Livestreamed on this page on Tuesday 31 March 2020 at 8 a.m. HST (Honolulu, UST-10) / 10 a.m. AKDT (Juneau, UTC-8) / 11 a.m. PDT (San Francisco, UTC-7) / 1 p.m. CDT (Chicago, UTC-5) / 2 p.m. EDT (New York, UTC-4).
Come Together: The Art of Gathering in a Time of Crisis (ASL & Captioned)
an #ArtistResource talk with Bryan Joseph Lee
Hannah Fenlon: Two, one. Welcome, friends. I'm Hannah Fenlon. My pronouns are she, her, and hers. And I'm one of the producers of today's session, along with my most excellent colleagues. Colleagues, do you want to introduce?
Abigail Vega: I am Abigail, she/her/hers.
Ann Marie Lonsdale: Hey, I'm Ann Marie and she/her/hers.
Nicole Brewer: Nicole Brewer, she/her/hers.
Hannah: Beautiful, we are so glad you've joined us. Today, we are exploring how artists can cultivate virtual spaces with purpose, intention, and structure. We are lucky to be led by the amazing Bryan Joseph Lee, and he's brought together some really smart thinkers to help us navigate these waters.
Nicole: Sorry, everybody, my tablet has a bit of an attitude today.
Hannah: We got you.
Nicole: So this is the third in the series of online events produced by the Freelance Artists Resource Producing Collective. We are an iterative responsive project that manages the COVID-19 Freelance Artist Resources WordPress site and produces a series of webinars and other virtual gathering opportunities to provide resources to raise the collective knowledge of freelance unaffiliated artists in the United States. We are a short-term intervention that gathers and amplifies efforts and ideas that secure freelance artists' livelihood and centers their humanity in the immediate present while preparing the U.S. arts and culture field for a radically equal, inclusive, anti-racist, and progressive future.
Abigail: We operate by amplifying over replicating, respecting artists' humanity, and creating communal resources. We pay people for their time and their brilliance, and we are committed to a practice of community tithing, where we work to extend 10 percent of our cash resources to other collectives and organizations, providing relief with a focus on serving the most vulnerable populations of freelance artists, including Black Indigenous POC, queer and LGBTQ+, undocumented, elder, and disabled folks. So today we've marshaled the resources and the funds to pay our speakers as well as commit to a $1,000 tithe towards an organization doing this important work. So this week, we're excited to say we're contributing to the Arts Administrators of Color's emergency fund. If you want to learn more about AAC, follow HowlRound on Twitter, it's @HowlRound. They just tweeted out their website, and they'll also be tweeting out other relevant links as this conversation continues. Next week, we'll be selecting a new organization to support. So if you have suggestions of some awesome organizations doing work at this intersection, you can email it to us, Artist Resource at HowlRound.com. We'll take all those suggestions, we'll do our research, and then we'll put it to a vote at the next webinar. And that email again is Artist, A-R-T-I-S-T Resource, R-E-S-O-U-R-C-E at HowlRound, H-O-W-L-R-O-U-N-D .com.
Ann Marie: So if at any point today, you are like “snap, snap, snap, I am so feeling what was just said, what is that dollar on the floor doing there that I've never seen before that just fell out of my jeans?” Add it to our tithe, and we will send it along to Arts Administrators of Color. Last week, we had over 2,000 folks join us live for our conversation on financial strategies with Amy Smith. If only half of those folks had contributed one dollar each, we could double our tithe. So if you want to contribute, you can Venmo us directly to at C-O-V-1-9 dash F-A-R, that's @COV19-FAR, through 4:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow, April Fools' Day. These funds will not go to HowlRound nor to us personally. They will be added to the pot for our tithe. On the resource site, covid19freelanceartistresource.WordPress.com, you will see a link to all the funds that have been raised so far and who they went to. But listen, don't stress if you can't give. We're all in this together, and someone else might have two dollars.
Hannah: So one of our other values is that we work in draft. Our work and efforts are living organisms. As we learn, we receive feedback, which you can submit to us at the email address that Abigail just mentioned, and reflect. We will reshape our values and our processes according to how we can best be of service to the freelance artist community. In addition to our gratitude for Bryan and all the panelists, we'd also like to thank HowlRound, our colleagues for Jay Matthew, JD Stokely, and Thea Rogers in particular, for the vital roles they're playing today, and every day. We're also grateful for the ASL interpreters and the National Captioning Institute. They're doing the live captioning for this session. And before we go any further, I'd like to pass it to Nicole to lead us in a land acknowledgement.
Nicole: Great, thank you so much. As we have gathered digitally, we will be honoring the many Indigenous peoples whose land the facilitators and the panelists are gathered on. We do this practice as a way of acknowledging the people who were present on Turtle Island as the past, present, and future caretakers of the land. Thank you. I invite you to breathe as you hear these names. Nicole Brewer, calling in from Yamasee and Muskogee lands, also known as Savannah, Georgia.
Hannah: Hannah Fenlon, calling in from Iroquois, Kickapoo, and Miami lands, also known as Central Indiana.
