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Future Every Day

[The Prelude… ish.]

Fusebox Festival in Austin, Texas, has been imagining a new kind of performance festival. In fact, we’ve spent most of every day of the past three years imagining this future festival, and now this future will finally arrive in October 2021 in the form of the Live in America Festival, hosted by our partners, the Momentary in Bentonville, Arkansas. Now that I have written the introductory sentence, let me be frank. This is not an inspirational-dreamy essay about a future twenty years from now in which festivals solve humankind’s problems via the arts cause I only have the capacity to breathe life into a few-months-future down the road. The future costs energy in the present. I am already damn tired from the future. Also, be warned that in part this becomes a very practical essay. In a few months, I need to house/pay/accommodate/hug/welcome/host/feed three hundred plus artists at the aforementioned festival, so I am living my best logistical-practical-mindset realness right now. Because this mindset must continue every day until this particular future shifts into the “reflect upon the past in your grant report” part of its life cycle, I recently gave Future a strong talking-to about its propensity for figuratively languaged, far-off landscapes. All this nonsense to say, for at least the past year, the future has been a structurally minded labor of the everyday.

To avoid implying that futures depend upon a solo individual envisioning their way into the fall of the white, capitalist patriarchy and then into the dawn of a collaboratively minded, horizontally organized, equity-, diversity-, and inclusion-rich reality, I have invited some of my collaborators to think with me in this essay. I never think alone. I think with what my parents taught me on the farm. I think with my teachers and my students. I think with my buddies in the backyard over dinner. I think inside of laughter. Almost every day of planning Live in America, I think alongside a host of collaborators—in the case of this essay collaborators include Justin Favela, Ty Defoe, Ron Berry, and Leyya Tawil. Together we think about how to gathers artists and thinkers from eight communities across America’s cultural landscape to share and celebrate the power of their communities in performance; communities include Las Vegas, Nevada; Ciudad Juárez, Mexico-El Paso, Texas border region; Northwest Arkansas; New Orleans, Louisiana; Sumter County, Alabama; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Detroit, Michigan; the Pueblo, Diné, Hopi, and Apache Nations of Albuquerque, New Mexico, in partnership with Indigenous peoples from across Turtle Island. It terrifies me to think alone about this immediate festival future, a future that must be filled with the purposeful care of so many distinct communities. But maybe the action that fear inspires is a saving grace? Maybe the action is to share fear and to move through it with communal care, collaboration, and laughter?

[A Throat-Clear as We Make a Hard Transition into Systems.]

At Live in America, each day we wrestle with and are continually transforming the ethics guiding our own operational practices for building partnerships with the underserved communities who create our festival. (We do not wait for future strategic planning to determine these practices.) And, like so many others, we are traversing the everyday-down-dirty-slog of contemplating field transformation and communal gathering during the stillness and isolation of a pandemic. As we are thinking about the immediate future of live performance, we are learning that we need to check our first impulses, rethink, let go, scrap that idea and that one too, commune, and, most importantly, we need to own up to and wrestle with the always present-past each and every day molding how we envision the future. In wrestling with the present-past, we are not advocating for the “change takes time” approach to the future; instead, we are acknowledging that addressing the future is an everyday series of nonlinear, often iterative undertakings. In our collective experience, thinking about the future as a shiny exercise—

TY: Shine has existed since time immortal, since mica in stones, our ancestors.

—uncoupled from present realities can lead to the reproduction of the same economic, social, and operational systems in which we already exist as art makers. In the United States, this means systems largely grounded in the dynamics of colonization and white supremacy. But what happens if we all consider the future as everyday work, not a monthly brainstorming meeting? Everyday work towards the future demands everyday systemic analysis. And systemic analysis, that’s dirty business. It almost always calls for an overhaul of routinized budgets and operational habits, and it can be bruising to one’s own ego, that is if you’re lucky enough to have the privilege of an art-world ego.

The future costs energy in the present. I am already damn tired from the future.

RON: Is it weird that we tend to think about budgets as separate from our artistic vision and programs? Like the business part of the work is over there and works in this one way, and then the artistic part of our work lives over here and that’s what we really value. Kind of fun to think about budgets as part of our artistic process.

