartened by that
and Nataki was a fantastic partner so, we had the budget
for a few more out of town actors, and that’s what we did
but we moved forward and produced that show,
one of the things– the casting that we did,
that the role of Mammie we decided to cast with a man. Anyway, as you can tell,
it had some difficult props, designer issues– (audience laughs) And so, but I think–
so as this night it came to be, that we were opening and so all the press
about the opening of the season really was very much about the opening
ofRadical Hospitality, Mixed Blood reinventing itself
and come and see this and very little about the play
that we were opening with. This play by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
a young playwright. And actually there was
sort of a good buzz, some of the people that were in it,
we had some great actors in it, even the local ones
that chose to do it and so, that day at the time, we had hoped the people start a line
forRadical Hospitality,the audience was packed and was filled
with [inaudible] leaders and people from– our entire board
was there and staff and family members of the cast, And we did this show and there certainly–
when we got to the scene that Nataki just read,
there was a certain exodus from the theatre, but what– this play that you actually
had to see the whole thing to be able to experience what it’s about. And a lot of that happened
in the last 15 minutes of the show. And so [inaudible] and I were there,so. So the actor playing Mammie at 2h15m into a 2h30m show, he had a heart attack on stage. and literally was dead on stage
for about 20 minutes there’s paramedics
in the audience and doctors and the good news is that when the–
they revived him. And all we were hoping for
was that all the EMTs were white because they saw this guy
in this outfit with make-up on that stage,
they might not have administered care. So nobody in the audience that night that the actor’s wife was there
and [inaudible] took care of her. Everybody did what they did right the actor is back performing, he’s an actor and director,
someone we’ve known for years but all these people didn’t get to see
how the play ended. So as a result of that, so they all left. And we just said,
“Come back and see the second act so you can see how the play ends”. Because that’s an important
part of your experience. And for the rest of the runs,
a five-week run, we replaced that actor as Mammie, enough people left every night early
to allow those that came (audience laughs) for the second act. To be able to see how it ended and why we were doing
what we were doing. And what sort of act of heresy this was. But every night for every show– and Jamil Jude,
if you’ve gotten to meet him here, it was his first night with Mixed Blood as a producer in residence and as house manager. So the first night as house manager
in charge of the audience, an actor on stage drops dead
and he had to manage that. But he also led these [inaudible], the free forums,
these post-show conversations for every night of the run,
which really, you couldn’t tell that people were in the same room
for the same show and that two and a half hours
have preceded. These conversations,
sometimes the conversations after a two and half hour play
were still going on half an hour in
and there was a divide along race, there was a divide along generation, there was people from the north and south saw different plays, and people you know–
normally we still do this every night we have
a post-show conversation. Maybe twenty-five to forty people
will stay depending on the show and that, it was half the audienc
would stay they’d have a lot to unpack emotionally, after the show, artistically, but it was actually
one of the great experiences and I didn’t feel like it was
in the zone of provocation when we did it,
I guess I’ve been told I was since that. I think that, I’ll give it to Nataki
to talk about the actual artistry of that. Well, I think part of the reason why I mean, when I first read this play with the guy, Joseph Stern, in Los Angeles who produced it
at the Matrix. When he first handed it to me,
he wasn’t sure he was going to do it, I had to convince him to do it. And part of it was because
Brendan was sort of riding that line of conversation in my own art that–it was the first time
that I read a play by a playwright where they were actually
speaking into questions that I had. I mean, directly,
like as if I’d written it myself. Image for image, value for value
question for question these things that– the controversy
of the play for me heartens from the controversy of my existence in spaces like this. That somehow my being
a tangible human being in any kind of space is a controversy. And so, this level of provocation
for me on this stage was just an extension of the level
of provocation that already exists in spaces like these,
in any space that i’m in. So interesting to hear how close
to that parallel, like Lindsay said about Sheila saying she’s responding to the provocation
that’s in the world around her, why shouldn’t the play? – Have that same level of response.
