A Roadmap for the Ensemble-Regional Producing Model
Jeffrey Mosser: Dear artists, welcome to another episode of the From the Ground Up Podcast produced for HowlRound Theatre Commons, a free and open platform for theatremakers worldwide. I'm your host, editor, and producer, Jeffrey Mosser. Recording from the ancestral homelands of the Potawatomi, Ho-chunk, and Menominee homelands, now known as Milwaukee, Wisconsin. These episodes are shared digitally to the internet. Let's take a moment to consider the legacy of colonization embedded in the technology, structure, and ways of thinking that 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 work we make leaves a significant carbon footprint contributing to climate change, that disproportionately affects Indigenous people worldwide.
I invite you to join me in acknowledging all this as well as our shared responsibility to make good of this time, and for each of us to consider our role in reconciliation, decolonization, and allyship. Artists, all, I'm so glad to be back in your ears. For those of you who are encountering From the Ground Up for the first time, welcome. So glad to have you. And welcome back to everybody joining me here for season two. For all of you, I thought I ought to give a little context of where we've been and where we're going. As you may already know, our goal is to look at how collaboratively creative theatremakers create work that is artistically, financially, and socially sustainable. Let me begin by clarifying that this podcast uses several phrases reflexively, which is not to diminish any one of them. You may hear me say ensemble-based, collaboratively created, or hyper-collaborative—all of which are meant to illustrate what is a process different than a standard theatrical producing model.
In season one, I interviewed several companies who had created for multiple years. My questions probed their roots for what made their artistic processes come alive and what maintained their growth. This season, we'll build upon last season's conversations and even refer back to them at times. In fact, today's guest, Patricia Garza, and I make reference to the Rude Mechs of Austin, Texas, drawing attention to their shared leadership process with five co-producing artistic directors, something that I asked Kirk Lynn about in season one, episode fifteen. One of the last recordings I made was live at the Theatre Communications Group conference in Miami, Florida in 2019. At the conference, I went to a session called The Roadmap to Innovation led by Diane Rodriguez, former associate artistic director and program director at Center Theatre Group.
I tell you this for multiple reasons. First, “The Roadmap to Innovation” is the name of a paper they published based on the creation of a new producing model that they developed. I'm not going to drop all the spoilers now, rather, please listen to my convo with Patricia, who is a contributor to the process. This paper, and this conference panel was a huge “a-ha” moment for me by demonstrating what I felt was possible—that of regional theatres supporting ensemble theatres as new play development partners. It was exactly where I wanted to land following my final episode of last season. Therein, this became a springboard for my next season with actual quantitative and qualitative data about their success. I was in conversation with Diane, following the conference and was greatly anticipating her as a guest on this season, but COVID delayed my recording schedule. And unfortunately Diane passed away in that period of time.
This season, then, I dedicate to her. She will come up multiple times throughout this and future episodes as we refer back to Center Theatre Group's roadmap. This season will be much more financially focused and hopefully we'll pick up Diane's mantle to explore how the financial structure for a new play development could change to support ensemble-based theatres. Trust me though, we're still talking about art making, just more about how it is supported. Which brings me to my first guest of the season, Patricia Garza, NET/TEN program director at the Network of Ensemble Theaters and director of LA Programs at the Los Angeles Performance Practice. They joined me on October 11, 2021 from the ancestral home of the Tongva Kizh region, now known as Los Angeles, California.
Some big takeaways from this episode include, shared leadership models, breaking and building new producing models, ensemble producing in pandemic, and in response to We See You, White American Theater and so much more. There are a few things Patricia and I will mention without any context and I just want to make sure that you're up to speed. We talk a lot about CTG, which is Center Theatre Group, a regional theatre in Los Angeles, and their subscribers in the Ahmanson and Taper, which are two different sized theatre spaces there. You may also hear some mild disturbances on the audio, including some of the lawn maintenance outside about halfway through.
And so without any further ado, Patricia Garza. Like I said, I've been keeping an eye out and hoping to connect with you for a long time now. And it's very exciting for me to get a chance to talk to you, Patricia, so thank you so much for your time today. I want to recognize that we are in a pandemic and continuing through a pandemic. And so my first question for you is what have you seen so far from ensembles in your role in the Network of Ensemble Theaters?
