Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Continuing the Conversation - July 2017

Continuing the Conversation
July 30, 2017
Sandbox Theatre
Panelists: Rick Shiomi (Full Circle Theatre), Kory LaQuess Pullam (Blackout Improv and Underdog Theatre), Isabel Nelson (Transatlantic Love Affair)
Moderator: Becki Iverson
Attendance: ~30 (including panelists and bloggers)
  • Becki: How do you think about representation when creating new work?
    • Kory: it’s in the mission of his theater(s) so that’s what they do
    • Rick: same
    • Isabel: we’re figuring it out! Starting point is range of identities in the room.
  • Becki: What’s one specific project you’re proud of?
    • Kory: Prep at Pillsbury House Theatre
      • A new 3-person play about black youth with PTSD from violence
      • Cast, director, playwright, designers all worked together to create it
    • Rick: Full Circle’s 365 Plays/365 Days
      • Comes from 35 years working with mostly Asian American artists, new and rewarding experience to work with people from various backgrounds
    • Isabel: TLA’s emilie/eurydice
      • Featured biracial lesbian couple but didn’t make a “thing” about it, just let it be
  • Becki: What are some actionable things, suggestions that theaters can use to be more inclusive?
    • Rick: intentionality
      • Many theaters start as a group of friends who are similar, resulting in a homogenous group of artists with a similar viewpoint
      • Need to be intentional about expanding that
      • But not everyone has to be all diverse all the time
    • Kory: start with leadership or source, i.e., work with POC director and/or playwright
      • If POC are behind the table they can bring a different perspective
      • Not enough to have “token” cast members with no say in the creative process
      • Intentionally bring in someone from outside your circle, collaborate
    • Isabel: more voices makes the art better
      • Art tries to speak to the universal experiences, more different perspectives make it more universal and nuanced storytelling
    • Rick: the people behind the table are the gate-keepers
      • In the past 20 years, the make-up of gate-keepers has not changed but they have changed
      • e.g., Richard Cook at Park Square Theater who has consciously worked towards more diverse programming/artists in the past few years ,much different that 10 or 20 years ago
      • Kory: also Ron Peluso at History Theatre
  • Becki: What are some suggestions for theaters that are geographically situated in less diverse communities?
    • Kory: ask what show you’re doing and why
      • Putting a statement at the end of a casting notices that says “POC encouraged to audition” is not enough, lazy
      • Put in other efforts, put up fliers, reach out to communities
    • Rick: networks exist of Asian American artists, etc.
      • Connect with someone in the network and they can reach out to the network
      • Starts with intentionality but there has to be a leap to action
    • Audience member: awkward Facebook messages say “I love your work, come work with us!”
      • Don’t be discouraged if no response, keep trying, get the word out
    • Isabel: trust needs to be built over time
      • Some POC understandably cynical – why do you want us?
      • Honor everyone’s voices and stories in rehearsal room
    • Kit (blogger): what about inclusion of people with disabilities?
      • Saw more of it in NYC than here
      • Reach out to local organization VSA (http://vsamn.org/)
      • Print newspaper ads in the past reached more people?
    • Kory: Minnesota Playlist not known by all artists
      • But can share on social media
    • Isabel: TLA recently put ad on MN Playlist to expand collaboration w/POC
      • Workshop format rather than audition
      • Less intimidating, allows work to be seen
      • Environment that hopefully provides some tools for participants' own work, not solely an audition for TLA
    • Danielle (sandbox): work with high school kids, diverse, willing to try
  • Becki: What are some bad habits you’ve seen?
    • Kory: what are your intentions, why are you doing this play?
      • Based on history of company, POC might not audition
      • Tokenism (just need one POC, can be anyone/anything) = bad
      • Consider language and role (“thug,” “gangster”)
    • Isabel: a diverse cast still centering white narratives can also be problematic
      • TLA’s recent show Promise Land had a diverse cast but the central characters were all played by white or white-passing individuals
      • Consider the larger story you’re telling
  • Becki: What have you not had the chance to do, an opportunity you see, if unlimited budget?
    • Kory: a big cool musical drag show
    • Rick: support New Native Theatre, doing great work and growing
    • Isabel: give grants to POC-lead stories
      • Dilemma: you have to prove yourself to get a grant, but how do you do the work without a grant?
      • Big theaters that are integrating more diversity into their work get grants that might otherwise go to smaller companies that have been doing diverse work for years
  • Becki: How do you cultivate diversity in the audience?
    • Frank theater: audience is largely 55+ women
    • Josh (nimbus): Guthrie, Park Square, etc. big ship to steer, takes time
      • Smaller companies, grass roots, cheaper ticket prices draw in more diverse people
      • Do work that interests diverse community
    • Rick: takes time, ~10 years
      • Reach out to organizations, offer free tickets to get desire audience
      • e.g., JACL – he has to convince them that culture is important (rather than other issues like survival, financial)
    • Kory: so much in theater needs to shift
      • So called “golden age” – little competition with other forms of entertainment
      • Rules are prohibitive to bringing new people to the theater
      • Dress code, ticket cost, phone off, no talking
      • Try to engage the audience and make them feel they’re part of the experience
      • Create excitement in the room, a feeling of community
      • To bring younger people to theater encourage engagement and direct participation
        • Tweet seats, social media night
        • Allow the use of phones - texting, tweeting - during performances
    • Audience: that’s what theater used to be
      • Invention of electricity, all lights on stage, create divide from audience, passive experience
      • Invite audience to workshop, rehearsal, engage them in process
    • Kory: Ten Thousand Things audience talks back
    • Danielle: if the audience won’t come to you, go to the audience (TTT)
  • Miscellaneous discussion:
    • Josh: a culture of creators
      • Anyone who has something to say, give them a way to say it
    • Kory: tell the story you want to tell wherever you can tell it
      • e.g., present 30 minute Medea, make it a party, free, music
    • Rick: Mikado with Skylark one of his best experiences
      • Original work full of stereotypes but they were willing to collaborate and make changes (in public domain)
    • Kory: how do we tell those old stories better?
      • Rick: possible in so many different ways
        • Important to think about who is doing it
        • In each project you can find a key, something that can be tweaked
        • e.g., The King and I with BCT, cast Asian-American actor as Anna (historical person was Anglo-Indian, not British as usually portrayed)
        • HS often do classics, encourage them to think in new ways
    • Kit: what’s the definition of tokenism?
      • Early days of affirmative action may have been tokenism but led to real change
      • Isabel: not enough to fill quote of x POC in cast
        • How does their inclusion impact the story and challenge the audience?
        • Be mindful of the story you’re telling and the world you’re creating
      • Rick: give POC artistic power/presence
        • Tokenism = small part with no say in storytelling
    • Audience: we’re really talking about systematic racism and white supremacy
    • Isabel: if audience is primarily older and white, chance to change the narrative
      • Change minds of audience in the room about what stories are valuable