CARRA: Yeah! Plus, who wants to be alone with a budget? Share. Make your day better by making others consider your budget.

TY: Sharing is caring.

By virtue of their very existence, systems are a product of time, so it takes everyday work to reshape and rethink them. And the future we dream about yells back at us, telling us to work every day, every damn day—

JUSTIN: No matter how exhausted we are! (Remember to stay hydrated.)

—to tactically remodel systems to serve those who don’t already sit at the center of power. Checking impulses, letting go, scrapping ideas, communing. Future every day. And to future every day involves building a good deal of trust.

[Cue the Fart Sound.]

Lest we become too vainglorious inside our systemic analysis of future potentialities, a lot of systemic change can be embraced via the humble fart joke. Joy, play, and laughter can help collaborators unlock new thoughts and feelings about the future, and opening up collaborative process to emotion and relational labor creates more capacity to take better care of one another. Over our three years of planning, we’ve taken long walks with collaborators. Eaten so many meals together. Listened to stories about the creatures that live in the bayou.

RON: Where would you say the absolute creepiest creatures live? If you had to choose. The bayou? The woods? Bottom of the ocean? Somewhere else??

CARRA: I would say swampy woods—offers both wet and dry habitats. And they see you but you can’t see them.

JUSTIN: I just spent way too long Googling “swamp vs marsh vs bog.” I’m also going with swampy woods based on my terrifying trip to the Everglades.

We’ve gambled. Talked about the glories of bingo and Seléna. We shook our heads at the number of fart jokes embedded inside a communally crafted document. Through all this joy and play and laughter, a blatantly messy and affective methodology for learning about one another increased our heart swell. The future of performance needs more hearts just big-ole-swollen with the love and care and hope and dreams and anxieties artists hold for one another.

[CARRA: A note on Leyya’s comment below. She offered these thoughts via text message during May of 2021 when she was daily watching her Palestinian community’s tragedy unfold in Gaza. She asked that I include her text in the essay wherever I thought appropriate. This moment felt right.]

LEYYA: I’m so sorry—I really can’t make words—I’ve been staring at the document and trying to have a conversation with it... Reading the words “future” and “art” at the same time, reading the words “ethics,” “transformation,” “laughter,” reading the word “HOME.” Actually I don’t even know if I read the word “home”—I think I just FEEL the word “home.” And now I’m weeping—but still strong—because the solidarity that starts somewhere (here? in art? in the streets? in the face of brutality?) is present in Live in America. And I want to chime into the writing, but I can’t. But I am grateful for the solidarity and listening and linking arms that is EMBEDDED in this project... Here’s to making NEW STREAMS of JUSTICE, by any means necessary.

Through care, through wrangling with the affective, we can more effectively mold the systems guiding our present-past-future.

Dice

An illustration by Nguyen Tran inspired by the essay.

[Enter a Fuck-Up.]

Now we have come to the part of our story where we say that throughout our future planning process, we continually fucked up, fuck up, and will fuck up and were misguided, are misguided, and will be misguided and often lost.

CARRA: Initially, we thought we should just have a group of established curators make a thing together, and then six months into planning I was like: Helloooo McFly, that is just the same old thing but in a new arrangement. You need to start over.

RON: I think a lot about “not knowing” as a sort of value. Kind of hokey maybe, but also kind of helpful? Particularly in thinking about the need to break away from current systems and ways of working? Maybe it’s just a way of staying open and curious. But I like thinking about stepping forward with a sense of not knowing. Anyway, “often lost” made me think about that. Also makes me think about bumper stickers.

JUSTIN: Yes! The “not knowing” is the future trying to communicate with us through technology so advanced that it seems ancient to us.

The future of performance needs more hearts just big-ole-swollen with the love and care and hope and dreams and anxieties artists hold for one another.

To understand our vision better, we once tried to make a literal map—

RON: It felt like the idea of maps was really prominent early on in this work. Do you think that became less important to us over time or did we just start thinking about maps differently?

CARRA: I think we still have maps, but they’re less geographical and more people maps. We should make a heart swell map!

TY: MAPS! I love me some maps. Every community, every person, every artist is different; therefore, every map is different. Periodt.

