Thursday, February 26, 2009

World Theatre Day update: Statement from Augusto Boal

Each year for World Theatre Day, the International Theatre Institute commissions a statement from a renowned theatre artist. This international message is then integrated into the day's festivities, ideally read to the audience gathered to see a WTD performance. Thanks to Rebecca Coleman, this year's statement by Augusto Boal (eek! yes, THAT Augusto Boal!!) is here in sneak peek format for you! Check it out, and check out the ITI's shiny new website.
And don't forget to visit our WTD09 blog to tell us how you'll play a part in this world-wide celebration.

World Theatre Day – International Message
27th March 2009

Augusto Boal

All human societies are “spectacular*” in their daily life and produce “spectacles” at special moments. They are “spectacular” as a form of social organization and produce “spectacles” like the one you have come to see.

Even if one is unaware of it, human relationships are structured in a theatrical way. The use of space, body language, choice of words and voice modulation, the confrontation of ideas and passions, everything that we demonstrate on the stage, we live in our lives. We are theatre!

Weddings and funerals are “spectacles”, but so, also, are daily rituals so familiar that we are not conscious of this. Occasions of pomp and circumstance, but also the morning coffee, the exchanged good-mornings, timid love and storms of passion, a senate session or a diplomatic meeting - all is theatre.

One of the main functions of our art is to make people sensitive to the “spectacles” of daily life in which the actors are their own spectators, performances in which the stage and the stalls coincide. We are all artists. By doing theatre, we learn to see what is obvious but what we usually can’t see because we are only used to looking at it. What is familiar to us becomes unseen: doing theatre throws light on the stage of daily life.

Last September, we were surprised by a theatrical revelation: we, who thought that we were living in a safe world, despite wars, genocide, slaughter and torture which certainly exist, but far from us in remote and wild places. We, who were living in security with our money invested in some respectable bank or in some honest trader’s hands in the stock exchange were told that this money did not exist, that it was virtual, a fictitious invention by some economists who were not fictitious at all and neither reliable nor respectable. Everything was just bad theatre, a dark plot in which a few people won a lot and many people lost all. Some politicians from rich countries held secret meetings in which they found some magic solutions. And we, the victims of their decisions, have remained spectators in the last row of the

Twenty years ago, I staged Racine’s Ph├Ędre in Rio de Janeiro. The stage setting was poor: cow skins on the ground, bamboos around. Before each presentation, I used to say to my actors: “The fiction we created day by day is over. When you cross those bamboos, none of you will have the
right to lie. Theatre is the Hidden Truth”.

When we look beyond appearances, we see oppressors and oppressed people, in all societies, ethnic groups, genders, social classes and casts; we see an unfair and cruel world. We have to create another world because we know it is possible. But it is up to us to build this other world with our hands and by acting on the stage and in our own life.

Participate in the “spectacle” which is about to begin and once you are back home, with your friends act your own plays and look at what you were never able to see: that which is obvious. Theatre is not just an event; it is a way of life!

We are all actors: being a citizen is not living in society, it is changing it.

Augusto Boal

(Original Portuguese)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

What will Chicago bring to the party?

Yesterday, the city of Chicago's bid book for the 2016 Olmpics was released. As much as I worry about the congestion, the influx of visitors, the (God help us) CTA and its capacity - all the things that would make bringing these games to Chicago in 7 years potentially tricky, I have to admit to more than a twinge of excitement at the idea. That twinge shares some its qualities with the puff of pride I feel when Chicago is referred to as President Obama's home town. His home is my home, too.

Last month I celebrated four years of being a Chicagoan. (Yes, I moved here in January. No, I don't know what I was thinking.) I claim this city as my own, and not just because of its rich history, full of fire and liquor and the legacy of making no small plans. I claim it not just because of the pizza and pad sie eiw and curry fries, the bricks and stones and streetlamps and street fairs and the reminder that the doors open on the left or the right. I can truly claim this city because of the community of theatre artists who have decided - who continue to decide every day - that this is home.

On March 27th, we have a unique opportunity to celebrate that choice, and build our global connection and sense of collaboration at the same time. Thanks to Twitter (God, I really do love Twitter....) Nick Keenan and I have hooked up with Vancouver's Rebecca Coleman and her efforts surrounding World Theatre Day. What's this World Theatre Day, you ask? I've never heard of World Theatre Day, you say? Neither had I. Luckily, Rebecca can explain it for us:

World Theatre Day takes place every year on March 27, and is the brainchild of the International Theatre Institute. It’s aim is to: “promote international exchange of knowledge and practice in theatre arts (drama, dance, music theatre) in order to consolidate peace and solidarity between peoples, to deepen mutual understanding and increase creative co-operation between all people in the theatre arts”

Nick and I were so excited by this idea, and by the buzz that's already flying across Canada, that we approached Deb Clapp and Ben Thiem at the League of Chicago Theatres. We have a vibrant theatre community, with so much going on at any given time, on any given night, including March 27, 2009 - why not show the world what we're up to? Why not use this day where artists all over the world come together to celebrate our chosen medium to show that Chicago is producing world-class work, and lots of it? We have so much food - let's take something to the party.