– Right, exactly. And the other thing is
that I’m the kind of director who’s interested in doing projects that feel impossible. So when I read it I thought,
“There’s no way we could do this, let’s do it!” (laughing) “Let’s go ahead and see
what happens if we do it.” I come from a long line
of African-American, my family–
African-Americans who– for whom its very important that we
represent ourselves in a certain way so the status quo can accept us, and in a lot of ways I was raised
to believe that I represent the entire race
of black people in the world. (audience laughs) So the weight of that
has always been heavy on me and because of the weight of that, I always questioned
what that actually meant. Like am I —
do I represent everybody in every aspect of my life? Like, when I’m doing my own thing
in my own bathroom, or when I’m hanging out with friends, or when I’m having a conversation
with a group of other artists in front of a group of other artists. How often am I [inaudible]
with the weight of this ? So in a lot of ways, I feel like
the play is Branden’s way of saying, “Yeah, me too, I wonder how–
what is the weight of that?” And the last thing is about the interludes
because thats the big thing you know, the play is really about a family
that really needs to have a conversation. And about another family
that’s really trying to work through the transition post-grief of their leader–
the leader of their family passing. If you just look at the play,
that’s what it is. The interludes
are the play’s way of asking, how far do we go? So we laugh at the first things,
we laugh that he can’t get the lawn mower to work you know, he’s kind of a bubbly idiot and we’re laughing and then–
how far does it go? like is it this funny?
is this still funny? Am I funny when it looks like this? How deep can I make it for you? Before you start to question again, the controversy of my existence in spaces like this. Wow, I’m going to stop you there
because this is so profound. (chuckles) Thank you guys, each of these is a rich
story that we can spend a whole panel on. But let me turn over to my right if you could just digest
these one at a time. Let me turn over
to my right to Ari and Motti and ask you to do the same. Tell us just a little about the admission. A tiny bit about the play,
but also the decision– the decision to– what you were after,
Motti in writing the play. Because you are one playwright per say
on the panel and then what the decision
to produce it was for you, Ari. Thank you very much, Howard. So, I was born in Israel and since my early childhood,
there were always wars around me in five years, six, seven years
there was another war. And I grew up during the [inaudible]
of these wars the more I grew, the more I realized that
these narratives are forced narratives. That the stories I hear about the wars about what is happening to us in the wars was happening to the other side
in these wars. This is all very, very far away
from reality of the wars. It was a strong impact,
once I realized it– once I experienced it all myself
in wars that I participated in. I thought that it was really necessary,
it’s crucial, it’s [inaudible] to share the truth of the wars
that I know and I experienced and it seems that it’s [inaudible]
and such a need to to justify itself, to justify it’s wars, receptive audience
for the truth about these wars because the sense of justice
in these wars was so fundamental in the struggle. The struggle to survive. So, I was looking for an example,
one play that maybe somebody saw the production
in Center Stage,The Murder of Isaacin 2006, was again, about the reality
of what it means to be a part of the war. from outside, from the South
of Israeli [inaudiibe] war there’s no purpose and there’s no– traumatized by even this,
and then to continue his life afterwards. Then, the play’s admission
[inaudible] village, At the end of the day,
about 100-150 Palestinians would kill civilians. That story was suppressed. Israelis didn’t know about it. Israelis refused to know about it. There was no Palestinian voice
in Israel left. There’s all these stories,
I felt that it is my responsibility to tell the story because I felt the suppression
of these stories in other words, the forced narrative that we create about our wars is an obstacle to reconciliation. And if we continue
telling ourselves the lies that we’ve been told all our lives
and if we continue with these lies, we won’t come to any understanding
with the Palestinians around us. the principle of truth of reconciliation
that was so effective in South Africa we must adopt it in order to create
some kind of reconciliation with the Palestinians. I would love to read
a little segment from the play. The play focuses on the [content]
who was the commander of the [regimen] to [inaudible] that village. [inaudible] Nothing has happened,
just go get the village and that’s it. he’s a boy, a friend of my son’s
finds evidence to the fact that they were mass killing
in that village. At the end of the play, just the last
minute of the play, he finally agrees. what happens, yes. I show too much, yes. Rage, revenge, madness, yes. We stole the streets yes,
I got swept away by a lot of soldiers, I couldn’t control the guests,
I couldn’t stop. Yes, [Inaudible], yes,
[Inaudible] them too, yes, Ones who were just stoned maybe there were
some women in the group with no man, to speak through the windows, yes. Some were running away,
but didn’t so, it wasn’t back. It was not a lesson, and to this day,
there was another guy who’d kill there too, we’d go kill
there too, and then there was another one, then another one after that,
again we kill, again we both kill. but never slaughter, yes, never slaughter. But yet the admissions of wars, is a
magnificent admission, this is what we did without calling the deed in [Inaudible] battle. it was a slaughter,
a massacre of the war crimes which is very difficult
for the Israeli to admit. – The hint–
– Can we turn to Ari for a second– talk a little bit just with that
in our minds. – of what that challenge-
– [Inaudible] that they’re committing war crimes, never. I want to acknowledge that we’re in a room
full of provocation practitioners It’s an honor to be in a room with so many
wonderful people to share this [inaudible] with them and also
to recognize we’re in Washington D.C., where this play took place. And the play culminated in my termination as artistic director
of 18 years at Theater J. The program in the Washington D.C.