Patricia Garza: Well, first just thank you, Jeffrey for your amazing work and your body of work upholding ensemble practice. I think it's so important what you're doing. So, I'm just so honored to share space with you all today in this podcast. I think it's so important that we document our work and shout it from the rafters. So I'm just honored to have a conversation and represent NET, Network of Ensemble Theaters, in this conversation and maybe some other hats I've played. That's a great framing for the conversation today because we hosted a town hall recently called Moving Forward Together. So, really trying to grapple with this question.
I always, when I facilitate conversations, I'm listening for the heartbeats of the conversation that get repeated. And so for what I'm hearing from ensembles coming out of the pandemic, and we're not out of it yet is really about a couple things. First is rejuvenation. So how do we come from a place of communally shared trauma and come out of this burnout that a lot of us have been feeling in terms of spinning our wheels, trying to produce for a different platform other than live theatre—so this need for artistic and personal rejuvenation. I also think recognizing the need to process grief either through the loss of past projects, through people we love, through our community grief, that was really rising to the surface in terms of what ensembles needed to deal with. I also felt a very, and one of our members shared this so beautifully was this desire to linger in the messiness and really ask what repair looks like and not jump to solutions just yet that we need to, as ensemble practitioners, we want to be in the process, right?
And so we don't want to return with fear that we're just going to kick back to old habits. And then finally, I would say there's a real desire to kind of do what you're doing, this amplification of ensemble models and practice with the field. But I think finally the conversation has shifted away from top-down models, hierarchical models, and how can ensembles really lead that effort and share, and also learn, right? We're not necessarily all shining examples, shiny stars, but we have a lot to offer, I think in terms of the amplification of shared leadership and shared artistic practices.
Jeffrey Mosser: Yeah. Thank you. Throughout the pandemic, there were a lot of challenges. I hear you and thank you for highlighting the fact that we are questioning hierarchical processes. And I think one of the big ways that we felt that and saw that was We See You, White American Theater. And I'm wondering if you have a sense of how ensemble theatres are sort of reacting to that challenge as well.
Patricia Garza: Yeah. So ensemble practice has been around since the creation of people, right? Theatre has been around. So I think once we start labeling things it kind of becomes the ownership, the question of ownership, right? Of what ensemble practice is. Starts looking and feeling certain way, right? And so I think even with the creation of NET, mostly NET was created with predominantly white companies, white ensembles. And then there was some really concerted efforts to consciously open, to open and say, “Hey, we need to expand. We need to invite more folks into this process.” And I think what I always talk about is ensembles and ensemble practitioners who may not call themselves ensembles or ensemble practitioners, but the practice and the ethos really comes from ensemble practice. And I specifically want to lift up our indigenous communities and our indigenous practitioners who inherently work in a collaborative way, but maybe not have been recognized or may not have called themselves an ensemble or an ensemble practitioner.
So that's something that I really am pushing in conversation at NET to say, how are we expanding our board? How are we acknowledging the land and all our practices? How are we collaborating and paying indigenous folks for their time and labor and making sure that's prioritized in all our programming? So that's really something that we're grappling with in terms of NET, but in terms of the We See You Movement, I think what's great about that is it really has impacted hopefully the hearts and minds of a lot of regional theatres and a lot of regional theatres, as we know, carried the bulk of the resources, right? In terms of arts funding. And so what I'm hoping that, what I've seen and witnessed myself is the conversation has finally begun, a conversation that has been around since the start of regional theatres, but I think has finally awoken individual practitioners in a different way to say, “Hey, I'm not going to tolerate this behavior. I'm going to ask for better treatment. I'm going to ask for more diversity, more equity in terms of how the staff looks or how the artists look.”
And so I think the whole field has really shifted in terms of experiencing the ripples of We See You, White American Theater. And I know there's also been challenges with that movement as well. And so I think it's really this dialogue that I think is the most important. It doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to end up in a certain endpoint. I think people think, “Oh, great. Tell me what to do. Tell me what to do and we'll get there.” And it's like, actually it's forever. It's forever work in yourself and forever work in organizations. And it's always about turning over the rock. How are we doing this? Can we do it better? Can we be better partners? Can we be better advocates? Can we get out of the way sometimes and give people power and agency?