Ann Marie: Ann Marie Lonsdale, calling from Chochenyo and Ohlone land, these people who still thrive here in Oakland, California.
Abigail: I’m Abigail Vega, and I am calling in from Coahuiltecan lands, which is now known as San Antonio, Texas.
Bryan Joseph Lee: I’m Bryan Joseph Lee, calling in from Lenape land on the island of Manahatta.
Stephanie Ybarra: I’m Stephanie Ybarra. I am calling in from Piscataway land, now known as Baltimore, Maryland.
Geoffrey Jackson Scott: I’m Geoffrey Jackson Scott, calling in from Lenape and Canarsee land, now known as Brooklyn, New York.
Laurie Woolery: Hi, I'm Laurie Woolery, calling in from Lenapehoking on the island of Manahatta.
Abigail: And on behalf of the staff of HowlRound Theatre Commons at Emerson College, they wish to respectfully acknowledge that their offices are situated on land stolen from its original holders, the Massachusett and the Wampanoag people. They wish to pay their respects to those people past, present, and future. Adrienne Wong, a SpiderWebShow in Ontario, has written a digital land acknowledgment which we'd like to share. Since our activities are shared digitally on the internet, let's also take a moment to consider the legacy of colonization embedded within technologies, structures, and ways of thinking we use every day. We are using equipment and high-speed internet not available in many Indigenous communities. Even the technologies that are central to much of the art we make leaves significant carbon footprints, contributing to changing climates that disproportionately affect Indigenous peoples worldwide. I invite you to join me and us in acknowledging all of this as well as our shared responsibility to make good of this time, and for each of us to consider our roles in reconciliation, decolonization, and allyship.
Ann Marie: Thank you, Abigail. So, speaking of technology, we want to address how we can use technological lags if and when they happen or the internet connection freezes. We invite you to take a breath and do a body scan and release the held parts of your body. Or it might be beneficial to reflect on what's been said so far and where those ideas land for you. So if something goes awry with the internet, use that as an opportunity to take a little break. We are really, really excited that so many of you have come to join us today, and we want you to know that you are in good company. Please tweet or post on Facebook to tell us that you are here. Share your name, your location, and use the hashtag, #ArtistResource, #A-R-T-I-S-T-R-E-S-O-U-R-C-E, and #HowlRound, #H-O-W-L-R-O-U-N-D, and you can follow the thread and get a sense of who we are and who has come together in this space.
Nicole: Great, thank you so much. So for this talk, we're going to have the Reflective Five just at the top right now, and then we'll have at the very end when the talk is over. I know right now, I'm a bit off script, but I just wanna say that it was a rough night for me, and my computer has an attitude, and I'm just feeling the need to breathe, because I feel very tight. So I want to be honest about where I am in this wave of grief, in this wave of this new world, in this wave of understanding. So this week's Reflective Five will happen at the top and the bottom of the conversation, as I said. We invite you to invoke teachers, mentors, cultural traditions, into the space as you reflect on what and where the legacies of gathering we are building on came from. Take a moment to call the name of a teacher or a mentor, and hold them and their learnings in your mind. For me, Marik Jensen. Inhale, one, two, three, four, five, hold, five, four, three, two, one. Exhale, one, two, three, four, five. I am so delighted to pass the mic to our friend and colleague, Bryan Joseph Lee.
Bryan: Thanks, Nicole, and thanks to everyone for tuning in, wherever you may be, welcome. So, my name is Bryan Joseph Lee. I am the lucky leader of the Public Forum program at The Public Theatre, and today we are talking about gathering. We are in the business of gathering, or at least, we were. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended so much of what is considered fundamental to the experience of live performance. In a recent article in "The New York Times," Priya Parker, who wrote actually this book, "The Art of Gathering," which I all suggest everyone gets, Priya Parker reflected on the challenges and opportunities of gathering in the age of COVID. She wrote, the practical questions organizers are facing, do we postpone, migrate online, cancel altogether, quickly transmute to a set of spiritual questions. Why are we doing this in the first place? Is it really needed? Who is this for? And who gets to decide. This invites a set of questions that every gathering needs answered. What do we need in this moment, and how might we gather around that? Today's conversation is less practical and more spiritual. Who are we if we cannot gather? What do our communities need in this moment? And how might we shift our practices to gather around that?
Before I introduce today's fantastic panel, I want to acknowledge two points about our collective circumstances. The first is that this is hard. I want to acknowledge that even while we're gathered here digitally, some of us are fighting for and losing our lives. Some of us, particularly those of us at the margins, have experienced the loss of security, of stability, of income. Some of us are also caring for family, working to secure basic food and shelter, and protecting our own health. So I just want to recognize the backdrop against which this conversation is happening, and affirm you wherever you may be in your personal journey at this time. Second, this is a moment that will define our sense of community, a moment of collective responsibility, collective imagination, and collective action. Although we may be physically distant, we are not alone. We will get through this. Planet Earth will get through this. And theatre, if it's meant anything to our greater society as a source for community, empathy, and connection, will survive. So let's consider this conversation an invitation wherever you are, whenever you're ready, as much as you're able, to imagine the future with us. So I think that's a good point for us to bring in our panelists. There's a face, there's a face, there's a face. So, let's start with a quick heart check-in. Maybe I'll ask each of you to introduce yourselves and just say how you're feeling right now. Popcorn, any.