Jewish community center. I want to recognize Mosaic staff members
who are here today, I want to recognize Adam Immerwahr,
the artistic director of Theater J now. I appreciate his presence here. And to say that, before we talk
about provocation, we should talk about the prerequisite
or the predicate to provocation. I believe, from an artistic point of view, which is establishing enough trust. Provocation without trust can lead to many different kinds of harassments or inflictions of terror verbally, culturally, actually. Theaters are trusts,
that’s dictated in their missions. I want to tell you the mission
of what Theater J was or is for what Mosaic is now
which is to understand that provocation
doesn’t exist in the vacuum. Though a playwright,
with a professional debut coming out with his provocations, that is a particular kind of boldness because it doesn’t lead
with a mission statement. Theaters do.
Theaters say, “This is who we are
and why we are gathered together.” To that purpose,
there are also some understandings about this very important charge
we have of speaking truth to power, or speaking satire to power. We understand that we’re rarely hurling invective at the vulnerable. The satire rarely punches down,
it punches up. And when it punches down, you sometimes get
a Charlie Hebdo situation. Where you are inflicting your provocation on those who feel tremendously threatened. In the case of the Jewish community, you have an interesting dialectic. You have power that feels threatened. In Israel, you have power
that feels that it’s at the brink of an existential crisis. And therein lies the controversy. But, those who live in Israel
and those who support Israel have to recognize that for all
the security that’s still craved, it has a tremendous amount of security relative to those who are [inaudible]
who are living under occupation. And the need to create
a reconciliation between the two demands as exactly
as Motti says, a truth telling. A reckoning with the past, the most difficult kind
of political negotiation. So, Motti’s play,The Admission
didn’t come out of nowhere, it came from establishing years of trust with our audience
and within our community. about the kinds of dialogues
we were going to have on our stage, intercultural encounters. Between jews and non-jews about our relative health
and how we overcome the gulfs of experience that divide us.The Admissionwas not
the first Israeli play we did. It was not the first Israeli-Palestinian
encounter that we had, it was one in a long line. It built onReturn to Haifa, The Palestinian [inaudible] adapted by an Israeli
theatre company, The Cameri. With the position, Palestinian and Israeli
birth mother and nurturing mother
who raised the same son. And the son went
to decide who he belonged to. Motti’s play was prepared for
in our community by a series of readings
and then workshops, which made it an infinitely better play as he continued to build the play
both in Israel– first under the titleDinner with Dadand later, in workshops
both in Israel and in Theatre J. The bad thing about it is that it created a lot of interest
and attention from many other onlookers. beginning with the stakeholders
within our jewish community center, the embassy of this field that got paid for Motti Lerner to come
on many other occasions to the United States where they paid
for the Palestinian [inaudible] to be staged by The Cameri Theatre
on our stage. People knew what was coming. dPeople knew the historians that paid– that centered it around
the controversy of Tantura. People were paying attention to this upcoming world premiere. And so we girded ourselves
for what was to happen, because of our track record
[inaudible] the war, about the conflict,
we had also helped ignite the existence of a rump group,
as I called them. [inaudible],
a jewish tea party organization a little citizens vigilante group called Citizens Opposed
to Propaganda Masquerading as Art. COPMA, you can look it up they still–
their website is still running. copma.net and they had
this play in their sights because they had Motti in their sights
and me in their sights. And they migrated from the fax machine and stationary with five people
signed on them to an [inaudible] up to some 10,000 names and addresses of every Jewish Federation board member and addresses of every JCC board member. So, they got to terrorizing by email, those who otherwise were
