After suspending its traditional theatre program due to the coronavirus pandemic, California’s Sundance Institute turned its live performance efforts and support to an Interdisciplinary Program. One outcome of this initiative, released August 4, shares insights from over 70 theatre artists as they contemplate the current state of an artform brought to a halt and what’s needed in its road to recovery.
The Emerging From the Cave field study, commissioned by Sundance and executed by longtime advisor Jesse Cameron Alick (recently named associate artistic director at Off-Broadway’s Vineyard Theatre), presents not hard data but rather a collection of ideas, thoughts, feelings, frustrations, and more from 76 individuals. Alick classifies these people, to whom he interviewed via Zoom over the course of several months earlier this year, as “performance innovators, field leaders, thought leaders, and field donors.” Participants include Pulitzer Prize winners Lynn Nottage, Suzan-Lori Parks, and Michael R. Jackson, plus Robert O’Hara, Liesl Tommy, Shaina Taub, Mike Lew, and Ty Defoe.
“The sampling of voices here is just that, a sampling, and there are 10 times as many smart people I didn’t speak with, who I hope will add to this conversation as it continues,” Alick says. “This study aims to give us a road map to follow in this new future in which we now find ourselves.”
Alick determines from his findings that skepticism towards commitment to equity and supporting local communities permeates the community, and identifies four calls to action to address this: an exploration of “Collective Leadership” models, long-term “Holistic Artist Support,” an embrace of “Digital Theater and Hybrid Futures,” and continued, communal “Field Ideation.”
See below for individual excerpts exploring each of these four themes; the full study, including interviews from all interviewees, is available at EmergingFromtheCave.com.
“Our structure as a team, as a collaborative leadership, is that no one person has the answer. And I think that this can be a novel idea when combating white supremacy and patriarchy. It’s like not one person has all the answers and is obligated to have all the answers—they aren’t the special one or the exceptional one.”
Eric Lockley (Performer, writer, and producer, Movement Theatre Company)
Holistic Artist Support
“We need to be thinking about the ways in which we are establishing a different model of work and making it clear to artists that actually this is not a one-time deal. We’re not interested in having one project with them where we pay them and then we move on to the next thing, as if this is some sort of news cycle.”
Legacy Russell (Writer and curator, The Kitchen)
Digital Theatre/Hybrid Futures
“I call it the tyranny of the proscenium. Rather than theatres thinking about how we can create theatre anywhere that demands that stage, they think, ‘How can you create theatre that meets the needs of our individual space?’”
Lynn Nottage (Playwright, Sweat, Intimate Apparel, Ruined)
“I think about the seven-generations model that many different Native nations or tribes have. It’s the question of are you thinking seven generations ahead? Why this piece of work now? Why this play now? Why is it important?”
Ty Defoe (Interdisciplinary artist and co-founder, Indigenous Direction)