fbpx Directors Lab West Connects: Sabra Williams and Laura Karlin (ASL-interpreted) | HowlRound Theatre Commons

Livestreamed on this page on Saturday 30 May 2020 at 8 a.m. HST (Honolulu, UTC-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) / 19:00 BST (London, UTC+1) / 20:00 CEST (Berlin, UTC+2).

United States
Saturday 30 May 2020

Directors Lab West Connects: Sabra Williams and Laura Karlin (ASL-interpreted)

The Power of the Arts — Theater and Dance in Systems-Impacted Communities

Produced With
Saturday 30 May 2020

Directors Lab West presented Directors Lab West Connects: Sabra Williams and Laura Karlin livestreamed on the global, commons-based, peer-produced HowlRound TV network at howlround.tv on Saturday 30 May 2020 at 8 a.m. HST (Honolulu, UTC-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) / 19:00 BST (London, UTC+1) / 20:00 CEST (Berlin, UTC+2).

Join us for a conversation with Sabra Williams, the Executive Director of Creative Acts, and Laura Karlin, the Founder and Artistic Director of Invertigo Dance Theatre. As culture workers, we can play a significant role in addressing the grief and emotional effects of the pandemic. Hear from two artists who have been doing this work and how they see the potential impact we can have.


Reena Dutt: Hello, I'm Reena Dutt, a producer at Directors Lab West. For those of you who are low sighted or listening in, I am a South Asian American director with dark skin. I have shoulder length, black hair. I'm wearing a red shirt and I have a white virtual background behind featuring our series title, Director Lab West Connects. And our hashtag, DLWconnects. Directors Lab West is a 20 year old volunteer run organization that every May provides an eight-day intensive full of workshops, panels, masterclasses, and more for emerging and mid-career theatre directors and choreographers from all over the world. This year, we jumped a hurdle and took advantage of this digital medium to mark the lab with Directors Lab West Connects. We are overwhelmed by your response and thoughtful questions from this week. Welcome to our eighth and final day of conversations crafted for you by theatre directors and choreographers, live-streamed by our partners at HowlRound to their website and to our Directors Lab West Facebook page. Join the chat, tell us who you are, where you're tuning in from, and type in your questions for our speakers. Some will be answered in the QA that follows. Thank you to Brittany Balance for providing ASL interpretation. She is a fair skinned woman with her hair in a bun, glasses and a green sweater and a black background. Now I'd like to welcome our speakers, Sabra Williams and Laura Karlin. Sabra Williams has received international acclaim for her work as an actor, host and co-founder of the Actors' Gang prison project, including being named by President Obama A Champion Of Change in 2016. And being honored with the British Empire Medal for services to the Arts And Prison Reform by Queen Elizabeth in 2018. Sabra is a co-founder of Creative Acts, a social justice initiative that uses the arts as the tool for transformation, as well as a visiting lecturer at UCLA and a Bellagio Rockefeller resident fellow, welcome Sabra.

Sabra Williams: Thank you. I am a light skinned woman of color with a long dark brown curly hair. And I am wearing a gray T-shirt with a pink logo that says, "Creative Acts" and I'm sitting at the entrance to a closet in my upstairs room.

Reena Dutt: Thank you, welcome we're so happy to have you. Laura Karlin is a choreographer, teacher and advocate for empowering people of all ages and abilities through dance. She founded Invertigo Dance Theatre in 2007. She has created over 40 works for the company and has been presented at venues such as the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the Broad Stage and the Ford Amphitheatre. Laura is a founder and leading teaching artist for Dancing Through Parkinson's and Storytelling Through Movement. And she believes dance is for everybody and every body, welcome Laura.

Laura Karlin: Hallo, thank you so much for having me. I am especially pale in this light. I have red curly hair that is pulled back and I'm wearing a green romper and a funny, I don't know, pashmina that I found on the floor of my office and glasses.

Reena: Thank you for your description. Thank you so much for both of you being here. We're very excited about this. For everybody out there, you can find our bios on our website at directorslabwest.com and you can also find bios for our entire week of panelists at the same place. So, we'll be in conversation for the next 30 minutes discussing The Power Of Theatre And Dance In Systems-Impacted Communities. So, before we shift into questions from the Facebook Chat, which please put your questions there. I just wanna launch into a quick question for you guys. And we'll just roll with this.

Laura: Can I take a moment before we do a question, and I know it, sorry, we didn't plan any of this, which is why Reena looks like "Why?" But I realized that I have actually, I haven't done a big Zoom event yet, and I wonder if we could all just take a breath together because normally when I do Directors Lab West workshops, we're in space or we're in community together in a very direct way. But maybe we could all just, wherever you are, is that okay, Reena?

Reena: Oh, that's wonderful, I love it.

Sabra: I was also gonna ask the exact same thing, perfect.

Laura: Okay, excellent, so wherever, Sabra do you want me to lead something or do you wanna do it?

