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An Introduction to Producorial Responsibilities

  • One national conversation that we are definitely NOT having in this country as a whole is the one about aesthetics, and what defines us aesthetically as Americans.  Arguably, we should, given that we’ve exported our prefabricated store-in-a-box aesthetics of convenience to communities all over the world, many of whom have now adopted it as their own.  But we’re not.  And we as theatre artists and producers are not in a position to start this conversation (with anyone but ourselves).  Which is too bad for us, because it’s one of the things we’re really good at talking about – it’s way within our comfort zone and our core competency.  Once we matter to more people, maybe we can start that dialogue.  But until then, we’re going to have to integrate into what’s already on the table.
  • Which brings up unfortunate obstacle #2, which is that we have to recognize that the civic dialogue of this country, by which I mean the way in which we arrive at national laws, policies, and norms, is fundamentally broken.  Very few Americans, on any side of the political spectrum, feel that their voices are heard, that their needs are recognized or accounted for, or that the ethics and new social norms that they live by in their daily lives are aligned with our laws or civic procedures.  What dialogue is happening around these issues occurs among a small group of fairly homogenous folks, and as such, it’s not really a national conversation at all.
The good news, though, is that we as theatrical producers are well positioned to help change this, because of the particular strengths that our artists possess that make them essential.  Our primary assets can reach people who are otherwise pretty unreachable, and build the emotional and rational paths that encourage their participation – in conversations that we can actually generate, quite excitingly, through our art.  We can take the following four strategic steps, which I have collectively grouped under the heading “Producorial Responsibilities,” each of which I will talk about in sequence over the next few installments of this blog: #

  • We have to get a truly diverse, representative group of Americans into our theatres to have the conversation, whatever it may be – which we’ll call “Producorial Responsibility #1: Artist & Audience Diversity”;
  • We have to prepare young people to responsibly and impactfully engage in the conversation and make their voices heard, called “Producorial Responsibility #2: Arts Education”;*
  • We have to actively encourage the development of theatrical material and participatory audience contexts that enrich the conversation, or “Producorial Responsibility #3: Making Art With Civic Impact”; and,
  • We have to grow our local contributions to the conversation from our theatres and schools up to the national level by using social media and empowering outside-of-sector partners, also known as “Producorial Responsibility #4: Reaching Beyond Our Reach.”
*In truth, artist/audience diversity and arts education go so hand-in-hand that trying to talk about them separately is a chicken-egg problem: you can’t conduct impactful arts education without artist diversity, nor can you create a sustainably diverse theatre without consistent arts education. #

Comments

  1. Merlca Whitehall says:

    Hi Ron, Thanks for writing! A question about Producorial Imperatives: Does the need for Producorial Imperative #1: Artist and Audience Diversity relate in any manner to the disproportionate lack of diverse representation in arts leadership and the organizational decision-makers?


    • I think it absolutely does. One of the biggest challenges facing the American theatre today, I believe, is what you precisely and correctly cite as the “disproportionality” of this lack. We at Epic serve a total audience each year, from our in-school, after-school, community, new play development, and production work combined, that is closing in on 50% persons of color. And yet our organizational leadership structure is 100% white. We have been very very fortunate to find and empower many staff members and artists of color who we successfully encourage to give us their thoughts and advice freely and often, that have helped us put in place policies and practices that encourage participation by persons of color (as well as persons who use wheelchairs, persons of diverse ages, etc….). So we set a tone, and we listen to our people, but that’s not the same as being led by executives who directly identify with and represent the needs and wants of a maximally-diverse potential audience. So we’re working on this challenge internally. But I fear that most organizations neither set the tone nor ask the right questions because they are not quite as self-aware of the problem of non-representation – maybe I’m wrong, maybe everyone is busting their ass on this issue, but I don’t get that sense, in my limited experience with other producers.

      One thing we ARE doing that is extremely pro-active is that we’ve just received a 5-year grant to build new, extremely rigorous, multi-year “ARTS LEADERSHIP MENTORSHIP PROGRAM,” called “Epic NEXT,” that will lead select students through a multi-year training program in artistic, social, and leadership skill development working closely with both “Project-Mentors,” who focus on the students’ development as artists, specifically their reflective practice and it’s impact on artistic development, and “Program-Mentors,” who oversee student academic, social, and collegiate progress over three years. We’ll be talking about this program more very soon (the pilot is in August, after which we’ll be refining and then promoting it), but the primary goal is not to build future artists as much as it is to build future arts LEADERS (including those who lead as organizational decision-makers) who represent the communities we wish most to serve – who are persons of color, who come from economically-disadvantaged backgrounds, who grew up in arts-poor communities, etc…We want to build a new generation of leaders (we’ll serve 80-100 young people just in this first 5-year cycle) who are committed to making work that is intentionally accessible to these kinds of communities, and making sure the members of those communities have an impact on what kind of art they are being offered.

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