very proud of their little Jewish theatre that became a much bigger
Jewish theatre over the years. And they put a tremendous amount
of maligning information. Both about the play, the treatment, our intentions out to create a kind of
atmosphere of invective in the room. And then we committed to produce the play, there was a boycott campaign, organized by COPMA
to get donors to withhold money from the Jewish Federation, because of their support of the JCC,
which enabled Theatre J to program. And there was a running count of how much money
was being withheld from the Federation campaign from 5000,
do your principles have a price tag? Was the question
I was asking at staff meetings, do our principles have a price tag? At $5000, the show went on at $20,000 we were still committed, when there was reported to be
a withholding of $250,000, we said,”Oh wait a second,
let’s stop and think about this”. That withholding never materialized,
it wasn’t a real withholding of a quarter million dollars but it was
out there rhetorically for a moment JCC decided that they were not going
to be able to produce the full production, but because of it already–
JCC to it’s credit wanted to honor all the contracts. All the equity,
actors who were signed, of all the–five Israeli artists
who were already committed on board. So we were going to honor the contracts,
not do the 34 performance run, with hard negotiating from our artists, we agreed to a 16 performance
workshop presentation. The ensuing publicity
around this compromise ensured that all 3600 seats to that 16 performance run were sold out. After rave reviews
from the show, we were told that we couldn’t possibly extend,
of course. But, I enlisted an outside producer and Shallal of Busboys and Poets to present the show
for 22 additional performances at Studio Theater
which were equally popular. five months later, the Voices From
a Changing Middle East festival which was 14 years running
was canceled by the JCC and I felt compelled to protest that. in the press and internally
and I was fired a month later for insubordination. And Mosaic Theater was born the next day. Voices From a Changing Middle East
festival continued as well. Just to move this forward, maybe to ask you one question – [Inaudible]
– Yes. How did that affect your thinking as you
think about Mosaic for the future – in anyway? Or was it– I think those questions of context
and trust are really, really important as we continue to ask her
urging questions. Provocation is a word that to me
is just a descriptive of something that’s more important,
which speaks to mission and speaks to the urgency
of what you have to say. and Mosaic would do well
to understand its deep mission and it’s deep reason for existing, and before It goes about
provocation for provocation’s sake. knowing– as Mosaic,
as a theater that’s running in northeast DC and not northwest. As a theater that’s open
and it’s represented by a large cohort of African American board members,
that it’s being relevant to an African American community as well. And a fusion community
of Jews and non-Jews from all quadrants of the city. We are going down the road
of continued provocation but we have to build
the trust first and foremost. Well, look as I said before,
these are three phenomenal stories can we give a hand to all these– (audience clapping) (audience clapping continues) We still have a good half hour left, we’ll come back to all of this,
but I just want to turn it over to you all
for just one second. I’m just really interested
for just a few minutes If there’s examples that any of you
brought into the room you know, from your own experience
where you really struggled With the decision to not produce
or not to produce a play, To write or not to write a play, And sort of what the content
of that struggle was and which you might’ve
learned from it, but in really short soundbites. Just these three examples
which we sort of selected to stand for every example,
I think that provocation exists on a lot of levels, it’s very specific
to different communities in different contexts ,etc. If there’s anybody that has anything that
they need to share, it’s confession time. Yeah. Do you want– – Here, let’s give you a mic.