Sabra: No, just one unified breath.

Laura: Okay, great. So wherever you are just plant your feet into the floor or your sits bones into the chair, take a moment, soften your focus unless you're driving, in which case sharpen up and everyone, at the bottom of your next exhale, take a pause. And then when you're ready, take a deep inhale. Let that breath fill your throat and your lungs, your belly, hold it for just a moment and then soften and let it go. Thanks.

Reena: Thank you. It's been a very trying week. And so, I'm very excited about this conversation with both of you. Yeah, thank you. So let's start with just sharing. I would love to hear you share a little bit about your work and your work with Systems-Impacted Communities and perhaps define it for our audience as well. Since I feel, you know, quite a few people might not understand what Systems-Impacted Communities are. So, I would love to hear from both of you how you define it and how did you find your way into it?

Laura: Sabra do you wanna kick it off?

Sabra: Sure, hi, I have to start by saying, especially as a person of color, I am sitting in this house on stolen Tongva land at a time when this country is on fire. And I have to honor my Indigenous brothers and sisters and say to my Tongva brothers and sisters that I know so well, we will do better. So, thank you for that. Everything I say today is to honor the lives of people of color who've been killed on the streets of this country, including the most recent, George Floyd. And I'm sure he wouldn't be the last. So everything I say and do today is in honor of our people. And I will also say it's an honor to the people who are behind bars right now, who are terrified, who are in grave danger. In this state alone in California, we have nearly 900 people who are positive behind bars, and it's just beginning. We've had nine people die at the California Institution for Men and they're completely invisible. So when we talk about this virus of racism and the virus of the Coronavirus. They both apply the most to people who are behind bars. And that's what I mean by Systems-Impacted. People who've been impacted by the systems that have been set up by white supremacy in this country and across the world. Whether they be behind bars, formally behind bars in the foster system, children's prisons, people who are targeted and arrested daily and people who are traumatized by that are also Systems-Impacted. So that's what I mean by the communities that I work with. I'm an actor, an artist, and an immigrant. I'm the mother of a young man of color. And we came to this country in 2002 to shake our lives up. And boy, do we shake our lives up? Came here to work as an actor, I did not expect to have an activist made of me by America. And I started off, I joined the Actors' Gang, which is Tim Robbins' theatre company, as an actor. And I had been doing some work before in the UK with the English Shakespeare company, just performing plays in prison, that's all. And so when I started in work at the Actors' Gang, it's highly emotional physical work. And I noticed the effect that it was having on me. And I thought it would be great for prison work. And so I went to Tim and said, "Do you have anything I can be a part of?" And he said, "No, please invent something." And the prison project was literally born by me Googling. I was straight off the boat like prisons in California, and I saw Pelican Bay, and I thought, "Oh, that sounds super pretty." It's not pretty, it's the only supermax prison in the State. It was too far away to start at. So we actually started at the California Institution for Men in 2006. Just bringing in a version of the workshop that the Actors' Gang does every Sunday night with a whole bunch of exercises that I knew, that I'd been doing as an actor. And the first day that we did it, we went in for four hours, no clue of what we were doing with a bunch of guys who also had no clue of what we were doing. And it had such a radical transformation on their lives that we knew that we had something we had to continue. And so over the last, you know, fast forward 15 years, I left the Actors' Gang a couple of years ago and started Creative Acts and really wanted to work back with the young people who are incarcerated because they have the most invisible, and in LA County, they were allowed to vote. But, you know, we knew that they weren't being engaged. So called to find out if they were being registered even, turns out 600 of them were registered, but only 35 voted. So we knew we could do better. So we went into all nine children's prisons and, you know, did arts workshop that we call Art Attacks and of those people, 86% of them voted in the primary election. Simply because the arts were a much more effective way for them to understand their power and the tool of voting to make change in the community. So that's one of our programs and then the other one we're doing this crazy virtual reality reentry program to help people have who've done life sentences, have a better experience. So when they come back, they can hit the ground running in this fully computerized society, which I can talk more about later. But yeah, that's what we're doing.

Reena: Great.

Laura: Sabra, I'm just so in love with you.

Sabra: Feeling’s mutual. Remember when we first met, backstage.

