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#Newplay: A New Day in D.C.

01.19.12 | 2 Comments


CATEGORIES #2amt, advocacy, cities, community, conversation starter, ideas, newplay, partnerships, talk about what's good, the future, theatrical ecosystem

I have spent the past couple days trying to get back into the real world. There is always this time period when you have taken a vacation and now need to get back to work and the world you put off for a week or so. While on vacation I pushed hard to try and stay in vacation world and not think about events going back at home.

One day while touring the Historic Charleston Museum in South Carolina, I got a text message telling me to look on HowlRound at Molly Smith’s post and check my email. Each had the announcement about the separation of the American Voices New Play Institute from Arena Stage. Specifically, their information collection and distribution duties will move to Emerson College in Boston while the producing arm and playwright residencies will remain at Arena.

There is some debate on if this is a good thing or a bad thing, if there is more red tape in academia or at a producing organization–I think it’s a toss up–or if AVNPI should have been at a producing organization or an academic organization from the start. These are good questions, and I am sure we can and will debate and discuss those in the future. But that’s not the kick-in-the-stomach feeling I have.

With the announcement of the separation of the duties of the AVNPI came the announcement that David Dower would be leaving town in April and Polly Carl, herself a recent transfer to DC from Chicago, would be leaving DC in July to move up to Boston, taking the AVNPI with them.

In the week that followed, I watched blog posts and twitterfeeds and facebook updates all with questions and cheers about AVNPI’s move. What this means for Boston. Why Academia is better then a Producing theatre. Why a Producing theatre is better then Academia. Why this move had to happen. I’d like to add a question of my own.

What does this mean for DC?

Has it hit us? What we have lost? Do we understand who’s moving away from us? The more and more I think about it, the more worried and saddened I get. In the past couple years having the research wing of the AVNPI at Arena has allowed our town to be host to countless numbers of amazing theatre artists from around the country.

Having AVNPI at Arena has brought amazing shows such as Bengal Tiger at the Bagdad Zoo, The Rude Mechs’ I’ve Never Been So Happy and others. They brought in Artists from all over the country to talk about Devised Theatre, the state of New Play Development and Minorities in Theatre. They have helped empower artists in DC as well as show DC’s theatre community to artists around the country. They have been educators, ambassadors, and inspirations to every artist, especially the fellows at Arena.

I wonder who at Arena will take up the charge and continue the work of opening doors that was started there? Without David, Polly, Vijay, Jamie, and the fellowship program who has the time and energy to do that at Arena? Their staff is already over worked with the countless things they already do and create. Every staff at every major theatre is. Who has the time and energy to be opening doors in DC, to build bridges with artists all over the country? Who here will continue the work that they were doing whether they work at Arena or not?

These are the questions I’ve had in the weeks that followed the announcement. With those questions swimming around in my brain, a light bulb went off. I have met countless artists keeping up this charge, trying to make connections with major theatres and open their doors not just for themselves, but for everyone. I have met a number of managers at major theatres trying to open their doors, as much as they can (usually slowly), for younger and newer and smaller companies to connect to. We have artists all over town talking about local, about new works, about connectivity, about sharing time/resources/spaces. While not all of this can be attributed to the work of David, Polly, Vijay, Jamie and the AVNPI, a lot of it can.

My feelings of worry and sadness are fading. Something else begins to take hold, the understanding that connectivity will have to be fought for twice as hard, that communication will have to be pushed for twice as much, and that we will have to yell twice as loud about how great DC is for New Play Development. It’s not about one person leading the charge or one group. It’s about many voices singing in harmony. As we say at 2amt, it’s not about preaching to the choir but turning as a choir to sing out together. I plan to be singing the song of New Play Development as much as I can (or people can stand). I know that it will take more people and more energy and more chutzpah—yes, I am bringing the Yiddish! So will you add your voice to the choir?

So David, Polly, Jamie, Vijay, and the Fellows, I am sorry to see you go…it can’t be said enough, it will be sad not to have you in our backyard, but don’t forget that DC loves you, and come back as much as possible!

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  • Polly Carl

    Lee, I really appreciate this post. What I get from what you’re saying is that people matter. When I think of the contribution that David, Vijay and Jamie have made over a number of years in DC, I’m struck by the importance of the “who” in our business, not just the “what.” I’m not diminishing my own contribution but I can’t take any credit given my short time in DC for the way that the three of them have helped create a more inviting atmosphere for DC theater artists.
    As our big theaters have followed a more corporate path, the idea that the “who” is interchangeable, that as we say in corporate speak “everyone is replaceable”–well if there’s something the founders of the regional theater movement taught us, the success of the creative enterprise is about how specific people invest in specific places. As I approach this transition, I’m keenly aware that as David Dower says, finding my tribe and committing to find ways to work in an environment where there are shared values and passions is the most important thing for my own creative life. For this reason I’m so grateful that David, Jamie, Vijay, and I will be taking this trip together. And though I’ve been in DC only briefly I feel like the artists I’ve interacted with (many I still only know through online exchanges)  are a part of that tribe and I imagine our connections will only grow deeper. 

  • Polly,

    That is exactly what I am saying is that people matter.  That the actions of one person more often mean more then the actions of a whole organization.  The simple action of extending a hand and saying, “Hello, my name is David.  I wanna know who you are and what you do.” more often goes deeper then anything any institution could offer on its own.  

    I am glad that you get to go no this trip, this journey, this next step with such amazing people…and they are truly lucky as well.

    While you may not be able to take credit for creating a more inviting atmosphere…you can take credit in helping us pose, push and look for questions.  For not just accepting things as they are and helping us all look for the questions and connections we all need.  So you have done a lot.

    Thanks,

    Lee


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