Little time and less (read:no) money might look like prohibtive factors to our successful participation on March 27, but if there's one thing I've learned from my family of fellow artists here, when it comes to a challenge we prove that Yes We Can. In a town where our lighting grids are often held together with paper clips and hope, our rehearsal spaces also serve as our studio apartments, and our costumes are pulled from our own closets - we're not going to let something like a lack of funding keep us from getting our voices in the mix.

Simplicity will be key.

Using what we already have in place will be essential. When the wheel is already strong and rolling along nicely, why reinvent it? If you want folks to see your wheel, just find better ways to bring that wheel to their attention.

Coming together, spending a day and a night with one another, and exploring ways of meeting like-minded friends (and future collaborators?) around the world will be - a blast.

We have an exploratory meeting set for Friday, February 20th from 4:30 to 6 PM at the League of Chicago Theatre offices. Along with simplicity and creativity, a united front will be essential to a successful day. If you're a Chicago theatre-maker and you'd like to be part of this meeting, please RSVP to Ben. You can DM him on the Twitter, or e-mail him at

There's a special World Theatre Day blog - throw that in your Google Reader and love it.

We don't have to wait until 2016 to show the world the good thing we've got going. We can't wait until then. Not when an opportunity like this comes along. Let's put our broad shoulders into it and show this world what Sweet Home Chicago has on the stove.

EDIT: Step 2 - How? Nick Keenan starts the brainstorming ball rolling. Check it out, and please add to voice to the mix through comment here and at Theater for the Future.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Engaging Our Core

You don't have to be a top-notch economist to know that we've all managed to get ourselves into a dilly of a pickle of late. To be fair, I think we can all agree that this storm's been a-brewin' for quite some time now. And you can blame the polticians. Or you can blame the bankers. Or you can blame us all and our good ol'fashioned greed. I don't want to talk about my personal debt load, for example. But the fact is that here we are, in the middle of the mess, and now we have to figure out what to do about it.

Because of my artistic home and our chosen focus for this season, I've been doing a lot of thinking over the past few months that could be boiled down to, simply, "Now what?" Now that we're here, what happens next? And it seems like a lot of folks are having similar thoughts. The time is ripe for reflection - not just in the World Writ Large, but in the theatre community in specific. Add our current conundrums to the other factors we were already bemoaning before the global mountain of money started melting like an ice sculpture at Lollapalooza (just take a moment and picture that) - conundrums like: the "graying" of our audiences, the theatre's perception as an "elitist" art form, the competition we face from movies, TV, the interwebs - and suddenly we're right in the middle of the dark tunnel, wondering from which direction that next gleam of light will come.

I'm not going to pretend I know the answers to these ever-mounting, increasingly-daunting questions. But I had a brief yet inspiring tweet-versation (conversation via Twitter. see what I did there?) with Mr. Mullins the other day, and I think it's time we consider a paradigm shift in how we raise our money and how we interest, entice, build, and keep our audiences, and our artistic communities.

The good people at the League of Chicago Theatres (smart cookies, all) recently posted this message about the latest news from the front, the results of the fiscal survey they've been sending out to member theatres. Note the part where it talks about how 1/2, sometimes less than 1/2, of theatre's revenue is coming from ticket sales. Remember the non-profit model that talks about 60% of revenue should come from ticket sales, 40% should be contributed income? I remember sitting in an intern forum with a ground-breaking theatre administrator and hearing him say that as a member of the posse who came up with the non-profit theatre model "back in the day" (I think he said "back in the day." He might have said "in the seventies."), it's time for a new one. And then he looked at us a little like we should go ahead and get on that. Quite the challenge from someone who has already put his money where his mouth is once, and rightfully expects us to step up.

Similarly, as explored in a killer panel discussion (again, thanks to the League) that you can listen to here (thanks, WBEZ. If I ever start making a salary again, you bet I'm renewing my membership), the traditional ways in which we reach out to our patrons - established and potential - is changing. Print media is shrinking, social networking and the blogosphere are exploding - but what are the most effective ways to change with these times? Because, as we know, with stagnation comes certain death. Which is why dolphins swim in their sleep.

How do we learn to swim in our sleep? Or - perhaps this is a better metaphor - how do we keep our balance as the world continues to shift beneath our feet? Wouldn't it be delightful if we could wait for the fallout to settle and then calmly and rationally, with the help of perspective, distance, TIME, take a look at where we are and what might be the most prudent step forward?

See above re: dolphins. If we wait, if we try to keep still, we die. If we don't engage our cores and find our balance in the middle of all this mess, how can we hope to still be standing on the other side?

So what's our core? Is it our over-worked, under-paid (if they're paid at all) human resources? Is it our art? Is it our community? Is it the very communication-filled-anything-is-possible-hey-awesome-now-I-have-theatre-friends-in-Virginia-and Austin-and England-and Canada-interwebs? I don't know. But the times they done been changing for a while now. And we best scurry to catch up.

New ways to make our money. New ways to encourage people to get not just on-line with us, but in the room with us and share our art. New ways to find the people with whom art is worth the making. Are we ready to take a next step? I hope so. Are we already taking it? Then somebody help me catch up. I'd rather be the dolphin in the water than the ice sculpture in the earthquake.

What next?