Laura: So, Sabra and I actually met each other at, if you wanna talk about an incredible blend of community and art. We met backstage at Independent Shakespeare Company where she was igniting the stage and where my company Invertigo Dance Theatre has a partnership every year and we perform with them. So I just, I love the web. I founded Invertigo in 2007, which is 13 years, which is incredible to me that we're a teenager now. And Invertigo is a local, it's a Los Angeles based and a dance company. We blend, high-impact, a highly kinetic movement with theatricality. And at the core of our mission is along with high quality artistic creation, woven into that is community and connection. And that's really the heartbeat of what we do. And that plays out whether we're on stage or in studio or working in classrooms with our community partners, working with students, or whether we are doing our dancing Through Parkinson's or Dancing Through Life Programming. And I've been working within activism and working and thinking and moving in that circle. I mean, I think since middle school, I was the sort of pain in the ass. I was a pain in the ass middle-schooler that like didn't like friends, 'cause it was racist and just not a cute look for a lot of people in like the late 90s, early 2000s. But I have been involved in queer rights activism for a really long time. And I have a dual degree from college. My first degree was an Honors Degree of Choreography and Production. And my second degree was actually Queer Rights and Social Movements. So the plan coming out of college was to go to Law School and be a queer rights attorney. And instead I am a choreographer now, so I started a dance company obviously, but I think what that's meant is, there is that heartbeat of looking at creating space for stories where otherwise that space, might not be curated. Looking to invite people into the work, into their own bodies, into witnessing things on stage where they otherwise might not feel invited. And when I say a Systems-Impacted, I think that Sabra did a beautiful job, of articulating it. And what I would add is that there's a lot of messaging about who art is for whether it's dance or theatre or any kind of art form and you know, who is valid when they're practicing it and who is valid when they're witnessing it. And I think that making sure that we are constantly examining that and challenging it, is part of looking at Systems-Impacted. And also it's just, everything is so intersectional that we're constantly coming from an intersectional lens. And I think one of the reasons that we really use Systems-Impacted is I don't like underserved. I think it doesn't mean, but first of all, it's such an overused word and you know, it's grant language. It's a way of elevating yourself when you are writing a grant like I'm gonna work with underserved populations. And I think that there's a saviorism, that is just ever so slightly a connotation for me in that word. And it also puts the honors on that community. Or, they're underserved, as opposed to saying, "There's greater systems at play here," and we need to examine those and we need to be challenging those and conspiring against those systems.

Sabra: Reena, do you mind if I just add something?

Reena: Please.

Sabra: I think that what you said is super important, Laura. And in fact, to me, it's one of the most important things about what we do in this country at this time. And that is, I've worked with thousands of people who are incarcerated or who are returned, or who has Systems-Impacted. And of those very, very few, maybe a handful have become artists or wanted to be artists. And I think that the issue in America as an outside, even though I am now an American as well. And I swear I might right a book about it. It is that America seems to see the arts as for artists or for entertainment. But does not in any way understand the absolute crucial importance of the arts for people who are self-described non-artists, who do not want to be artists in any way. And that's why we have to have the arts in the core of the school day, just like Math, English, you know, anything the arts have to be in the core of the school day because it gives a different way to learn in this very, very narrow way we have of educating people or of being successful in education in this country. And so what I've seen is that, you know, people I'm in, but getting a call from somebody who had done the program six years before, and he called me, he'd been out six years and he called me, he said, "Oh, I just want you to know I'm sitting in my office today. "My boss is being a douche bag and I am using every tool "You've ever taught me six years ago "To stop myself from, you know, smacking him, "Upside his head and leaving his job." And I think that, you know, that's what the arts are for centrally must be for. And we just, if we understood that we would fully fund the arts, the government would fund the arts and it would be in the core of the school day. So I can't emphasize enough how important what Laura said is, and it's everything, it's our responsibility as artists. So sorry to interrupt you Reena.

Reena: No, no, I am--

Sabra: I’m sorry, I'm gonna try and speak slower. I know I speak super fast.

Reena: Oh, I wanna bring it back to this idea of social culture changing by what we do our conduit of communication and diving into communities because there's dance, which is non-verbal. And then we have performance art, you know, non-verbal, meaning it's a way to connect to our bodies and through our experiences with each other, right. With our breath. And it's something beautiful to think about. And I really wanna know how do you, because the work is so much about diving into a community to bring arts, to help grow as a culture and as a fabric of our society. How do you translate your work from being a performer, into the work you do with your organizations?

Sabra: For me, there's no difference. You know, Shakespeare talks about it. You know, he talks about the theatre, being a mirror, holding a mirror up to society. I think that that's another issue that we have of separating the art from the social. And, you know, I think especially at this moment in time in history and this pivot and history, we're in right now, all artists need to be on the front line and not necessary I don't mean by that being on protests all the time, although we should be out there too. what I mean is like self examining, you know, why am I an artist? What can my art do at this time? I personally, you know, when I'm performing, when I'm playing, I am also in the community. Like when I'm speaking, these are not written people. These are in my head, these are characters that I play are people who really have lived, and maybe just a different space than I live in, but they really have lived. And so when I step into their life, I'm also stepping into their community. And so, I just don't see any division at all. I don’t know what do you think, Laura?

