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New Year's Highlights from the Commons

As the end of 2023 approaches, the HowlRound team has been reflecting on the year behind us. For the theatre community, it was a time of tumult, turnover, “the field is in crisis” essays, show cancellations due to illness, and budgetary shortfalls. Creative producer Julia Schachnik offered a response: “If our field is on fire, [we] want to be water.” Julia’s words were borrowed from an essay by Kristin Idaszak, who found them in Theatre Do Polet’s Be Water, My Friend—a lineage of inspiration that puts the power of listening and horizontal connection on full display.

As we see it, commons-based practices—which are based on resource-sharing rather than hoarding, and which prioritize cooperation and collaboration over scarcity and competition—can be the antidote to some of the prevailing field-wide challenges.

We very literally could not exist without this community—that is, without you.

To quote Todd London’s “On Field and Fire”—one of our most-read pieces of the year:

The way we work together is as crucial as what we make, and that means acknowledging how badly we need each other’s ideas and artistry and experience—especially when it’s different from our own. Then, having acknowledged our need, and being true to the collaborative spirit of this art, we must commit fully to each other’s flourishing, each according to their own lights. 

We’ve been working to forge deeper connections with and among our community; to catalyze conversation and collaboration instead of stagnancy and division; and to center care in all our practices and interactions. This year, we’ve had the privilege of supporting and amplifying the work of Latinx designers, international presenters, Black theatre scholars, playwrights around the United States, and changemakers around the world. From where we sit, there is incredible abundance in this field. As a knowledge commons, we very literally could not exist without this community—that is, without you. 

Read on for some highlights from the Commons in 2023 and what we’re dreaming up for 2024.

Sharing Space (and Not Taking It For Granted)

We gathered with colleagues, artists, and arts leaders at three convenings: the International Presenting Commons’ (IPC) International Presenting Now Convening; the Latinx Theatre Commons (LTC) Designer and Director Colaboratorio; and the Black and Indigenous Futures Convening, co-produced with ArtsEmerson. We hosted playwrights Betty Shamieh, Carlyle Brown, J. Nicole Brooks, Murielle Borst-Tarrant, and Saymoukda Vongsay at Emerson College for artistic residencies as part of the National Playwright Residency Program (NPRP). As a primarily digital platform with a team that spends a lot of time working from separate laptops in separate cities, we relished so many chances to share space.

Audience members in a large room speak with a group of four panelists.

The Black and Indigenous Futures Convening, September 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. Photo by Christian Ruiz.

Impactful Digital Content

The digital sphere was particularly rich this year, too. In the HowlRound Journal, “Surviving in the States: Audience Rejection on the Road with Oklahoma!” by Christopher Bannow inspired lively discussion in the comments section, the likes of which we haven’t seen since pre-2016. Porsche McGovern published the culmination of her multi-year study “Who Designs and Directs in LORT Theatres,” a massive undertaking and inspiring example of research as care, accompanied by a beautiful conversation with Sherrice Mojgani. Stage manager Macy E. Kunke stirred up conversation across the internet and—we’re sure—in classrooms, rehearsal rooms, and staff meetings with her piece “How Stage Management Can Set the Stage for Greener Theatre.” The HowlRound Journal also featured content written in conversation with convenings in the Black and Indigenous Futures series and the Colaboratorio series. The LTC also launched the ongoing Latinx Leaders at the Forefront series, amplifying the history and work of teatros by putting established theatremakers in conversation with future leaders.

On HowlRound TV, livestreams like FRESH 2023: The International Event for the Development of Contemporary Circus and Outdoor Arts, 2023 ArtsLink Assembly, and The Gaza Monologues drew viewers from around the world. We also partnered with producers to put out new seasons of six podcasts focused on Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) theatre around the world, trans and nonbinary artists, Black theatre in the United States, and more. Surfacing and amplifying the knowledge of the global theatre community freely and openly—no paywalls, no tiered subscriptions—remains central to our mission and our work.

The Internal Workings of HowlRound

It was a year of many transitions for our team: we said good-bye to our creative producer Abigail Vega, fellow Joshua Robinson, and content editor Ciara Diane. Director Jamie Gahlon is on leave following the birth of her second child. We were thrilled to welcome incredible new team members: creative producer Julia Schachnik, fellow Munroe Shearer, and content editor Taylor Leigh Lamb. We continue to be supported by the brilliant brain trust of our Advisory Council and to work in partnership with our colleagues in Emerson College’s Office of the Arts.

We’ve also been working on improving and updating howlround.com, both in response to user experience feedback from our 2023 annual user survey and to better align with our accessibility and sustainability goals. We have been using the Web Accessibility Guidelines and the newly-created Web Sustainability Guidelines as our guideposts, and we look forward to launching a homepage in the coming months that is more energy-efficient and user-friendly for all.