—of all our idea reroutes, but the lines became so entangled that they appeared a mess rather than a visualization of careful consideration. Maybe that’s a note for Future. Dear Future, don’t discount your messes. A lot of hard labor goes into making a good mess.

In this next scene, you’ll find some words about where we thought we were in mission/vision/purpose/future when we first drafted this essay. As a practice, we check in with our mission/vision/purpose/future frequently to make sure our present behaviors align with our future aspirations, even inside an essay. In sharing these more officious thoughts that we created together as a team, we don’t mean to prescribe how artists should define themselves, their values, and their work. But as a team, we have often discussed how we find new ways of understanding our work, of thinking about the future, when we read other’s officious aspirations.

[Drumroll for Aforementioned Mission/Vision/Future That Inevitably Is Already Out of Date.]

TY: TRUMPET!!!

JUSTIN: Then a decrescendo into a full two bars of wind chimes. (Triangle on standby.)

JUSTIN: (Triangle *ding.)

Live in America, Who We Are:

Celebrating the power and potency of communities in performance, Live in America gathers artists and thinkers from across America’s distinctive cultural landscape to imagine festival as a justice-oriented space for enriching communities, uplifting histories, and building a shared sense of stewardship. Live in America is collaboratively powered by a diverse team of artists/curators/thinkers whose very lives have been directly shaped by the landscapes and social realities they champion.

What We Do:

In order to transform traditional systems of power, access, and leadership in the performing arts, Live in America strives to hold itself accountable to:

  1. Valuing the past/present/future of performance practices and cultural traditions/ritual from communities across America.
  2. Developing presentational platforms grounded in practices of accessibility and approachability.

JUSTIN: This is huge! Are we arting for Art people in Art places or are we arting for and with the people?!

  1. Creating systems to transparently share resources: fiscal, experiential, educational, developmental, and producorial.
  2. Questioning and listening.
  3. Encouraging joy, laughter, and play.

TY: We must have joy. Civic engagement work is hard! Why NOT create joy and laughter. It is medicine.

Our Future Plans:

After the inaugural Live in America Festival, our team is committed to continuing our relational—

RON: I’m still thinking about your question earlier about who wants to be alone with a budget (provocative!) and then started wondering about the idea of “relational budgets”... is that a thing? Building budgets collaboratively (with others) but also the idea of seeing relationship (as a value) reflected in the budget itself. Relationship building as a thing that the budget is in service to?

CARRA: 1. Literally, we should increase our “dinners and drinks” budgets. Breaking bread together is often the beginning of sharing stories and thereby trust. I dream of a Live in America kitchen and someone is always cooking and there is a huge giant table and we hang out and sometimes we talk about art but also recipes, puppies, allergies, and Sasquatch. 2. What if every budget meeting began: What relationship do we want to take care of today?

JUSTIN: The charcuterie boards that come from these dreams are going to be off the hook!

—process of festival imagings for ten additional years in which we will:

  1. Produce another three to four festivals across the United States.
  2. Partner with an additional twenty communities from across North America.
  3. Create producorial and economic pathways for interested festival partners to share their work beyond Live in America.
  4. Communally create a book that describes our process, our successes, our failures, and our relationships.

[The Epilogue… ish.]

We’ve been rather tongue-in-cheek and messy with our play/thought/dialogues about Future. But for so many working in the field of theatre and performance, humor and play and messiness are emancipatory and therefore a fine lens with which to theorize the future. Humor allows us to connect with the conglomerate that is fearsfrustrationstruthspains via our own personal rhythms and purviews. We might as well embrace what emancipation we have available to us. After all, the past systems that will shape our future are here already. They are thriving—for better or for worse—in the present.

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Thoughts from the curator

It's 2021 and we're amid multiple pandemics that are revealing the structural failures, challenges, and opportunities facing the nonprofit theatre. Where do we go from here? What are we bringing with us through the portal, and what are we making anew? The Devising Our Future series asks theatremakers to consider a future theatre field where resources and power are shared equitably in all directions, contributing to a more just and sustainable world. This series is curated by HowlRound Theatre Commons as part of our tenth anniversary celebration.

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