Laurie: Sure, I'll jump in. Hi, I'm Laurie Woolery and colleague of Bryan's at The Public Theatre, and I really relate to what Nicole was saying. I spent the night last night checking in with friends and loved ones that are very ill. I'm a doer, so I feel like that's how I show love is by showing up, and not being able to show up is challenging right now.
Stephanie: Hi, I'm Stephanie Ybarra. I am the artistic director of Baltimore Center Stage, and I am recovering from a bout of bronchitis, and feeling incredibly lucky to be recovering from bronchitis, which is playing some tricks with my mind and my heart. But generally speaking, I'm feeling very privileged for the people I have around me and wishing I could do more, but grateful for what I have.
Geoffrey: I’m Geoffrey Jackson Scott, the creative director of Peoplmovr. And yeah, Nicole talking about feeling tight, that resonated so loudly with me. I'd say that's probably been my general state for the last, this is probably day twenty-three, I think, that I've been practicing physical distancing. I have a respiratory condition, so once it was stated who all of the most vulnerable populations are, in addition of course to being a Black person in this country also having a respiratory condition, certainly triggered my alarm bells pretty quickly. So yeah, this is day twenty-three of life on the inside, or at least this version of an inside. Sot the tightness, that really resonates with me, and also I'm feeling... Scott Berinato wrote a great piece in the "Harvard Business Review" I think that came out last week or so, talking about the stages of grief that all of us are experiencing through this. I would say that I'm landing somewhere currently around sadness, just a real deep, deep, deep sorrow that I'm trying to stay with and work through.
Laurie: You know, it's interesting, Geoffrey, is that Louise Hay says that grief resides in the lungs. So I just think it's just interesting to share that in this COVID-19. So it seems to go in alignment with what you're talking about.
Geoffrey: Wow, and did you notice how as I was saying it, my whole chest got tight and my voice changed? Yeah, that's very real.
Laurie: I’m sorry, I also forgot to... I just said I was Bryan's colleague, but I'm the Director of Public Works, and I just wanted to rep for my amazing Public Works team at The Public Theatre.
Bryan: Absolutely. I mean, I feel like I miss collective breath right now, so I'm grateful for Nicole leading us in that exercise, but also just seeing your faces. I mean, I really do love and respect and admire each and every one of you, so the fact that we are able to gather together even in this time, it fills me with gratitude. I'm very, very grateful right now. I feel like I want to start with an acknowledgment that, like Geoffrey said, you're on day twenty-one, you said?
Geoffrey: I can report to you from the future about my experience if you'd like.
Bryan: Well, we're just starting week three of the quarantine really in earnest here in New York City, but it's felt like a decade. Can you even believe it's still March? We've all had to shift, we've had to shift our creative practices in the face of quarantine. So I'm curious just starting off, how are each of you meeting this moment, especially in your work? The fact that we are gatherers of people, I'm curious to what shifts you've made to the way that you gather.
Geoffrey: You know, I can share, this question strikes me two ways. It strikes me both, and it's disingenuous to suggest that there's really a line here between the personal and professional. But as you ask it, this is how it sort of sits. So, personally, my response has really been about trying to gather myself. And then, of course, there are the professional pieces, all of the work that I had booked for the rest of the year in the space of not even 24 hours was just over. So I don't have any income for the rest of the year. That is not a unique story. So just like trying to rebound and respond to that has been part of what the pivot or the shift or the balancing has been about for me. I've also been doing an enormous amount of listening, listening again to myself, but also listening to our colleagues and friends and partners in this moment, not just here in New York, but also around the world to get a sense of how everybody's doing, what people are experiencing, and how people are responding. So that's a little bit of what's happening for me. It's been much less about trying to understand what is Peoplmovr in this moment, how do we rise to the moment, and much more about how is everyone, how am I, and how can we be more of service to each other and to this moment.
Laurie: I will jump off of that, Geoffrey, that ours is similar in the fact that with Public Works, it has been everything has changed, and in some ways nothing has changed. Our approach to engaging with our community, because it's intergenerational and because our partner organizations are with individuals who have varying degrees of access to technology, which I was very grateful that that was shared at the top of this conversation, so Public Works is picking up the phone and calling all of our partner leaders, all of our community members. It is a slow process, but a very human process in terms of listening, and that's what we do, is we have not jumped into immediately like this is what we're gonna do, we're gonna do X, Y, and Z, is we had to cease our classes, we had to cease our class sharings that were all just about to happen. We've had to cancel some potlucks. So we're trying to process how to share the work that has happened, and that's a new thing. How can we share the work that was created within community in the world of technology when that is so varied in terms of the access and the capabilities? But it also feels like it's a real opportunity to have, if you're cohabitating with somebody in seclusion, to get your grandson to help you videotape your monologue, if that's at all possible. We have the answers to some things, which is engagement and personal relationships, and we don't have the answers to many other things at the moment, but we are, first and foremost, listening to what our partners need. Last week, one of our partner organizations was the very last one to actually close their doors, Fortune Society, but they were hanging on to the bitter end. So we're just trying to make sure that people are safe and find out what they need.
