Today we celebrate the five-year anniversary of HowlRound. It’s an emotional day filled with a sense of the realization of a shared dream with beloved colleagues.
Origin stories matter and on this day of celebration for the HowlRound family, remembering the beginnings of HowlRound feels so important to me, because it’s a story of friendship, passions, aspirations, and community in the true sense of that word.
My friend and colleague of so many years, David Dower, and I sat down in June 2010 at the TCG Conference in Chicago to talk about “the field” as we like to call it. I remember it clearly, both of us frustrated by a few themes that had been repeated in so many conversations in so many cities where our paths had crossed since 2002. We were talking about artists, our sense that they didn’t have enough voice in the big conversations, that institutions were too often speaking for artists. We talked about the commercialization of the theatre, what did it mean for the future of the not-for-profit, and would the ethical frame of the not-for-profit be threatened by too many commercial partnerships, or was there a path that could be found that might be advantageous for both worlds? We talked most about that lack of diverse voices at the table in every way—on stage, in administrative offices, in board rooms, and in leadership roles—our shared sense that the theatre is a way forward for improved civic dialogue and the theatre as “good citizen” is only realized when its citizenship reflects the diversity of the polis.
David shared with me at that dinner his work at Arena Stage as the founder of the American Voices New Play Institute that included playwright residencies for five writers and resources to support field-wide learning under the heading of “documentation and dissemination.” He told me about two staff members, Jamie Gahlon and Vijay Mathew, who had a big idea about a New Play Map, about a big convening they were planning together through the Institute called “From Scarcity to Abundance: Capturing the Moment in the New Play Sector”—a convening that would look specifically at the new play sector and consider what it would mean to think more forcefully about sharing our resources as a sector, to find abundance in a conversation that had been driven by a scarcity mentality over many years. The team had begun to realize that conversations about resources shouldn’t just be available to those who could be in the room at any given time or afford to fly to a conference, so the Institute had begun livestreaming its convening events and using the Twitter hashtag #newplay. The entire From Scarcity to Abundance convening would be livestreamed to increase transparency and extend access to participation.
I had the dream of starting an online journal. I had done extensive research and it didn’t seem that the theatre was online much and that we could really create a sense of connection and motion if we could talk across geographies and identities.
At the dinner I said to David that I had the dream of starting an online journal, that I had done extensive research, and it didn’t seem that the theatre was online much and that we could really create a sense of connection and motion if we could talk across geographies and identities. He asked me what I thought that would cost. I thought we could do it pretty inexpensively, a little money for designing the site and money to pay an advisory board so we could source content, and money to pay contributors, as I wanted this journal to be artist-driven and I wouldn’t ask artists to work for free. David said yes immediately to this idea and found resources inside his work at the Institute to support the start-up. Jamie and Vijay signed on with enthusiasm to help with both the administrative tasks of paying contributors and supporting the technical aspects of the website, and generally being advisors to the process. The original advisory group who helped me source content included Deborah Cullinan, Daniel Alexander Jones, Ed Sobel, and Jeremy Cohen. They committed to talking with artists to find articles to launch the journal, and Anthony Werner, a graduate of Northwestern’s playwriting program, worked as my intern helping me set up the website, researching content, and editing. And of course, Lynette D’Amico, my spouse was there from the beginning as the journal came to life on our dining room table. She actually knew something about editing, and not only edited those first articles, but also came up with about one hundred possible names for the journal, one of which was HowlRound. I knew from the moment I saw that word that the journal would be called HowlRound no matter who tried to persuade me otherwise. The idea of a journal that referenced the notion of a howling feedback loop seemed just right. I knew I wanted to howl and hoped others would feel similarly.
So in a moment of synergy we had a convening, a map, livestreaming capacity, and a journal. We had what would become the HowlRound you now know. The only ingredient we couldn’t imagine fully from the get go? You. You—the participant in these platforms and conversations. We never thought we would be writing to you in five years to say that more than one million people have visited the HowlRound website to read an article, to watch a livestreamed event, to put themselves on the map—to participate in a movement of theatre practitioners actively in dialogue making our field more inclusive, more nuanced, more broadly felt.
The only ingredient we couldn’t imagine fully? You. We never thought we would be writing to you in five years to say that more than one million people have visited the HowlRound website to read an article, to watch a livestreamed event, to put themselves on the map—to participate in a movement of theatre practitioners actively in dialogue making our field more inclusive, more nuanced, more broadly felt.
Personally, seeing HowlRound howl has changed the trajectory of my life and my thinking about the why of this work. We do it to be connected to each other, to be connected to our communities, to make our lives and our neighborhoods a little more hopeful and a little more fun. And HowlRound has showed me that a field that has been all too often (and rightfully) accused of exclusivity is increasingly driven toward changing itself to be a part of a contemporary moment where exclusivity is an old model of art making and inclusivity is the only way forward.
HowlRound has made a strong case for commons-based practice, a form of stewardship and resource sharing that asserts we can focus on the abundance that comes when we pool what we have to make change together. There exists no better example of this than our partners in this work, the Latina/o Theatre Commons (LTC), a group of artists, scholars, and administrators who came together almost four years ago to change the narrative for Latina/o artists in this country. This is a group of individuals who brought their individual expertise, resources, and passion for change and contributed that to something larger than a single career. The LTC has moved the needle, changed the conversation, and pushed our field forward.
This is where I would now like to list everyone who has made HowlRound possible. The thousands of people who have written for the journal, livestreamed an event, put themselves on the New Play Map, participated in a Weekly Howl on Twitter, or attended a HowlRound convening in person or virtually—everyone who has worked to create a more robust theatre, and contributed to the democratized space of the commons where anyone can enter. All of us at HowlRound know that all of you are what make HowlRound HowlRound.