– Yes, yes, yes. Hey my name is Patrick Dooley,
I’m the artistic director of a group in Berkeley
calledThe Shotgun Players. and we’re actually in the midst of our initial run– we’re at our 25th
anniversary season this year, and we chose to do a play,
Penelope Skinner’sThe Village BikeSay that again? It’s calledThe Village Bike
by Penelope Skinner. And I’ve been following this play,
it’s run at the Royal Court and then I moved to New York
with great interest– she’s a playwright that I’ve been
following for a few years. we chose to do this play to–
again, to really– we knew it was a controversial piece, It had not met with that same
controversy in it’s earlier runs. But we did the show,
it really tackles a lot of things: gender stereotypes and pornography, and just, you know–
the female protagonist in the play you know, makes some difficult decisions that end up not working out
so well for her. So, we did the show, we worked on it
actually for a few months in advance to kind of just get ourselves,
wrapping ourselves around it and did the show and then had
a really exciting preview process, we’re having incredible talk-backs, people really sort-of inspired
to see the show. Had our–
and then had– The critic for the San Francisco Chronicle
come see the show. And for the first time in 25 years, we got the–
you guys may not know about this, the lowest rating because an empty chair. Now I’ve never even seen any play get this in any– [inaudible] this is a brand new play
to the [inaudible] and we got in the front page, two pages of review, two color photos,
like do not see this play, run away from this play, not a single mix
in a single actor in the show, anything else basically just a rant
about why this play should not be done or seen. Now I mean, unfortunately,
we live in a city where there really is one big paper it’s the Chronicle. there are several critics,
but none of them matter next to this one. So it was, you know–
the next day we sold one ticket. The day after that we sold
a half-price ticket. Yes, now I mean, never mind
the fact that like, audiences who had been coming to see the show were writing protest letters to the Chronicle which they never printed, you know. [inaudilble] but we have since started a rally like, a week and a half after this, of other positive reviews coming out to turn it around–
the other interesting thing about this season and this is why this is relevant, I’ll wrap it really quickly, is that we were doing the season in rep,
which means we do one show, then we do the second show and keep doing
the first show, third show keep doing– so we’re going to do a true season’s reps
so by the end of the year we’re doing five shows
of five different shows, five days, five different shows, I’m looking at this empty chair for the next seven fucking months! (audience laughing and clapping)
Like, how do we do this? And at one point, there was a question
and we talked like, We have a show that really tanks
do we just hide– just bury that show
and just do four shows? But here’s the thing,
we fucking loved this show! And we really believed in this play. We’ve all done those plays that we just
could have died a nice, quiet death but that was not this play. And we were starting to get
this audience that’s saying, “We want you to do this show,
we’re so glad you’re doing the show.” Women saying,
“I’m so grateful to hear this story told even though it’s ugly”. Even the playwright, I’m terrified like
“Oh God, she’s going to be so upset” but she sent people to see the show, and she–
I just got this thing from her yesterday, “Send me some questions,
I’ll answer them”. and just in response to this thing
and we’re trying to figure out how do we In the face of having the largest paper
in Irvine, California say, “Do not go see this play”, how do we find a way
to keep it going through word-of-mouth and we’re starting to figure that out, but it’s already had a devastating
financial impact on the organization. it’s just, you know, you tell them
tickets are 20 bucks apiece It’s hard to make up but you know,
it pulled up like 20 grand in just you know, 10 days of losses. -So, anyway, there it is.
That’s really devastating. (audience laughs) Anyone else?