Stephanie: For me, I am having a very different experience I think from both of you, Geoffrey and Laurie. I was just saying to my artistic teams today that I don't know where this comes from, maybe it's part of being a producer or being a member of my family, maybe it's the gene pool, but my immediate reaction and where I've lived for the last couple of weeks is in this really, this state of compartmentalization. I went immediately into separating out emotions from logistical needs, and have been operating nonstop in that space of not feeling much, but really just sort of powering my way through intellectually to keep people employed, to turn around content or projects, to work within our organization to be of service to our employees and to our community. It was only yesterday when I started to break out of my bronchitis and what have you, that I started to feel something again. Geoffrey, I think this goes back, or Laurie... It was Laurie that you said the thing that grief lives in the lungs. It seems not a coincidence to me hearing you say that, not a coincidence that the moment that my meds started to really kick in was the moment where my heart started to take over my brain. That's a very new shift for me, from head space to heart space.
Bryan: You know, I love that you all take the idea of gathering so personally. Geoffrey, the idea that you're gathering yourself, that you're collecting yourself, or understanding your own circumstances because that's so human and so relevant to how we're moving forward in this day. I think it's incredibly important. And I want to actually bring that to some other observations that I've seen, at least in sort of how we as artists and we as producers gather in this time. And maybe this is a controversial question, but there's this assumption that all of our theatres are vital to our communities and that we have to put our programming out into the world, right? And once COVID happened, the shift was from live production to digital. I guess my question is, do you think everything has to be digital right now? Especially because Priya Parker in her book says that a worthwhile gathering begins with purpose. I'm curious what the purpose is behind this effort for digital content, who's asking for it, and maybe, Geoffrey, to your point, are we listening to the needs of our community before we act, before we say I have to present or produce or pivot in some way?
Geoffrey: I mean, yeah, what to say, as I spin in my chair and hold myself for comfort? To the big question, do all of us need to rush our content online? To me, there's an obvious response here, which is, no, of course, we don't all need to rush our content online. And with that, I would also say all of us aren't rushing our content online. There are some who are, there are others who are not, for whatever their particular contextual reasons are. And all of those responses to me feel right and appropriate, 'cause I don't know the conditions on the inside. So to speak to whether, like there's a preferred way of moving through the world that I have for sure. So even me saying that part of my response has been about really gathering myself, that is also indicative of my own process, to really listen to understand what I have to offer to a moment, while at the same time listening to understand what a moment might require, and listening to understand what people have and what people need. So two things that I've seen in the digital space that for me are really strong are, of course, D-Nice, I can't be a part of this conversation and not talk about Club Quarantine and what D-Nice is serving in terms of content.
My assumption without knowing him is that what D-Nice was observing, both for himself, was what he has to offer, what is his skillset, what is his trade, what is his practice? And what is it that the world might need in this moment of, for some of us, stuckness and stasis? All of that negativity, all of that energy, and all of that trauma stuck and contained tightly in a body and in space, it's useful, helpful, and healing for that to move. So my suspicion is that D-Nice understood that that was all happening potentially for people, and moved into the moment to offer some healing. There's another person, Wendy MacNaughton, every single day, Monday through Friday, at 1:00 p.m. Eastern time, Wendy, through her Instagram channel, again recognizing her skillset, a "New York Times" best-selling illustrator and artist, recognizing what she has to offer, likely also noticing through listening that there are a lot of parents who are home with kids. So Monday through Friday at one o'clock, she's teaching an art school, doing drawing classes. And through a hashtag, people are able to share out amongst a now-growing community the product of their art, of their creativity, during that hour, that moment of convening, that moment of gathering. So those are really beautiful examples of things people are doing, I suspect through listening to what is happening in the world, but also meeting that moment from their particular purpose.
Laurie: So I'll jump in, it's Laurie. You know, besides checking in with our community and listening to what they need and to what our community partners need, that is really informing us on how to move forward. So I got very excited right away of, like, oh, Public Works is scheduled to occupy the second slot of the parks season at the Delacorte this summer and do "As You Like It," which we've done once before for an extended run. So we were thrilled to be able to do that again. And we are still figuring out if that is moving forward, how that's moving forward, et cetera, stay tuned. But what I knew that we could do together was create something, and we have a community choir, and so I was very inspired by the forty-two choreographers. Now I'm forgetting, Exquisite Corps that did forty-two choreographers dancing to a dance, and that had hit me right before all of this happened, and I was like, oh, I love that. And immediately I'm like, oh, Public Works can do that. We can do that both local, and we can do it with our national and international partners. We can all sing one song together. So Public Works went into planning how to make that happen. Very simple, a song that we know and people are gonna record themselves.