Laura: I think that I've been, I wasn't to talk about this, cause it's not fully formed in my brain. This is so vulnerable. Okay, this is the thing. This is like a messy process. I'm in the middle of biting into, so this I'm gonna wander into it. I've been thinking more and more about, you know, as the artistic director of a company. One of my primary joys is to create staged work along with the community engagement programming that we do. And I've been thinking more and more about what I've been trying to do intuitively for a long time, with a bunch of our different stage performances and what I'm fighting against. And what I'm fighting against is this idea of the stage performance up here and as this main event and that everything else that happens in the process, any community engagement that happens that I sort of supporting that or leading up to and lesser than and it's so hierarchal. And it's what I see as, you know, in a lot of ways, it's a really patriarchal way of organizing our thoughts around the art and then the community engagement that there is that hierarchy—

Sabra: There’s corporate as well.

Laura: And corporate yes, which is also white supremacy, which is also patriarchy, which is awesome. Well, I can't believe I just want like bluh at all these massive intersections of oppression. Anyways, so I'm trying to now take this idea of the content of the show as inspiring community engagement that surrounds and feeds into and interact with in a really genuine way, the work that the artists are doing, the drama to give in, their rehearsals, their creation process are all informed by and informative of the community engagement that's happening. And that's just really being something that we've been doing for awhile, but not articulating. So kind of allowing it to be more, not even horizontal, you know, taking it out of a vertical hierarchy and not going to a horizontal plane, but just sort of this messy spirally way of thinking about it

Sabra: At the Shakespeare company where we met, which I'm a member of this amazing company, theatre company. One of the things that Melissa and David Artistic Director of Melissa is the Artistic Director of Independent Shakespeare Company, is that they really been wanting to find ways to do what you're talking about. And one of the things we did that makes me super emotional. So I'll try not to cry, 'cause I've been crying the last week. One of the things we did I thought was so beautiful is inside prison, I feel like, you know, we hold the space for us together in partnership with people who are incarcerated to create a safe space and joy and creativity and play. And so what I was thinking was, wouldn't it be amazing if when they came back, could be involved in creating a space for us to play. And so what we did at the Shakes is that we had in partnership with the Anthropocentrism Coalition and Alumni that I know had invited them and paid them to come and build the stage. 'Cause every year the stage has to be built in Griffith park for our summer festival. And so we had, we've been doing workshops inside halfway houses, you know, of people coming back. And then we were also able to employ them to build the stage. And for me, it was super emotional to be walking on the stage where they've created the space for us in return to be able to play and to be creative. And then they are all sitting in the audience. I don't know, it was just so beautiful. And now we're looking for ways to be able to invite them also to play on the stage and to build out something that is give and take of creativity and just to really try to re-imagine. 'Cause that's what creative acts is. We're trying to re-imagine this space. So we're trying to use an arts based approach in corporate worlds, you know, arts organizations to teach people how to become teaching artists. And even in our own organization, we are really, you know, it's a laboratory, right? So we're really trying to create a flat organization. Everybody's paid the same. We all get the same hourly amount. We all are like equally involved in what we create at Creative Acts. And obviously the buck still stops with me. I still take responsibility as the executive director, but that's it, apart from that, that's it. And it's such an exciting relief kind of. From you know, so many arts organizations are super hierarchical and super corporate. We sit around tables discussing the arts, just like you would if you were in an office. And what we're thinking is what happens if you throw the table out the window in arts organizations and use the arts in the process? And that's super exciting. And we've been doing that even at the mass office of re-entry. We like basically did that with them as well with a bunch of bureaucratic people as well. It was awesome.

Laura: I feel that on a, I love going into spaces where they're not expecting, you know, to be pounced on by artists. We do it with our Dancing Through Parkinson's programs. I'm constantly going into and also, my teaching artists and our team. And we've been doing Dancing Through Parkinson's for 10 or 11 years now, and going into spaces with neurologists or conferences and having an entire conference of people who work in neurology and neurobiology, and standing up on stage and being like, "All right, everyone stand up and take a breath And reach and watching." I think it's really delightful to watch people understand and light up that movement or storytelling is for them, even if it's, as you know, as we were talking about earlier, even if it's not on a professional level, that there is space for joy. I think that one of the things, when we talk about Systems-Impacted, or, you know, we're under resourced, you know, we really use language that presses down, that literally like oppresses the communities that we're working with, unless we're really careful about that language. And that affects the way we as artists can often come into communities. Whereas I think it's really important to come in knowing that there is space for joy, that there is space for creativity and that it is our job as artists to curate that space, to open it up because joy, the idea that you have the capacity for joy can be a really intimidating one or one that sparks a reaction, if it's not done right. And I think that it's our job to curate those spaces and to allow for them, you know, I think often most of what we're doing is giving permission.

Sabra: Yeah, yeah, I completely agree with you. What I always say. And it's a 100% true. I get the most joy in my life being in prison. And I know that sounds completely insane, but if there's so much joy and this agape love in the room, when you create a safe space for people to plan, do difficult work, it is the most joy I get in my life. Yeah, I agree.

