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Happy New Year from HowlRound

Reflections on 2019

This past year consistently inspired all of us at HowlRound. We got to both witness change happening in the theatre world and work in partnership with artists and organizations creating a more equitable, just, and progressive theatre field. On the eve of a new year and a new decade, I’d like to pause to reflect on what team HowlRound focused on in 2019, and what we’re looking forward to in 2020.

Overall, this year was marked by our ongoing efforts to curate a knowledge commons—made up by your essay, video, and podcast contributions, as well as our in-person convenings—that are aligned with our core values. Check out the collected content we feel best embodies these values: generosity and abundance; community and collaboration; diverse aesthetics; equity, accessibility, and inclusivity; global citizenship; and the commons and commoning.

Moving Conversations Forward

Throughout the year, we featured a number of fantastic journal series on parent-artist advocacy curated by Rachel Spencer Hewitt, staging gendered violence curated by Nora J. Williams , accessible and inclusive theatre curated by Talleri Adkins McRae and Mickey Rowe, Roma theatre in Europe curated by Mihaela Drăgan, conversations across generations between UK artists curated by Selina Thompson, the foundation and rise of Hawaiian Theatre curated by Tammy Haili‘ōpua Baker, and more. We also continued our twice-yearly series on theatre in the age of climate change curated by Chantal Bilodeau and heard from field leaders in the Changeover, our ongoing series on leadership transition in the North American theatre. There were a number of pieces that struck a chord with the field, reaching thousands of folks in short order: Amy Steiger’s “Whiteness, Patriarchy, and Resistance in Actor Training Texts,” Holly L. Derr’s “#MeToo and the Method,” Melisa Pereyra’s “We Have Suffered Enough: The Cost of Performing Trauma for Women of Color,” and most recently Amelia Parenteau’s interview with Lauren Turner, “The American Theatre Was Killing Me: Healing from Racialized Trauma in an Art Workspace.” We are so grateful to these fearless writers—and so many others who have contributed through the year—for speaking truth to power in our field and pushing our collective conversations forward. Remember that everything you see and hear on HowlRound is co-created by the theatremakers who find value in this knowledge commons. What could you contribute in 2020?

We are so grateful to these fearless writers—and so many others who have contributed through the year—for speaking truth to power in our field and pushing our collective conversations forward.

Continuing a Radical Intervention

This year marked the end of the second full round of the National Playwright Residency Program, which provides playwrights with space, time, and resources as salaried staff members at theatres for three-year terms. We bid farewell to playwrights and theatres that had been in the program for a total of six years! We are delighted to continue working for the next three years alongside Herbert Siguenza at San Diego Repertory Theatre, Kirsten Greenidge at Company One Theatre, Lauren M. Gunderson at Marin Theatre Company, Madeleine George at Two River Theater, Rehana Lew Mirza and Mike Lew at Ma-Yi Theater Company, Taylor Mac at HERE Arts Center, and Vera Starbard at Perseverance Theatre. Through it all, we continue to document the activities and impact of this program.

three people posing for a photo outdoors

Ramona King, Vera Starbard, Jamie Gahlon

In October, HowlRound producer Ramona King and I went to Juneau, San Francisco, and San Diego to see work by and connect with playwrights Vera Starbard, Lauren Gunderson, and Herbert Siguenza and their partner artistic directors Leslie Ishii, Jasson Minadakis, and Sam Woodhouse at their respective residency theatres. It was a gift to spend time with these remarkable artists at their artistic homes.

This summer, we held an open call for applications for the next round of this program, which were evaluated in the fall. We look forward to unveiling the next NPRP cohort this spring and gathering program participants in Boston in July 2020.

Advancing the State of Latinx Theatre

The 2019 Latinx Theatre Commons Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA) Sin Fronteras Festival & Convening gathered artists, scholars, and educators from across the Americas to experience theatre with young people and consider the needs and incredible capacities of Latinx audiences of the future on 24–26 January 2019. The festival featured productions of five TYA plays from the United States and Latin America. The convening brought 150 adult participants from across the Americas to experience these five shows with young people in the audience and learn more about TYA through workshops, panels, discussions, and artmaking events. For more, read Marci McMahon’s excellent wrap-up.

audience sitting in a theatre

Talkback following Coatlicue 2.0. Photo by Erika Alvarado.

The 2019 Latinx Theatre Commons Miami Regional Convening, called Miami in Motion!, took place over the weekend of 12–14 July 2019, with optional programming on 11 July, and featured a series of panels, breakout sessions, cafecitos, and performances. The convening coincided with the opening weekend of Teatro Avante’s 34th International Hispanic Theatre Festival of Miami. Miami in Motion! gathered artists, scholars, administrators, and advocates from the Miami Latinx theatre community and beyond to share work and methodologies and to experience the vibrant and varied forms of storytelling that illuminate the abundant creative talent of this rapidly growing “Magic City.” The convening also provided space for networking and interdisciplinary collaborative opportunities, and engaged in dialogue aimed at advancing career sustainability and engendering an ecosystem for artists to thrive in all stages of life. After the event, Carl(os) Roa shared a wonderful reflection on the convening and its impact.