And I think in the process of that, we are discovering who's immediately leaping forward to do it was a smaller number than we actually anticipated. And it's not because they're not interested, it is because they were still in survival mode. They were trying to figure out how this new normal was going to be within their home, with their caretaking or homeschooling, or where they're living, technology, like how do I record myself? Or just emotionally, how I'm not in the mind space to be able to do this right now. But they were all enthusiastic wanting to do it. So what we are doing now is, as we are calling, is finding out how to support people through making, not just the video, but we've extended the timeline. But I think for me that's just a great example to share of how we thought we were being thoughtful and we thought we came up with a plan that gave people enough time and space, and made it super easy, but our community is telling us, "Yeah, we love it, we totally wanna do it. "We just need a little bit more time." And so that's how we're responding, as well as our partner organizations, many who are struggling to figure out programming and how they're moving forward and how the staff is moving forward, and if that reduced staff, how do we reach out to our community in that moment? We're staying in close conversation, which takes time. Public Works has been incredibly busy. I've been sitting in this chair for seventeen days straight, literally, showering, eating, and sleeping, and then I come back in front of this computer. But all of us are doing that, and I'm really grateful for the team, the thoughtful team that I have, that we can all get out there and speak to community.
Bryan: I think that's beautiful, and maybe I'll rephrase my initial question with that light, in thinking with the purpose, the fact that you were imagining this moment as a way to unify your community through artistic practice, with one voice, which is very much what Works does. And you are also open to feedback, to the responses, we love it, but we need more time. That influences how you move forward. Just beautiful.
Laurie: Ten thousand percent, I feel like the reason I've stayed in this community-engaged, theatre-making world is they teach me every single day. It is a true mutual mentorship. So, it's not like, "What can we do for you, community?" It's like they're telling us, "This is what we need." We're like, "Got it," and so there is very much an alive back and forth that is happening with the partner organizations, as well as the members.
Bryan: Stephanie, maybe to pivot my next question, but in light of this, are you seeing that institutions are taking that nimble response when it comes to a dialogue with community? I think, to Geoffrey's point, a lot of the work that I've seen that has been the most rapid, the most responsive, has been from independent artists. But I am also curious sort of like whether our institutions are built to lead this charge, whether there's a question of internalized process versus what we see as public facing, because I have to imagine, I know from working in an institution, that everyone's working extremely hard right now, and we all have a different set of concerns. But what's up with that? How do you feel about that?
Stephanie: It’s a really tricky question. No doubt the most responsive and nimble and adaptive people, I think on this planet, are individual artists. and I think that there are some institutions who have... I'm not even just thinking in theatre terms, I'm thinking across sectors, I feel like there's some institutions who have responded rapidly and beautifully, but certainly in the theatre sector, I think so many institutions just got smacked off their game. I know here at Baltimore Center Stage, I feel very proud of some of the ways that we were communicating with our community, with our audiences, with our stakeholders, early on. I say early on because it feels like it's been years already, but we're still in a state of shock. We're still in a place of just trying to figure out what the ground is that we're walking on, let alone how to navigate it with creativity and alacrity. But if I'm being real real, it's not a secret, right, that our theatre institutions, the way they were built, they were not built for this. They were not built for nimbleness and responsiveness and adaptiveness. So it's not surprising that so many of us are caught flat-footed, or just wondering how in the world we can move forward. I mean, these times are exceptional, but I'd be hard-pressed to find a time like this where I've seen institutional theatre just sort of uniformly turn on a dime. We're just not built like that, and we have internal processes, and we can't do what the individual artists are doing, if only because we have systems and infrastructure, branding and messaging, so it gets a lot stickier.
Bryan: Absolutely, right? The fact that there is just a bit more bureaucracy, and also with great resources comes great responsibility. So I totally get why we have seen the sort of like variance of response when it comes to institutions. But you're pointing to something that I think even in our conversation yesterday I found it was so illuminating, which is this idea that if we are in the business of gathering, if we assume that we are theatremakers and everybody puts that on our banner, and we understand our mission, then maybe this is confounding some fundamental assumptions about what that is. I think you had a really beautiful response to maybe a higher mission or a higher calling. Can you speak on that just a little bit?
Stephanie: Sure, you're referring to the moment where I pulled out my e-book called "The Infinite Game." And I promised you that I would have a quote or an excerpt, or I would scroll through all of the notes that I've been taking in the margins. This book was given to me by the chair of our finance committee on our board, and he gave it to me or he suggested it a few weeks ago, and I cannot believe how relevant this book is to me, and it's been actually really, really useful in this time. The idea, the big idea being that there is a finite game and there is an infinite game. The question about, or the statement that we are theatres, we are theatre institutions or theatremakers, or even storytellers feels it's confounding in this moment because we are lost without our physical spaces a bit. And it has made me wonder about what is underneath the theatre-making and what is underneath the storytelling. Can you go deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper into the why and the purpose? It all comes back to that statement of purpose or idea of purpose. And there was this passage that I think was relevant to this conversation in "The Infinite Game" that I wanted to , pardon me, read to you, and it's gonna go from institutional structure to individual leading, leaders. A company built for resilience is a company that is structured to last forever. This is different for a company built for stability. Stability by its very definition is about remaining the same. An infinite-minded leader does not simply want to build a company that can weather change, but one that can be transformed by it. They want to build a company that embraces surprises and adapts with them. Resilient companies may come out the other end of an upheaval entirely different than the way they went in. And often, they are grateful for the transformation. So that's the sort of... Those are the words and the ideas that are operating in me in this moment as I look across our field and remember the words, or fiscal stability, or fiscally viable, or stable, stable, stable, stable. That's a phrase that we hear over and over again, and I wonder if it's serving us very well in this moment.