Yeah. You need this? You don’t need that? So Godfrey Simmons, artistic director
of Civic Ensemble in Ithaca, New York. We were doing a production,
we just finished it this past spring we did of production of Eugene O’Neill’s
All God’s Chillun Got WingsYeah, I see people turning around,
“What the fuck, why were you doing that?” (man chuckling) Then if you go on Wikipedia
you see like four productions of it. In the world seemingly, right? And we did a small production of it In New York City,
like in a way off-Broadway you know, it did decently but we did
a coproduction with Cornell this past spring, and when we were– when they had asked me
to direct something there and I brought up
All God’s Chillun Got Wings, I said, “But listen, what we’re going to do
is that we’re going to split the audience. One side white,
and one side black. And then everybody else
got to kind of choose where they could sit. (audience laughs) So, now we did this in the city, But what was interesting is that
there was–what was fascinating was is that when you have
institutional buy-in and you talk about trust, we were able to figure out
all of the steps. So there wasn’t–
the agita came later for like, once it came up–
I’ll try to get to that very quickly. But the institution, Cornell was like,
“So, what do we do with this?” Well you know, the population of Cornell
was like 30% Asian or Asian American. How do we deal with that? So we made certain–
there were certain differences like we said
that one side would be white, one side would be for people of color. Instead of just saying
White and black, right? And then,
so anyway, we go through it, we engage students in terms of getting the word out
and talking about the production. We had students actually leading
the post show conversations so we were really trying to do everything very–
in a very engaged way. And all audiences know
we do shit like this all the time, that we kind of like it down the hill and it is on a hill. We get to the performance–
the production. Opening night. Via–
there are basically two papers in town it’s Ithaca so, you’re not kind of
too worried about it but it’d be great to get a good review. The two–
so, opening night, one of the critics decides to sit–
he’s white. he decides to sit on the
person of colorside, (audience laughs) right in the center. There’s no privilege there, but anyway, he sits right in the center, gets up and walks out
in the middle of the second act. Yeah. So, so and I go, I’m kinda–I’m freaking out
a little bit because I’m like, “What the–” and somebody was like,
“Well, maybe he has a bad prostate, you don’t know what’s going on”. (audience lauging) Right. – But then finally, he writes a review!
Oh my God.And I knew he was going to do this shit. So, he writes a review, and talks about leaving the show. And says the show was great! I just couldn’t take it. I could not–
I could not deal with it. And, if you don’t know– we all probably know the play
but there was interracial marriage and it’s in it’s–there’s bio there,
there’s all kinds of stuff there and they talk to the audience,
a lot during it in our production. He couldn’t handle it. Ticket sales went up. (audience laughs) Is the thing but think the criticism–
the big about that I guess that i’m interested in is how
critics play a role in this. As gatekeepers and as morality police. -I just want to ask a question.
– Yeah. Because I’m just very interested
in theNeighborsstory. I mean, there’s artistic provocation
which I indulge in the most. And try to push what an audience
is ready for in terms of this form. But it seems like in your theatre,
Jack that it’s both content and form with provocation and that
I’m super interested in the boycott of the black actors
and that kind of censorship which I think is probably behindThe Village Bikestory too.
I imagine it’s like, “Don’t see this play
because it’s not right.” It’s showing things in a powerful way. There was this comfort within the field of [inaudible] certain kinds of projects and how we as artists
kind of talk about censoring– it’s like so, it’s the censorship from
the left and the right at the same time. – Interesting.
– Could you talk about it? Well I admit I agree with Ari that the only filter
I feel like we have is mission. and how we play with content and form
is the joy of being an artistic director. Actually having a–
getting to have tastes that you can share. I know when we did Octoroon this year, I said to Nataki, “You know,
this play isn’t that subversive, we should be just fine with this.” And she was just like, “You have drank
your own kool-aid too long.” (audience laughing) I mean, I don’t know
if I get the question but– My question’s for Nataki
I think like how– you face censorship within your own
African-American community of actors. –How do you push back or–
– You don’t, these conversations are hard to have,
that’s why you have them secretly and not in front of the dogmatic society. You have them secretly
because they’re hard to have. and because you’re so forced into culture. It’s not being put–we did it in LA,
I had an actor come in blackface. And we went through the whole–
for the audition. He auditioned in blackface.
