Happy New Year from HowlRound

Reflections on 2018

As I sat down to write this post, I was struck by the fullness of 2018. Though I am a co-founder of HowlRound, I took on the new role of director in July 2018 and got married a few months later. Suffice to say, it has been a year of love, change, growth, and learning. Our work at HowlRound manifests in many different ways, and on this final day of the year I’d like to offer a snapshot of what 2018 meant for us and what we’re looking forward to in 2019.

We kicked off 2018 by re-articulating what we stand for through refining our mission, vision, and values and making sure our guidelines to contribute content reinforce those values. We scaled back our written content, now publishing five essays per week, to focus on quality over quantity, and added a new weekly email roundup to give you all an easy way to stay in the know.

Our work at HowlRound manifests in many different ways, and on this final day of the year I’d like to offer a snapshot of what 2018 meant for us and what we’re looking forward to in 2019.

We continued development on the World Theatre Map, a user-generated directory and real-time map of the global theatre community. We went to Chile where we launched the site in Spanish, and later added French, too. This project is an ongoing experiment in how we can connect the global theatre community through shared online infrastructure.

In March, in partnership with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, we hosted a convening of the National Playwright Residency Program cohort and published our first programmatic assessment. Over the course of the year, we produced play development residencies for playwrights Luis Alfaro, Marcus Gardley, Kirsten Greenidge, Taylor Mac, Peter Nachtrieb, Kira Obolensky, Herbert Siguenza, and Carlos Murillo, which we hosted at our home base Emerson College. It was a gift to spend time with these artists. Throughout the year we documented the activities and impact of this radical program, which provides playwrights with space, time, and resources as salaried staff members at theatres for three-year terms.

A group of people posing for a photograph

Attendees at the National Playwright Residency Program convening in March 2018. Photo by Anya Prudente.

In partnership with Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts, the Latinx Theatre Commons (LTC) produced the 2018 LTC María Irene Fornés Symposium in April. This symposium convened an intergenerational community of artists, students, and academics for a day of vigorous Fornés-inspired creativity, conversation, and conviviality. You can watch the archival video and read more about the day in this reflection, and learn more about María Irene Fornés and her legacy here.

This year HowlRound produced convenings that were selected through an open call as part of the HowlRound Challenge to advance the role of the arts as a catalyst for social change. In June we hosted a convening about Theatre in the Age of Climate Change in partnership with Chantal Bilodeau (the Arctic Cycle), Elizabeth Doud (Climakaze Miami/Fundarte), and Roberta Levitow (Theatre Without Borders). We shared some of the lessons we learned on how to make our own practices more sustainable, and we published our official convening wrap-up as well.

In July, we headed to Chicago for the 2018 Latinx Theatre Commons Carnaval of New Latinx Work at DePaul University where we saw readings of six new works and heard from not only the playwrights, directors, and dramaturgs, but also a design team who conceived of the world of each play. You can read reflections and more about Carnaval here.

In September, we published our first comprehensive case study on how HowlRound came to be and what we believe in, created by the intrepid Alexis Frasz and Holly Sidford of Helicon Collaborative. If you care to learn more about HowlRound this is a great place to start.

In the fall, we wrapped up not only our largest project of the year, but a project that was years in the making: a brand new website. The site on which you are reading this article was designed to make our content, new and old, easier to read, navigate, and share. Thanks to the advent of user accounts, people can now make their own profiles, bookmark content, and create their own lists of content, which we feature on the homepage! To give you an example of what they look like, you can check out my list that includes much of the content I’ve referenced in this post. We worked with the Institute for Human Centered Design to ensure this website is more accessible to a wide range of people with disabilities, including people who are blind or have low vision; are Deaf or have hearing loss; have brain-based, mobility, or speech disabilities; have photosensitivity; or have more than one disability. This is a work in progress. We hope you like it; we’d love for you to tell us what you think.