Geoffrey: Wow, wow.
Laurie: Hi, it's Laurie. And my longtime feeling that our theatre should be moving into a community center mindset and model, because the community centers that I go in are a vibrant, necessary part of that community, that it's a place that that community relies upon and needs in its daily life. And I do believe that theatre is a community center. I just think it's a pivot of mindset that needs to happen in terms of the larger structures of how we perceive ourselves in these institutions, because we have seen that. In all the organizations that I've worked with that have worked with community, is it just so happens that The Public Theatre is a large building that has space for people to come to. But so many of our community members, even when there's not Public Works programming happening or they're not coming to see a play, or to go to Joe's Pub, or to take a class, or rehearsal, show up and sit on one-M and read a book, or have a cup of coffee, or meet a friend there. It is a cultural watering hole that people gather into. And I would love for, as we're moving into this next phase, Stephanie, as you pointed out, is the evolution of theatre can be really exciting. I'm very cautious when I say that because I know there's a lot of suffering happening right now, but if we listen and we lean into what is happening, I think that are theatres can evolve and be effected for the better.
Stephanie: Geoffrey, what did I tell you about that book?
Geoffrey: I know, you read that quote, and now with what Laurie's saying, it's like, so let's get that book club together like right now.
Bryan: Oh, it's a book club, we got to make it happen.
Geoffrey: Yeah, tonight it's definitely happening.
Laurie: Get ready.
Geoffrey: Another thing that comes up for me as both of you are sharing this is that inside of this question around the purpose is also for me a question of who gets to decide the purpose. Is it the leaders of the institutions, or is it the people that we serve, the communities that we serve? Of course, I think I know the answer, but that doesn't make me right. That doesn't make me right at all. I wonder that, I wonder that.
Laurie: Well, I think it's about collaboration. We all get to be the deciders of it. We all get to contribute to the making of the art ultimately.
Stephanie: But we don't, but we don't. That's not the dominant paradigm. We don't all get to contribute. In fact, the very, very, very few of us do. Geoffrey, you're asking, it's a hypothetical question, or a rhetorical question almost.
Laurie: And I agree with you.
Stephanie: Because the the way it should be is not the way it is.
Laurie: Not across the nation, but I think there are art makers and there are processes in place that have had a collaborative communication in terms of what ultimately gets created as a group is what I'm referring to.
Laurie: Not that I think we have it down as a field, but there's great joy. I mean, we love collaboration, that's what we do.
Bryan: I also think it's a continuum, right? There are ways in which our practices are more collaborative, communal, where we distribute leadership and we take our impulses from the bottom up or from the outside in. Then there's some process that are more hierarchical, more top-down, and maybe this is sort of knitting together, Geoffrey, your impulses of asking who gets to decide, with Laurie's imagination of the communal watering hole. I'll say for me, I'm most excited about those moments in the time of COVID where I'm able to gather with people. The best moments of sharing I've had have been Netflix watch parties and brunches with friends on Saturday or Sunday, but the ability to actually have that watering hole moment. And I think that what we're hungry for, outside of the theatre, is we're hungry for connection. We're hungry to be connected and deepen our relationship with people, and that for me is the why. I would love if that were the organizing impulse behind what our artists and our institutions were putting out, because if that aligns your work, you may find that your recording of that play you took three months ago is totally in line with that. Then great, please, please, please, let's find a way to do that. Or maybe not, right? And maybe it requires us to then question, is there new ways, are there new content ideas that can really address this need in this moment?
Stephanie: I would offer are there, either see you and raise your question, Bryan, are there new ways in this moment and beyond? The idea that you're offering the sort of what if, like what if our big why or our big purpose was not theatre making, but actually connecting people to other people? Then what would that do to the way, the kind of art that we're making and the way we're making that art? It seems like such a simple idea, like a sort of no-brainer, but it’s—
Bryan: Big questions.
Stephanie: It is not the way, that is not the foundational organizing idea that I see messaged in any kind of transparent way.
Bryan: Maybe this leads me, and I'll offer this as a last final question, but by no means, I think this is gonna catch a lot of threads here, it is the what next. We were talking about if COVID-19 was an earthquake, then let's be real, the foundation of the American theatre was a bit cracked before this moment, right? And if anything, this is unearthing and exposing the fractured senses of inequity and bias that our field is built on. So I'm curious to you in your brilliant minds that we love to pick, how are you thinking about this as a fertile time for new ideas and new ways of gathering? What do you wanna see in the future? If you could put on our hats to think on the and beyond of it all, the after two, three years, what are we coming out with?