Laura: And I think that that's, it's something I look for in the work I make for stage and it translates into the work that we do in workshops and in classes. I think that there's space for humor for a long time, when I just started making work in Los Angeles, the sort of general style that was going on at the time was real serious because a lot of people in Los Angeles were real serious choreographers who were worried about being like, taken for like the commercial world. And they were worried about being seen as lightweights and, you know, wanted to be taken seriously. And so I was making work that incorporated humor. And so I was known as like the funny, "Oh, you're the funny one," like, well. Yes, there's humor in the work and there can be humor in the way we teach and there's space for that. But really it's often through allowing people to laugh that we relax. That we reconnect to our humanity. And from there we can address deeply rooted traumas that we can address deeply complex questions and we're doing so from a place that isn't so tight, isn't so bound, isn't so afraid because we've taken, if you're laughing, you're breathing. So,

Reena: I love this, I love this. We're at 11:30. So I wanna bring back a couple of ideas and also integrate some questions that our audience had today. And one of the questions is in regard to COVID in our current epidemic, we keep talking about, you know, being together and the togetherness that our work is in this current pandemic where we're physically separated, but obviously together, and being able to communicate ideas. How do you feel we can integrate the work that we're doing now into and make it profitable emotionally and societally during the pandemic? Considering that we have digital access, but not everybody has this access, right. So how has the pandemic affected your work? Do you see ways of moving forward? There's one question specific where Alicia Brady, she's new to directing and she's finding herself loving, incorporating movement into the communication of performance. Also feeling a true disconnect with COVID and the Zoom virtual theatre world. So what would you advise in terms of doing the work, in this environment that we're in right now?

Laura: Well, I'll start with what Invertigo's been doing. And I actually came back to work from maternity leave on the day that the beat kind of dropped on COVID-19 in the US I think outside of the US it had been a known, a more known entity for a while, but I came back on the day that our office went remote. That was my first day back at work. And I sat down at the computer and in my very empty office and everything had changed, not just because I had had a baby, but because the entire world was different, you know, in a moment and what we do and, you know, and I think Sabra, it's probably true for you as well, is it feels so physically or dependent on physical presence in a lot of ways. And, we really had to take a moment and pause, especially with our Dancing Through Parkinson's programs and Dancing Through Life, because these are some of our more medically vulnerable communities. People with Parkinson's are at incredible risk. And so we actually, I think a week or two before I had suspended in person programming. And then, you know, we had a meeting with all of the teaching artists who are these incredible people, and these women had lost, you know, in 48 hours, they'd lost their entire seasons worth of gigs, their entire livelihoods. And yet they were on, you know, this video conferencing saying, "Well has anyone heard from Jack, and, you know, I know that so and so had surgery and does anyone know how she's doing? And, oh, I know that, you know, this person doesn't have internet at her home, and I'm worried about her, has anyone called her? And how can we start making sure that they're moving? Because, you know, people need to keep moving.” And there was just such an incredible amount of love. And that was really so heart filling for me. And within two weeks we had Dancing Through Parkinson's online. And this is a group when we talk about, you know, "Oh, the arts are so much more accessible in this time of COVID because they're online." And that really assumes a technological access. And it assumes a sort of digital nativism, that doesn't exist for everyone. And so actually getting Dancing Through Parkinson's online was not really about getting the teaching of it online. The teachers have had to learn how to teach. We have now classes on both Vimeo and Zoom, and we're looking at other platforms as well, but a lot of it is kind of a parallel process to getting people into physical space. You know, when we used to have people call the office and ask about Dancing To Parkinson's, most of what we're talking about is how to be in a dance class? How to get there? Where is the parking? What do I wear? What do I need to bring? What do I need to know? I'm not a dancer, you know, and most of what we're doing is allowing them to feel like they're invited into the space and training them, or giving them resources to get into that space. 'Cause once they're there, we're all teaching artists, we're all fine. We're gonna do a great job. It's getting them in there and then creating that space for them. And so actually what we did is we had one of our teaching artists was quarantined with her mum and her mom is kind of in the age range that a lot of our DTP participants are. And we made a video that is her signing her mum up for Zoom. And we train people on how to use Zoom. And so that's like a part of the program is creating the structure that allows them enter the space. And we're looking at ways to address, you know, technological access and Wi-Fi, which by the way, it should be like a publicly available thing now and forever. So just saying, and I think, that was a big deal for a lot of people, because they felt like they were being trained and given access, but we're also looking at what can we do, you know, is there a way we can have a phone line that people can call into and just listen to the class? And so, yeah, I'll leave it at that. I have a lot more thoughts, but I won't separate.