Just a few weeks ago, new LTC producer Armando Huipe, who took over from outgoing producer Abigail Vega in July 2019, shared the Latinx Theatre Commons’ next programming cycle, which will begin with a creative renewal retreat for the LTC Steering Committee in New Mexico in March 2020. Read more about what is to come from the LTC here in the announcement.

Ambitious Convenings

This year, HowlRound closed out producing a series of convenings selected through an open call as part of the HowlRound Challenge to advance the role of the arts as a catalyst for social change. The Deaf Theatre Action Planning Session in March 2019 was a three-day convening planned in partnership with organizers from the Deaf theatre community: DJ Kurs, Ethan Sinnot, Ty Giordano, Alexandria Wailes, Patty Liang, and Rachel Grossman. Together we brought around thirty d/Deaf, DeafBlind, and hard of hearing theatremakers from around the United States to Boston for conversation and action planning.

A large group of people

The convening was conducted simultaneously in spoken English, ASL, and Pro-Tactile ASL, requiring a team of ten interpreters, three Deaf videographers, an extensive technical setup that allowed for projected live video feed of anyone signing, and a remote transcriber. The feedback we received was overwhelmingly positive—the organizers and many of the attendees commented on how powerful it was to be in a Deaf-led space, because chances for members of their community to gather, set the agenda, and lead the conversation are so rare. We learned so much through this process that helped us deepen our own internal accessibility practices. Jill Bradbury reported out about the convening in a fantastic article.

In June, we partnered with Canada’s SpiderWebShow Performance to co-produce the Digital + Performance Convening in Kingston, Ontario. This gathering, our first non-US convening, brought together practitioners, curators, and scholars from the United States and Canada working at the intersection of performance and digital technology for a day of discussion as a kickoff to the foldA festival. HowlRound’s own May Antaki detailed the convening for us. Since then we have continued to collaborate with SpiderWebShow, thinking about how to convene folks using new technology and exploring possibilities for low-carbon connection.

close up of a group sitting in a circle talking

Digital + Performance Convening. Kingston, Ontario. 12 June 2019.

This year we continued to see ripple effects from our June 2018 Theatre in the Age of Climate Change convening, co-organized with Chantal Bilodeau (the Arctic Cycle), Elizabeth Doud (Climakaze Miami/Fundarte), and Roberta Levitow (Theatre Without Borders). With some HowlRound support, this group and others organized a climate-focused retreat in Miami, which culminated with a Theatre Communications Group pre-conference program around climate justice which was part of a suite of programming organized by the 2019 Conference Committee on Climate. As an outgrowth of this work, we also supported a delegation from the 2018 convening to attend the Hemispheric Institute’s Encuentro in Mexico City. The group recently shared a reflection from their time as part of the working group called Becoming Porous: Performing with(in) Climate Chaos.

In the last twelve months, we have been proud to partner with organizations all over the world to livestream 117 events on HowlRound TV.

Breaking Geographic Barriers

Last spring, HowlRound cultural strategist Vijay Mathew and I traveled to Hungary and Romania to plant seeds for a new HowlRound TV project with artists and theatre companies we have come to know over the past five years. As a result, this fall we launched a pilot commons-based livestream infrastructure project in Central and Eastern Europe, operating in Budapest, Cluj, and Bucharest. The goals of this project are to enable regular live programming of talks and performances from that area, foster closer ties within the region and to the United States, and model a reduced ecological footprint as we continue to connect, share, and learn from each other. Learn more about this project and the content we have streamed to date here.

In the last twelve months, we have been proud to partner with organizations all over the world to livestream 117 events on HowlRound TV, which are now available to watch in our video archive. Some of the field-wide conferences and symposiums captured in 2019 were on caregiver support in the performing arts, culture mobility in the time of climate change, equity in and through the arts, and mixed reality and performance. So much more can be found on this compiled list.

A New Decade Begins

There is so much to look forward to in the year ahead. In just a few weeks, we’ll head to upstate New York for a retreat with the Arts, Culture, and Commoning Working Group, with whom we’ve been collaborating for over a year. This group co-authored the essay “The Promise of the Commons,” which outlines our collective vision. Last September, we hosted scholar and activist David Bollier, who shared his thoughts on arts, culture, and the commons. We’re also planning a convening this spring around curation and civic engagement with our partner ArtsEmerson on the occasion of their ten-year anniversary, and we’re beginning to think about our own ten-year anniversary in 2021.

Over the next year, we’ll continue to amplify the 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 in the 2020–21 season. Lisa Channer recently detailed efforts at the university level to create JUBILEE season programming. It’s not too late to get involved as an individual or an institution—we would love to have you as part of this movement!

I’ll close with a wish from the whole team: may the new year bring you joy and fulfillment; theatre that moves, challenges, and transforms you; and a community that supports and surrounds you. Thank you for being here and being you. Happy New Year!

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thank you for this detailed update, and for all the tremendous work you and the team continue to do. Wishing you all a good start to the new year.

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