Stephanie: I feel, this is Stephanie, I feel so excited to not know. In the uncertainty, I think it might just be too hard to really stare the dark side of the uncertainty in the face at this moment for me. I'll probably get there in another week or so, but I am excited by the idea that we can't go back to so many of the practices that have held together, that we've been holding on with duct tape. I am excited by forced experiments and forced transformation in this moment and what will come from the brilliant minds who are leading our institutions, and the brilliant minds who are making the art and telling the stories. It feels exciting to not know. And what if we were just okay with that? What if that were enough to just say I don't know? So let's put one foot in front of the other and see how it goes, and then iterate and learn more. And what if we stayed in that space? What if we stayed in iterative, generative, adaptive space for the next couple of years, and didn't sort of fall back and rely on and grab for those processes and structures that have not been serving us for so long? What if we embraced the I don't know what comes next?
Geoffrey: Everything about that is like vibrating through my body right now. When I push as much as I can beyond the sadness that I described at the top, there's a real electricity, a real excitement around the possibility, the opening. This is an opening, I think. While at the same time, it's also absolutely terrifying. So to Stephanie's point about how we can't go back, to pretend that I can actually speak from the future at twenty-three days in to being physically distant, I am already starting to experience a very strong concern around being around folks, both in the sense that I may be a threat and in the sense that they may be a threat. We carry these things in our bodies that can cause harm to each other. So, in this moment that is the danger. And I suspect that there will be a trauma around gathering for some time to come. So, yeah, we cannot go back. I have seen people postpone weddings. Funerals are very different now than they were three weeks ago. So getting together in collected space, in a gathering of a great number of people, that is gonna be different for some time to come. So there is a real opportunity here, an invitation, if you will, to remake the world. One of the things that I hope for, I definitely can't know what will come, but one of the things that I hope for, I've been paying some careful attention to colleagues and friends in the disability communities, who are all saying some version of, "Hey, the accommodations that have been made "around a workplace are things that we as a community "have been asking for, for a long time." So, to me, in a moment where of recognition of like, oh, actually it was always possible to gather virtually, there is information there that we cannot pretend, we can't pretend this didn't happen, and we can't pretend that this hasn't happened to some degree, I don't wanna call it success, but it has always been possible to do this, to gather.
Bryan: This was always possible, right?
Geoffrey: Yes, yes, and so why weren't we always already doing it then? And I have lots of questions about what will happen now in terms of pay and compensation. I see lots of places laying off huge numbers of people. I have a lot of questions about who's still on the payroll and to what degree. These are questions that I would love to see us really wrestle with, so that in the after, because to your point there will be an after, but in the time after I wanna see us wrestle with these questions and living into the moment the invitation to make new.
Laurie: This is Laurie. I hear that, and I also just want... I personally always lean into things that make me uncomfortable. I mean, I really like stability and security, but I also choose things constantly that make me feel uncomfortable. I'm a Gemini, what can I say? But what I wanna make sure that doesn't get abandoned in this process is not everybody can meet virtually. It's just they don't have an updated laptop, they don't have access to these programs. If I did not have an amazing team, Pablo and Hannah, thank you for hooking me up, I would be working off an outdated phone. I question who has access to technology, 'cause that immediately eliminates a lot of people. And then I just wanna make sure that we don't abandon, I know a lot of theatres have really been looking into who gets to make art, who gets to be on stage, and I just hope that we lean into who is occupying our stages and the seats, making and bearing witness. I just think it's very, very, very important for us to not cling, as Stephanie was saying, to what was, but listen deeply and double-down on who's in our towns and cities and who needs this gathering, and who needs a daily, weekly, monthly artistic source? And that's what our institutions are or can be.
Bryan: Laurie, I don't think there's a better way to wrap up our conversation. I wanna thank you all, thank the three of you and your bright spirits for joining me today. And I actually wanna end by rereading that initial quote from Priya Parker, because I feel like we've really circled around that. The practical questions organizers are facing, do we postpone, migrate online, cancel altogether, quickly transmute into a set of spiritual questions. Why are we doing this in the first place? Is it really needed? Who is this for? And who gets to decide? This invites a set of questions that every gathering needs answered. What do we need in this moment and how might we gather around that? I know this is gonna be the start, not the end, of these questions, so thank you all for gathering, and thanks to our wonderful crew of producers, the team at HowlRound, and all of you for joining us.
Laurie: Thank you so much for the invite.
Stephanie: Thank you.
Geoffrey: Thank you so much. Thank you.
Nicole: Okay, hello. What I needed right now was all of you, so thank you. Thank you. Our last Reflective Five, I want to provide this provocation. How can our gathering practices become more nutritious for one another? What must you let go of to make that so? Inhale, one, two, three, four, five. Hold, five, four, three, two, one. Exhale, one, two, three, four, five.
Hannah: Nicole, thank you, Bryan, thank you to all of our amazing, amazing contributors today. Thank you all so much for being with us. The recording of this talk, which I know I will wanna go back to again and again, will be available in 24 hours on HowlRound. And our first two sessions, the first one which focused on a broad spectrum of urgent topics, including emergency funding, legal support, and national advocacy, as well as the second on financial strategies for individual artists, those are already there. So if you learned something today, please spread the word and please keep breathing.