Sabra: I will just say that, I'm noticing that we just, as humans who are living at this time in the world, we just want to know the answers. Everyone wants to be the first with the answers, and we just want to know how it's gonna be. And like, you know, I feel like this time, it's a time of not knowing we shouldn't know, and that we have to sit in, not knowing, you know, and to experiment and fail and experiment and succeed. But I think that half of the lesson of this time is to just be like, I don't know. And let's see, let's see what happens. And so for us, all the prisons are closed as they should be, because the only way that virus got inside was by people from the outside, bringing it in. So all the programs are canceled all visits are canceled. We were a week away, I think from starting our virtual reality program in maximum security and so, you know, it was, that's not something that we can do remotely. So what we think we're gonna do with that one is to do the pilot in the community, in the halfway house. So it's the same population of people who've done life sentences and multiple decades, and they're not quite back on the street yet. So they're just one step out of prison. They're still incarcerated technically they have ankle bracelets. So we think we can do it in the community, which actually might be better, 'cause we can film it more easily and you know, respond better technically in the community. But for our architects, for the Juve program, I hear that now they're doing the education online, their school online. So we're gonna try and piggyback on that. 'Cause last time we did it through the Education program. So we're gonna try and steal an hour, three days a week—

Laura: Get it, Get that hour.

Sabra: And go around and drop off all the art supplies at each of the prisons. So they have good quality art supplies for what we're asking them to do. But beyond that, I don't know. This is a time for us to self reflect, I think, and to imagine, and to be radical and re-imagining, and you know, I will say that when I saw a picture, I think it was the Berliner ensemble who I know and love. We were on tour with them at one point. And I still bet theatre, how they're gonna open up with like two seats, one seat. I actually had a physical reaction. I actually felt nauseous and super sad. I don't really know why. I don't think it's a matter of compromising what we've done before. Theatre needs a radical makeover, a radical makeover. It is way too corporate, it's way too profit based. It is run by people who don't reflect the community that most of the theatres are in. And the work that's being done as a result is often not relevant or not that was why we can't get audiences in, right. Or they can't afford too. So, I think it's time for theatre to have a massive re-imagining and a massive time of not knowing. And I know my friends--

Laura: Good job, I mean, that's what's so exciting. Sorry I interrupted you, oh gosh, but Zoom is so weird 'cause you can kind of--

Sabra: Yeah.

Laura: Get that groovy back and forth, but that's, what's so exciting right now, in the grief and in the loss, we are invited to crack open.

Sabra: As long as we do. 'Cause that's not our nature. Our nature is to try to go as close to normal as we can. And the thing that I will say I miss the most is I miss audiences I hope audiences understand how important they are like this back and forth with audiences that we get to do on stage. I'm a former dancer. So whether it's a dancing or theatre, then nothing can substitute for that. And we shouldn't try to make it. And so I don't know how we're gonna do it. And nobody really knows, even if they say they do, no one knows. So yeah, I miss my allegiances and I'm super grateful more than ever for anybody who sat in an audience, it's just a beautiful thing.

Reena: Yeah.

Laura: I think it's really important that it's in the same way that we enter into communities. If you are coming into a community and you know what, you know, what they need and what you're going to do to address those needs, you don’t—

Sabra: Does anybody know?

Laura: We don't, and that's sort of the hierarchal patriarchal, you know, reaching out, you know, the outreach. I will reach out to you.

Sabra: I’ve had 15 years of being educated by the best teachers in the world.

Laura: Yes.

Sabra: And I see that Reena wants to ask us something, sorry.

Reena: Well actually I want to reach out to both of you because we're at time.

Laura: Okay.

Reena: I know there's so much to talk about. And this is such little time to talk about all the things that are encompassing our lives in our art, in our work during this time briefly, one question we are asking all our guests, is there anything that you would like to share about what you've learned about quarantine? I know we touched on it in a couple of different ways already. But anything that you specifically are hoping to incorporate because of this quarantine?

Laura: Go ahead, Sabra.

Sabra: Let me just think for a second. If you have something, Laura, go ahead.

Laura: Sabra and I both thinking, I love that this is the one question we had in advance and we're both like “hmmm…”

Sabra: I know I kind of… patience, envision. You know, I think when I'm constantly in something difficult… well, for many years now I've tried to develop a 300 year vision. What can I do now that in 300 years is gonna have a valuable effect to people who'll never know me, I'll never have existed? I'll be dust in the ground, not even that in 300 years. And so on a smaller level, when I'm struggling, I try to think what about 30 years from now, me looking back on this time from 30 years. So in a way, for me, that takes up my immediate emotional response and enables me to approach it with vision. So in 30 years, or, you know, well, I wouldn't be alive in 100 years, but you know, it let's say in 30 years from now, how will I look at what I did at this time? How I responded to this? And it's very interesting being a world citizen, you know, coming from Europe and having everybody nearly over in Europe and my husband is Ugandan. So like having that kind of different view on America, other countries are so often like "Why are Americans freaking out about wearing masks?" Like we just put on a mask and just do it and get it done, you know. And you know, meanwhile we have the highest rate. So I think that for me, this thing of being outside and looking back or outside the country and looking at the country that I live in is super helpful in terms of re-imagining and being radical and courageous and not being swallowed up in this moment. I'm being honored by this moment. I'm honored that I'm at a time in America that we might actually make a change to, you know, 400 years of systemic abuse and racism. I'm actually working on. I don't think I should say this publicly, or maybe I should. I'm working on a truth and reconciliation process for America right now. Unless we address the Indigenous genocide and slavery among many other abuses, we can never go forward. We're always yoked to the past. So we have to, and as an artist, it's my responsibility. I can only do a tiny little bit, but you know, it's my responsibility to light a spot for that.