The eight members of the HowlRound team smile for a group photo in front of a tree.

The HowlRound team in summer 2023: Ramona Rose King, Vijay Mathew, Julia Schachnik, Joshua Robinson, Jacqueline Flores, Jamie Gahlon, Alison Qu, and Ashley Malafronte. Photo by A Priori Photography.

What’s on the Calendar and on Our Minds in 2024

There’s a lot to look forward to in the new year. We’re kicking off January by publishing new installments of the Latinx Leaders at the Forefront series and launching a podcast called Theatre Tech Talks: Artificial Intelligence, Science, and Biomedia in Theatre hosted by Tjasa Ferme

Later that month, HowlRound and the IPC, in partnership with Arktype and the Creative and Independent Producer Alliance (CIPA), are co-producing the Under the Radar Symposium, a gathering on 12 January in New York City that will bring together presenters, producers, artists, agents, and cultural workers to discuss the present state and future of international presenting in the United States. Keynotes will be livestreamed on HowlRound TV, so even if you can’t join us in New York, mark your calendar to be part of the conversation. 

In February, we’re producing our first NPRP residency at Emerson’s Los Angeles campus! Playwright Virginia Grise will spend a week there developing a new play with a group of collaborators. We’re so excited to activate Emerson’s beautiful West Coast home in this way and support the creation of another new work from Vicki.

Then, we’re celebrating the LTC at the Tenth Anniversary Convening in March in Boston, Massachusetts. The convening will be a recognition of the last ten years, a reflection on the learnings and successes thus far, and an opportunity to discuss the future of the LTC and have field-wide discussions. LTC programming for 2024-2027 will also be announced at that time—stay tuned for some incredible, field-shaping projects coming soon! If you want to celebrate the LTC’s first decade and support the next one, you can  help them meet their $10,000 goal! Money raised will go toward funding the 2024 Diane Rodriguez Teatrista Award and other programming to be announced.

A large group of people in matching t-shirts sit on a staircase and make silly faces to the camera.

Participants at the Latinx Theatre Commons 2023 Designer and Director Colaboratorio, June 2023 in Portland, Oregon. Photo by Roy Arauz.

The spring brings with it other NPRP residencies in Boston and a potential gathering of our Advisory Council. Simultaneously, our cultural strategist Vijay Mathew will be co-teaching a class at Emerson called the HowlRound Seminar with partner teacher Annie Levy. Now in its second year, the class introduces upperclassmen and graduate students to major conversations in the theatre field in United States and internationally, using the HowlRound anthology, Essays and Conversations From the First Ten Years, as a primary text.

Through it all, we’ll be looking for new ways to directly engage with our community—that’s you! Many of our team members are planning to attend the Theatre Communications Group (TCG) National Conference in June; if you’re there, say hi if you see us! We’re also excited about planning our own future in-person events and piloting new forms of connecting digitally. We’re working on making our social media accounts more active spaces of connection, so we encourage you to follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter/X, Threads, and LinkedIn, and look for new types of content and opportunities to engage throughout 2024.

We’re also focused on deepening our connections with educators. In our 2023 annual user survey, we learned that over half of you identify this way (often among other things), and we’re eager to continue to provide useful resources and rich opportunities for this subset of the community. In November, three staff members attended the ASTR Conference, which gave us a chance to connect in person with past contributors and other attendees and livestream a fascinating playwrights panel. We look forward to attending similar events in the future! In light of how popular our first six free lessons plans have been, we will be published six new ones by curriculum writers emi aguilar and Meg Greene early in the new year! If you’re not already on our mailing list, sign up for daily, weekly, or quarterly updates to be the first to know when they’re available.

Surfacing and amplifying the knowledge of the global theatre community freely and openly—no paywalls, no tiered subscriptions—remains central to our mission and our work.

What’s on Your Mind?

Our name comes from the term for an amplified feedback loop—the howling noise that happens when sound from a loudspeaker is fed back into a microphone. (A horrible thing to actually experience, but an apt metaphor!) Amplifying field-facing conversations will always be at the core of what we do. How can we amplify the conversations you’re having or trying to have? Do you have an essay or livestream idea you’ve been sitting on? Please let us know; we would love to hear from you. HowlRound’s editorial team meets once a week to discuss all submissions, and we publish on a rolling basis. We fundraise in order to pay a $200 honorarium for each author we publish. 

Everything we do is possible because of the support we get from Emerson College, our funders, and individual donors. If you would like to be part of sustaining this free and open platform, you can make a fully tax-deductible gift here.

If anything in this essay sparked something for you, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Please note that our office is closing 22 December through 2 January so the team can get a well-deserved break, but we look forward to getting back to you early in the new year. 

From all of us here at your favorite international theatre commons, we wish you a year full of time with loved ones, meaningful artistic experiences, and progress toward a more just and equitable world for all.

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