And we went through the whole audition. He was visibly upset, I mean,
really, really angry at me. And so we went through
the whole thing, read the sides and I said, “Do you have any questions?” He says, “I wanna know what
you’re going to do about this!” And obviously we sat for a while talked to him about it and I understood. And I said, “What I want to know is how
you’re getting back into your car. That’s what I want to know, because
I understand. I have a mission as well. So I have a responsibility
to what I’m doing. But how are you
getting back into your car? How are you going to do that? Because you don’t have
the protection of this sanctuary. When you walk out there like that.” And I think that’s actually
one of my key– we can open this up
to a larger conversation now. or anymore examples would be exciting too, one of my key questions about theatre in general is how do you
protect that sensitive safe space? where people are looking at the thing
on the stage as a work of art, not an advocacy platform but is something which is a [inaudible]
that they [inaudible] has to respond to,
whether the provocation is aesthetic, or political or cynic or racial–
whatever the provocation is. and because i’m not–
of course we don’t have– everyone in our audience
doesn’t understand that, I think, you know–
and every theatre is different. But I think that’s what I feel like we kind of have a collective
responsibility to protect that sense of,
we go in and do this thing together and we can live with that. But i just don’t know–
that’s just not where I think our society’s at about art in general, so I’m just curious,
are you all reflecting on that, yeah. Yeah, I’m [inaudible]
of the Freedom Theatre in the west bank Palestine
and also Connecticut Repertory Theatre. I’m not sure that the trust relationship can be controlled. There’s always a need–
it’s not a closed system, you know what I’m saying,
obviously the trust within the audience
and the theatre is critical to move ahead, but you can’t control
who’s going to insert themselves into that relationship, beyond the tea party group
that you described, it was not a part of your system,
but they inserted themselves into it. So you can’t always tell. A quick example
I’d like to bring is actually a wonderful play called
Cambodian Odyssey, by John Lipsky, which we did at the
Merrimack Repertory Theatre 20 years ago. about Haing Ngor
which many of you remember is the actor who won
the Academy Award forKilling Fields. But his personal story was exactly the same as Dith Pran,
the character he played. And there was a scene
that was in his novel or his biography and play
in which a group of Cambodians come across the Khmer Rouge at the end of the revolution
that killed him, with a sign that said,
Khmer Rouge Enemy Forever. Well, Lowell Massachusetts as it happened
was like the second largest Cambodian refugee population which why we did the play. And the consultant for the play was from the community.
The community found out about the scene, and were outraged
and wanted the scene cut. And John the playwright actually felt,
“They’re right.” It destroys the capacity
or the taxi capacity for reconciliation in the community. But the rest of us felt
very strongly it should stay. Because it was Haing Ngor’s story.
It was his story. It was his wife who was killed,
it was his child who was killed. It was he who survived. But the Cambodian community was like,
“That’s just Karma. Why is he special about that?” In fact, that’s what they said
and so there was a huge struggle within
the artistic community of this play about wether to listen
to the community that was inserting itself for their own political purposes
or not and actually, we decided to keep the scenes to some
extent, against John’s preferences. So, you know it’s a complex problem that doesn’t–that looks at both sides
of community input. Sometimes the artists
gotta stand up to the community. I’m all on this side,
I’ll move to this side. Just hearing all the stories and thinking
about a positive of all of this. We tend to think of theatre as media that can’t reach people
as easily as others, but the fear that’s engendered within people actually sort of is
an indication of power in the voice. – Just thinking about–
– That’s the provocation, that you actually– Yeah, people are– Well yeah, and it sucks that people
are so scared of their representation for all sorts of cultural reasons that anything that could be
perceived as negative is incredibly terrifying. It reminds me–
and I clearly wasn’t there but with the original
God Of Vengeanceproduction in Broadway that had the first lesbian kiss
on broadway history – got shutdown because years ago,
– It got shut in DC too the jewish community didn’t want that to be the representation
even though it was from their culture but the idea that we can still
reach people on that fundamental level and that people are so scared of how people will be
perceived by our media actually in some ways is empowering
about the voice that we still have– Well thank you for reminding us
that I intend this to be inspiring now. (audience laughing) [inaudible] I just wanted to [inaudible]. The only show I ever walked out of was at Woolly. – Yeah, what show?
