It must also be noted that the artists most at risk, most in need of support, are those who have always faced the most precarious support—those who have been historically marginalized, including Black theatremakers, Indigenous theatremakers, and other Theatremakers of Color, as well as differently abled people, women, LGBTQ+ people, and immigrants. The work of these theatremakers has been systematically and routinely undervalued and invisible, both in our professional field and in our academic classrooms. The National Coalition for Arts’ Preparedness and Emergency Response (NCAPER) reflects that its support funding frequently benefits those who demonstrate “regular and ongoing work in the field as evidenced by exhibitions, sales, performances and the like; training; teaching; receipt of grants, awards or honors; or simply an ongoing track record and commitment to one’s practice.” Yet the NCAPER recommends that we “please also remember that artists who are great mentors and those who practice in folk and traditional communities or disciplines, e.g., those in Native American communities, may not exhibit these criteria.”
There is an artistic crisis in the making. That is, a crisis for artists. One need only ask any individual theatremaker to sense the devastating fallout of COVID-19 on their lives. Our field operates on the basis of an independent labor force. The majority of performers, designers, directors, and such—the ones who make the shows—are itinerant, working contract to contract. All those contracts have been cancelled.
Supporting independent theatremakers constitutes an ethical action in a time of extreme precarity because it is the creative labor, vision, and wonder of these artists that serves as the foundation of our scholarly and creative research in the classroom.
Higher Education (and You) to the Rescue
Supporting independent theatremakers constitutes an ethical action in a time of extreme precarity because it is the creative labor, vision, and wonder of these artists that serves as the foundation of our scholarly and creative research in the classroom. Supporting independent theatremakers also honors the artists we look to in our formations of justice and hope. As internet productions from the past three months have elicited, our art form will be transformed by this pandemic, provoking us all to introduce and instigate new performative avenues and approaches. A unique opportunity exists to have students engage in workshops with artists tackling online performance with questions about the very nature of live theatre.
Yes, the COVID-19 pandemic has pummeled college and university budgets and challenged how students, staff, and faculty meaningfully achieve the goals of higher education. Yet these institutions hold and exert power and, in some cases, reserves and institutional security that other fields do not have. We ask those of you who can access power and resources to share them on behalf of supporting our theatremakers. You can also do the following:
- Look for grants in the arts and humanities.
- Write to your dean.
- Share this article with your colleagues.
- Share this article on social media with the hashtag #HigherEdHireArtists.
- Dig in to your own pockets if you can.
- Sign your name below to show solidarity with our artists.
- Hire theatremakers.
Independent theatremakers are not seeking handouts but an opportunity to engage in meaningful work that exerts their professional talents and knowledge. The impact of COVID-19 on our theatrical community is sure to be felt for years, so this call to action is not just for this fall. Your ongoing championship is a way to ensure that when live theatre and performance can return to our cultural realms, we have the artists ready to make it.
If you support this action, regardless of whether you can commit to putting it to work at your institution, we invite you to sign this letter in solidarity, which will add your name to the list below.