I was very happy to contribute to Part 2 of American Theatre Magazine’s round-up. It forced be to reckon with my feelings and organize my thoughts – i.e., yay writing.
My as-of-now fiance (eee!) Seamus Sullivan helped a lot with writing this piece.
I worry that we can continue to do what we do, we can continue to create and produce the best art we can, but without a fundamental shift in the economic accessibility and social inclusivity of theatre, we’ll continue just talking to ourselves.
The forces that shaped the election are systemic and deeply complex, and the problems that assail theatre are similar in nature. Theatre in the U.S. is fundamentally elitist because the only people who can access it—both as audiences and artists—require time, capital (financial and social), and education to feel like they belong. That has to change. A lot of smart people have been trying to change this for a long time, and now it’s more vital than ever to listen, learn, and push forward.
After the election, I wondered if one possible short-term solution was for a billionaire to fund community theatres across the country with enough money and resources to produce free theatre for the next five years. I floated this idea to Chicago playwright Dawn Renee Jones, and her response was that it would be better to use that money to train and hire arts educators instead, in communities that are underserved for arts education. Empower as many people as possible to be artists, then support local theatres in producing local art. I love that idea, so if anyone reading this has a billionaire friend, let’s talk.
But on an individual level, we do have to continue doing what we do. The morning after the election, I thought my writing career was over, because it just seemed too painful to continue engaging with the world. Luckily, that feeling passed. As scared and worried as I may be, I am excited for the art that we are going to create. Let’s continue. Let’s challenge ourselves to expand our understanding of the world, illuminate its complexity, and open our hearts to different lives and experiences. Let’s try and make each other laugh.
While a benevolent billionaire might be nice, there are still things we can do, like going to bat for artists without MFAs or college degrees, vouching for future artistic leaders from underrepresented backgrounds, and volunteering our time, if possible, as teaching artists in our local communities (organizations like Young Storytellers in L.A. are a great place to start).
And finally, theatre alone is not going to save our country or the fate of our planet. But it can better prepare us to be responsible citizens. We’re all doing this for a reason: because making and consuming theatre brings us joy and meaning. So let’s use theatre to help us survive the next few years, but also channel that energy and force of community to protest and fight. Staying engaged with our world is hard and painful, but as theatremakers, that’s part of the job description already. We just have to take it to the next level—and be there for each other as we do.