– It was Southeast Africa, -[inaudible]
-[inaudible] It wasn’t because I–it’s hard to say
likeornot likesomething. It’s because I was so angry. I wanted to kill white people. And I’m not a violent person. – But you didn’t want to kill the–
– I couldn’t be in the room any longer with that rage that awoke in me. Which, actually then kind of–
in retrospect– what it did was remind me
of how I angry I am all of the time. (audience laughs) And how so much of my life as an
African-American of second generation in particular, has been about
dampening that down, making it go away, find other ways to express yourself
so that I don’t feel like I’m silenced but that I’m not–
I’ve never been empowered either in any other way other than
working creatively to speak about things
that I’m angry about, and second play that was– Oh! I loved this show, Branden’s show. Because I felt like for the first time, there it all is, on stage. And it was funny and it was potent, And it was angry
and told this wonderful story and the fact that it ends up
with those two black women standing on the stage
talking about this shit. You know, [inaudible] because that was– I have a poem [inaudible]. [inaudible] Buelah the maid. And that Beulah’s last line is–
her motto is, “Sick of this shit”. And she walks out. – But there it was, so thank you–
– No need, put your finger on something– Branden is particularly a fan of using
humor to disarmer defenses about the offensive things
that he puts in front of us and of course,
humor is just a great tool that way. Jackie’s play, a brilliant play, but it’s just kind of
bringing you right into– and it’s too–
so many years too late to even do or say something
about it she was in that particular play. And these responses are very personal. – Different people respond differently.
– Yes. So my name is Shay, I’m an actor, writer,
and I perform on big stages and small. Guthrie to small [inaudible] theatre, etc. But I’m also a curator
and often I’m charged to sort of incubate new projects. And also sort of be the steward
behind projects that provoke, projects that are valued in voice. Some things really resonated for me. One is, what is
the trust contract that you’re building? And then, what happens
in the absence of that? Particularly around community response
and how a community can feel like they’re not brought along. I’m also curious about
the sacred space that’s created not just in the room but again,
in the community and also the ripple effect. Because you think once that play lands, the immediacy of it is gone,
what happens after that? And who’s responsibility. So as a curator,
I want to bring up two situations, one was–
so a small organization that I worked with Intermedia Arts. 118 seats, invested in an artist over 60,
wanted to put a story on stage. The story was angry black woman
and well-intentioned white girl. And she wrote this piece and she wanted
to do the story up on stage. We really realized that we needed to do–
Originally the project had 6 months and we added 8 months on to that
in order to grow the understanding around why this piece
was happening on stage and what are we actually trying to do. And realized that there was
a bigger responsibility to own that story and her show sold out
two and a half months in advance, three shows were added, and her next piece is called,
Old People’s Pussy. (audience laughs) And it’s a really–
so yeah, ticket sales went up, you know. (audience laughs) [inaudible] (audience laughter continues) I’m curious about that world we build and what our responsibility is
and how we can define success so that when things get away from us, we can say at the end,
“That was successful.” Community might have gotten mad, they didn’t even come, how do we get our community right on that? I think that point about building
the trust while you’re building the piece are almost like those are two
parallel tracks. It’s very interesting. When we premiered
Women Laughing Alone With Saladjust a little bit before CTG did it, At Woolly, I lost sleep over that, I really thought people would think if I’m just being smut. And I think I felt okay because,
when I knew I would be okay was at a very early reading of the play. We invited a whole bunch of board members,
they said, let’s get out in front of this, and let’s invite
some of our closest stakeholders, especially women because the piece was sort of pitched
with women in the audience. To listen to this right away
and immediately I just knew, I felt– even when you immediately
take that step of not holding the decision as a secret, and not asking other people necessarily what they think, I’ll never do that,
just not in my DNA to do that, but then say,
“This is what we’re committed to, help me understand what we’ve got here. and seeing how robust
the conversation was. The first time we just did
a reading of the play, I just felt,
“Oh, okay, this is going to be okay, this really is a genuine conversation.” You just brought up
something I’ve been thinking about listening to all of you guys. When we did–
when we did our production ofSaladwe had already seen it, we came to see
the world premiere at Woolly, which was really helpful to us. We had decided to do it, I don’t know that
we knew when we were going to do it, So when Woolly decided to do it
we were like, “Oh! Thank God!” (audience laughs) We were so glad to be able to see it and I was just wondering
as we all talk about this is something that I thought a lot about
sinceSaladclosed. Was what if anything, could we have done better, or differently with our audience
and our staff and our board to prepare them? We tried, I mean,we felt
that we had our bases covered and I don’t know that we fully did. And just to spark that conversation, “Oh if anyone has any thoughts in that.” I will say one thing I thought of:
it was our staff. I think sometimes the artistic staff will make a decision
and will hold that decision right here. and we all feel like we know–

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