Reena: Yeah. Did you have anything to add to that, Laura?

Laura: Well, I've learned that I'm just very in love with Sabra and we're gonna remember that.

Reena: [laughing] I know.

Laura: This all intersects with having a new baby. So I feel like I've learned, you know, we talk about quarantine time. How, you know, think March was 700 years long and you know, April was 25 seconds. And I think that, you know, having a new baby messes with your sense of time anyways, so I came into this with a really, everything is now sort of like double warped time. And so I think I'm learning both patience and impatience with the rate of change that I'm learning the moments that I can. Surrender to what is happening. And then the times that rage, and that when rage or an implacable rejection of the way things are, is not a time for patience. I think I'm trying to learn when to be patient and when to push against something, and push forward and crack open with an absolute uncompromising need, to move, to reject, to shift, to cause this ripple effect. And it's interesting because I don't wanna come from a place of reactivity. I want to come, you know, if I am pushing forward, if there, you know, that it comes from a place of hope, and generosity and leveraging privilege, for whatever it's worth.

Reena: Yeah.

Laura: Urgency and patience. I have to say one very quick thing. Reena I promise it's super important. A friend of mine, Shakka Suncor posted this thing on Facebook, like near the beginning of this. Where he asked people who have been incarcerated to give advice to those of us who have never been in a lockdown or never been in a restricted, I don't like to stay locked down, a restricted space. And by the way, people, it is not like prison. Stop saying it's like prison.

Laura: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Sabra: He was asking people to give advice, who’ve been incarcerated, to those of us who have been privileged not to be incarcerated. And it was such a beautiful moment because of course the advice was amazing, but also the beautiful thing about it, I was like, "Yeah, who's got the power now, right?" They have the power, they're the people who are centered at this difficult moment. And they're the people who know how to deal with this. And it was just such a revelation and just so beautiful. And I think that this has opened up space for people who have not had power before. So thanks, so I just had to add that.

Reena: We are literally at time and I don't want us to get kicked out mid-sentence. Thank you so much for being here, your words and your work and contributing your time. It's just, thanking you so much.

Sabra: Thank you, we’re super grateful, thank you.

Reena: And thank you, Brittany Balance, our ASL interpreter, who brought our discussion to a broader community. We're so thankful for that. Since this is our last conversation and it's such an important one to me and to a lot of people, I wanna welcome back my fellow Directors Lab West Connects producers. So pop on. Magic. [All of the producers turn their cameras on.] My producers are Che'Rae Adams, Douglas Clayton, Ernest Figueroa, Martin Jago, Cindy Marie Jenkins, Randee Trabitz, and Diana Wyenn.

Che’Rae Adams: Hello, everyone out there. We can't thank you enough for tuning in whether this was your first time or your eighth. Over the past eight days, we've had over 6,500 people tune in from 37 states and 21 other countries. We are so grateful and inspired by your response to DLW connects that we're discussing the possibilities for future virtual events.

Martin Jago: And like the other seven conversations this week, this will be archived and available with closed captions on both howlround.com and directorslabwest.com later tonight. And you can head there now to watch any of the conversations you might have missed. And we encourage you to share them online and off with your fellow theatre and dance artists.

Randee Trabitz: We want to again, express our collective thanks to all our speakers, whose generosity of craft and spirit has made this possible. Anne Cattaneo, Sheldon Epps, Anne Bogart, Jessica Hanna, Ann James, Carly D. Weckstein, Laurel Lawson, Diana Wyenn, Daniela Atiencia, Gianna Formicone, Makiko Shibuya, Avivit Shaked, Scarlet Kim, Mattie Barber-Bockelman, Luis Alfaro, Laurie Woolery, Sabra Williams, and Laura Karlin. Thanks to our Directors Lab West colleagues, Anthony Refollow, Susan Deleon, and Elizabeth Suzanne for their assistance in connecting us to our wonderful ASL interpreters, Chest Whitehouse, Robert Cardoza, Aviva Levy, Ellie Strifer, Jennifer Brazelle, Danny Casey, Allen WhittBorg, and Brittany Balance.

Diana Wyenn: And now we want to extend a huge thank you to our partners in this venture, HowlRound. So thank you, Vijay Matthew, Thea Rogers, Jamie Gahlon and Travis Amiel, and the whole team at HowlRound. A special shout out to Travis who's actually been with us every single day behind the scenes, making this live stream possible and also behind the scenes. And definitely want to give a shout out to our production coordinator. Emily Clays, thank you for sticking with us and continuing to coordinate when we decided to make this virtual jump.