Nicole: We welcome feedback and suggestions for next week's tithe. So if you have it, send it to Artist Resource at HowlRound.com. That's A-R-T-I-S-T-R-E-S-O-U-R-C-E, at H-O-W-L-R-O-U-N-D .com. Woo! Yes, feelings and emotions bubbling up. So we will be continuing the conversations in this time of crisis every Tuesday on HowlRound TV at 2:00 p.m. Eastern, 1:00 p.m. Central, 12:00 p.m. Mountain time, 11:00 a.m. Pacific. Join us next Tuesday, April 7th, for a conversation focused on learning from artist leaders in our field who are experts in cultivating creative resilience in the face of social and geographic isolation. Geoffrey, it's like you read the notes! Featuring Rachel Spencer Hewitt, Claudia Alec, Ashley Hanson, and more. We'll be announcing more Tuesday conversations soon and we hope you'll join us.
Abigail: We also wanna lift up our incredible partner, HowlRound. They provided us with the platform, the technology, funds for our ASL interpreters and our captioners, as well as some baseline support for our panelists today. In this work, HowlRound is modeling a commons, which is predicated on the assumption of abundance over scarcity. We hope that the provocations shared today make an impact on your practice, even after this crisis has passed. We hope that even in these most challenging of times, 'cause we're living through history, folks, and it's terrible, you'll choose abundance. We hope you'll choose to believe that there is enough, because, as Stephanie shared earlier, we cannot go back.
Ann Marie: It’s so true. Before we go today, we want to see the commons in action. If you got something out of today's conversation, and I know my heart is so full right now, and you want to support Arts Administrators of Color, you can Venmo directly to @C-O-V-1-9 dash F-A-R, help us to support Black Indigenous people of color, who are artists and arts administrators impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, and our colleagues at Arts Administrators of Color. Community, let see how abundant we can be, and we invite you to help us double our $1,000 contribution.
Nicole: Friends, this will get better. We will go back to normal. Our children will go back to school. But we will not go back to things as they were. We will be better. The most important thing to remember is...
All: You are not alone!
Ann Marie: I don't sing, don't do this to me. Y'all, keep connecting, and more resources are being added every day on our WordPress website, covid19freelanceartistresource.wordpress.com. C-O-V-I-D-1-9-F-R-E-E-L-A-N-C-E-A-R-T-I-S-T-R-E-S-O-U-R-C-E dot W-O-R-D-P-R-E-S-S dot C-O-M. We really encourage you to join HowlRound's mailing list to be advised of future conversations, and you can also follow HowlRound on social media.
Abigail: I just wanna share, somebody sent in a Venmo right now, and they said, "I am choosing to believe in abundance," which is just so beautiful. Many thanks to our panelists, to Bryan Joseph Lee, Stephanie Ybarra, Laurie Woolery, and Geoffrey Jackson Scott, and thank you for spending time with us today.
Hannah: Take care, we will talk to you again next Tuesday. Thank you.
Ann Marie: Bye.
Hannah: Wash your hands, we love you.
Ann Marie: See you all, wash your hands.
Livestreaming the #ArtistResource panel Come Together: The Art of Gathering in a Time of Crisis on the global, commons-based, peer-produced HowlRound TV network at howlround.tv on Tuesday 31 March 2020 at 8 a.m. HST (Honolulu, UST-10) / 10 a.m. AKDT (Juneau, UTC-8) / 11 a.m. PDT (San Francisco, UTC-7) / 1 p.m. CDT (Chicago, UTC-5) / 2 p.m. EDT (New York, UTC-4).
For the large majority of arts and culture workers, in-person, relational work is simply essential. The COVID-19 crisis has flipped our sector upside down, requiring digital over physical connection. Who are we if we cannot gather in space, and how can this moment of systems change force us to create new shared human experiences? Bryan Joseph Lee, leader of The Public Theater’s Public Forum in New York City, and additional presenters to be announced, will guide a conversation focused on how artists can cultivate virtual spaces with purpose, intention, and structure. The conversation will be both tactical (e.g. what is the right platform for the type of gathering I’d like to create?) and philosophical (e.g. how do I facilitate an online conversation that is accessible, inclusive, anti-racist and anti-oppressive?); and intended to expand our vision of what is possible in this challenging season and beyond.
- Stephanie Ybarra - Artistic Director, Baltimore Center Stage
- Laurie Woolery – Director, Public Works, Public Theater
- Geoffrey Jackson Scott – Co-Founder and Creative Director, PeoplMOVR
About HowlRound TV
HowlRound TV is a global, commons-based peer produced, open access livestreaming and video archive project stewarded by the nonprofit HowlRound. HowlRound TV is a free and shared resource for live conversations and performances relevant to the world's performing arts and cultural fields. Its mission is to break geographic isolation, promote resource sharing, and to develop our knowledge commons collectively. Participate in a community of peer organizations revolutionizing the flow of information, knowledge, and access in our field by becoming a producer and co-producing with us. Learn more by going to our participate page. For any other queries, email [email protected], or call Vijay Mathew at +1 917.686.3185 Signal/WhatsApp. View the video archive of past events.