When we launched the new website, we also launched a new look, feel, and name—HowlRound Theatre Commons—to more deeply reflects our commitment to the commons and commoning. We spoke about arts, culture, and commoning at the Creative Commons summit in Toronto in April, and, most recently, at the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture’s Culture/Shift Convening in November 2018 in Albuquerque. We’ve been having regular conversations with other artists and arts organizations inspired by the commons framework and, just a few weeks ago, had an in-person meeting in Boston with folks from Commons Strategies Group, Creative Commons, Double Edge Theatre, Ethics and the Common Good, the Hinterlands ensemble, and Power House Productions to officially birth an arts, culture, and commons working group. There will be more to come on this front.

A group of people pose for a photo

Attendees at the commoning group meeting. Photo by Blair Nodelman.

Through it all, we featured a number of fantastic journal series—from Decolonizing Theatre Practice, to Artist Rights and Safety, to the Changeover, our ongoing series on leadership transition in the North American theatre—and were proud to have livestreamed 105 events on HowlRound TV, which are now available to watch in our video archive. Here’s a sampling of the field-wide conferences and symposiums you can watch from 2018:

If you haven’t seen our end-of-year roundups on generosity and abundancecommunity and collaboration, diverse aesthetics, equity, accessibility, and inclusivity, and global citizenship, take a look.

Over the past year, the HowlRound team itself went through some changes. We began 2018 in a time of transition, having said goodbye to our co-founder P. Carl just a few months prior. In March we bid farewell to our longtime content editor Lynette D’Amico and brought in Toronto-based May Antaki in her stead. I officially took over my new role in July, and this fall we promoted Ramona Ostrowski to the role of HowlRound producer and J.D. Stokely to the role of associate producer.

Four people standing in front of a tree

Stokely, Jamie, Vijay, and Ramona. Photo by Anya Prudente. 

It’s been a lot! And the changes are ongoing: We’re currently looking for a new team member to join us as our first-ever communications manager, and we’re in the midst of interviewing candidates for our fellowship. Meanwhile, the LTC is seeking their next producer, as current producer Abigail Vega is departing in 2019. We’re really looking forward to gaining new perspectives as we replenish and expand our team.

There is so much to look forward to in the year ahead. In just a few weeks we’ll head to Texas for the 2019 Latinx Theatre Commons Theatre for Young Audiences Sin Fronteras Festival & Convening, our first convening dedicated to work for young people. After that, the volunteer-run LTC Steering Committee will meet to review programming proposals, which were recently received through an open call, to determine the LTC’s next three years of programming.

In March, we’ll host the Deaf Theatre Action Planning Session in partnership with Tyrone Giordano, Rachel Grossman, DJ Kurs, and Ethan Sinnott. This convening will gather over thirty Deaf theatremakers, producers, and administrators from across the United States to develop a plan for creating a national network and training-to-production pipelines that foster the long-term education and advancement of all Deaf theatre artists.

We’ll continue to amplify organizing efforts of the Jubilee, a celebration for all theatres—professional, community, university, and high school—where everyone is invited to examine what voices, perspectives, and stories have been marginalized in their dominant framework, and place one, some, or as many of those voices as possible at the center of their programming for a single year (the 2020–21 season).

This spring and summer we’re planning to spend time in Eastern Europe and Canada developing existing and new partnerships with values-aligned artists and organizations. As always, many journal series are in the works, focusing on directing, Latinx theatre for young audiences, Native Hawaiian theatre, Roma theatre, theatre and climate change, and lots more!

The content we produce comes from theatremakers who choose to participate, so we hope that you will help us shape not only the discussions that will arise, but the agenda itself in the coming year.

HowlRound is many things, but, at its core, we are a container for divergent opinions. We exist to amplify the voices of the global theatre community and progressive, disruptive ideas about the art form. We want to bring people together in conversation because we believe that, too often, it happens in silos, and that our field—like our world—will only improve with more open exchange of ideas and knowledge sharing.

The content we produce comes from theatremakers who choose to participate, so we hope that you will help us shape not only the discussions that will arise, but the agenda itself in the coming year. May the New Year bring you joy; theatre that surprises, moves, and challenges you; and a community that supports and surrounds you.

Thank you for being with us. Happy New Year!

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