Douglas Clayton: And we'd also like to once again, acknowledge our longstanding partners at the stage directors and choreographers society passing at play house and Boston court, Pasadena. We're excited to be back next year. We also wanna say hello to all of our alumni out there. It's been a great opportunity to reconnect with all of you. With 20 years of labs under our belt, you are now over 600 strong, and it's been a real joy to see so many of you in the Facebook chat everyday asking questions and reconnecting with us and with each other.

Cindy Marie Jenkins: And speaking of next year, if you haven't attended the lab before, please head over to directorslabwest.com, click on email, sign up, and you will get notification when the next application is online and of all our future virtual events and offerings. And also please do like our Facebook page and follow us on Instagram @DirectorsLabWest.

Ernest Figueroa: For 20 years, we have produced an eight day, 12 hour a day in person lab, full of workshops and panels, masterclasses, performances and more based in Pasadena, California, bringing together emerging and mid-career theatre directors and choreographers from all over the world. It's been our pleasure to continue our mission and reach out and broaden our connection by offering these additional eight days of conversations crafted for and by theatre directors through choreographers, through DLW connects. And we couldn't have done it without you. I wanna quote Sabra and saying, "I hope your audiences realize how important you are," and we couldn't have done it without you. Thank you for joining us from all over the U.S. and the world, several countries, and for being an integral part of our community. We look forward to as well, Anne Bogart said, sharing some time across virtual space again. Another quote I want to do with Anne Bogart also, "Slow the F down." And sharing time with us. Until then from our home to yours we wish you all well and safety and as we've said before, we hope these conversations spark many, many, many more. Thank you so much.

[Multiple people wave and say goodbye.]

Directors Lab West Logo.

This conversation is presented as part of Directors Lab West Connects, an 8-day series of live-streamed conversations and Q&As crafted for and by theatre directors and choreographers that will reflect upon, explore, and inspire paths forward in the transformed and transforming nature of live theatre. Curated to reflect a wide range of topics, each session will feature speakers sharing their unique perspectives for 30 minutes, followed by a live moderated 15-minute Q&A.

RSVP for this conversation, read speaker bios, and submit questions ahead of time at directorslabwest.com.

Directors Lab West Connects will be live-streaming on howlround.tv and on the Directors Lab West Facebook page, where viewers can engage with peers and ask additional questions in the chat. Each session will be archived on both HowlRound and Directors Lab West’s website.

The full Directors Lab West Connects schedule of conversations is:

Saturday 23 May 2020
Anne Cattaneo and Sheldon Epps: A Discussion of Institutional Perspectives, Connections, and Support

Sunday 24 May 2020
Anne Bogart and Jessica Hanna: A Conversation about Creative Practice and the Shifting Landscape

Monday 25 May 2020
Ann James and Carly D. Weckstein: Using Intimacy Direction to Create a Culture of Consent Post-COVID

Tuesday 26 May 2020
Laurel Lawson and Diana Wyenn: Disability and Equity as Creative Forces

Wednesday 27 May 2020
Daniela Atiencia, Gianna Formicone, and Makiko Shibuya: Global Perspectives from DLW’s International Alumni

Thursday 28 May 2020
Scarlett Kim and Mattie Barber-Bockelman: Reimagining Liveness and Connection for Virtual Space

Friday 20 May 2020
Luis Alfaro and Laurie Woolery: Reflections on “Remote” Teaching and Community Engagement

Saturday 30 May 2020
Sabra Williams and Laura Karlin: The Power of the Arts — Theatre and Dance in Systems-Impacted Communities


  • ASL Interpretation will be available on both the HowlRound and Directors Lab West Facebook livestreams.
  • Closed captioning and ASL Interpretation will be provided on the archived video on both the Directors Lab West and HowlRound websites.

See the other archived videos that belong to the Directors Lab West Connects livestream series.


Founded in 2000, Directors Lab West brings together dedicated emerging and mid-career theatre directors and choreographers together with master artists for an eight-day long intensive filled with workshops, conversations, panels, and symposia enabling them to inspire each other to dream and create the future of American Theatre. Now entering its third decade, the Lab's alumni network is comprised of over 600 theatre artists from all over the world. Directors Lab West is presented with artistic partners in Pasadena and Los Angeles and is supported by the Stage Directors & Choreographers Society. www.directorslabwest.com

Directors Lab West Connects is produced by Che’Rae Adams, Douglas Clayton, Ernest Figueroa, Martin Jago, Cindy Marie Jenkins, Randee Trabitz, and Diana Wyenn, with additional support from Emily Claeys and Reena Dutt.

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 tv@howlround.com, or call Vijay Mathew at +1 917.686.3185 Signal/WhatsApp. View the video archive of past events.

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