So I think that's really the bigger question that all organizations, including ensemble practice, ensemble members and ensemble practitioners can ask themselves in terms of their own practice with equity and how are we working towards collective liberation solidarity in everything we do. That's how I live my life. And that's how I hope, or at least I strive to live my life. And that's why I hope really organizations are also, because organizations are people, they're made up of people and individuals. And so it really needs to start from that place of humanity and kind of radiate out.
Jeffrey Mosser: Thank you for that. I feel like, years ago I interviewed with Kirk Lynn and he talked about how they continue to diversify in their work, because, I don't think he specifically said this, but in interviews or in conversations I've had along the way, folks in ensembles tend to say, “Oh, we do things differently all the time. We are so inclusive, because we consider every voice in the room.” Right? But then same at the scale of like NET and your board and just organizationally, you have to say, “But who's in the room,” right? And it ends up becoming the friends and the friends of my friends. And it ends up becoming a little bit homogenous. Thank you for highlighting the layers that we are deal with as we work through.
Patricia Garza: I also talk about, so we're going to be launching a program. And I don't think it's like scooping myself to announce this on here, but we're really developing a program very actively with some amazing practitioners in our field: Linda Paris Bailey, Dante Green, Dan from Mondo Bizarro. So they're really helping me and we're creating a program called Create and Activate. And it's really for BIPOC ensemble practitioners to come together in a learning cohort and really start talking about how do we grow and codify our own culturally specific ensemble practice as folks of color. So I think we're deeply rooted in who we are in our identities and through that prism is how we practice our art. And so how do we explore those conversations together in terms of maybe a cohort sharing peer-to-peer learning?
And there's some ensembles that have been doing this again, like I say, for decades, maybe they don't call it that, maybe they don't sell the best-seller books, maybe they don't charge for their training of this like we see some other ensembles do, but if there was a seed to be planted, how do we start that conversation with them? And I also think in terms of the field, we're seeing a lot of individual practitioners leave predominantly white ensembles, either because of harm that has been done, or because maybe their artistic practices aren't really speaking to folks values.
And so I think Create and Activate that NET's going to be hosting can really start to cross-pollinate these conversations nationally, so that way folks don't feel so isolated. Like, "Oh, I left my home-based ensemble because of whatever reason, and now I have nobody to collaborate with." Right? Or just my, like you said, just maybe my immediate circle. And so how do I break out of that practice and share? Because everybody has this innate wisdom, right? That we approach the work with as artists and so how do we share that with the field? How do we share that with one another? And then how do we bolster our own individual practice potentially through like a culturally-specific lens? So, that's coming soon. We're hoping to launch that and ask for interest from our NET community this fall and hopefully launch it in the spring. So I'm really excited about that program.
Jeffrey Mosser: I am always impressed with how progressive and smart NET has been about identifying where the needs are and then creating the bridge. I think that'll be so fun to follow. Can you talk a little bit more about what else NET offers in terms of building those bridges? I know you have several grants.
Patricia Garza: NET is unique in the sense that we have really, as a service organization, we are here to service ensemble theatres and also individuals. I think that's also really unique, because a lot of times individual artist funding is by far the lowest on the totem pole, right? And that's something that I'm advocating for in my other role at Los Angeles Performance Practice in terms of doing research around, I mean, we're talking specifically like West Coast funding, because if you look at it compared to like New York, it's like, “ah!” But with NET, we have what, our kind of cornerstone granting program is called the Travel and Exchange Network, so NET/TEN. And it's really about prioritizing relationship building and knowledge sharing. That's like the big goal. I think a lot of times with grants, they tend to be product-focused and only want to give to shows, or to an end product and then there's no time to dream. There's no time to peer share. There's no time to create reciprocal exchanges to learn from one another.
And so what's great about the NET/TEN grants is it really encourages open-ended projects and explorations without the pressure of a finished product. It could be working towards a finished product. That's fine, but it doesn't have to be innately in the project proposal and it supports a wide range of activities. So we have travel grants, which obviously have morphed in this time of the pandemic to be more virtual connections. We had a series of remote connection grants, which were just quick, easy to apply, five-minute application, tell us what you're interested in. And from there, we got the most amazing reports about people who were able to talk to people in Ireland or in Mexico for the first time, right? Because they're like, “Well, I was never going to be able to travel there.” So now I'm able to give myself a little fund and them a little fund and we had this great Zoom conversation for five hours or whatever it was.
And then we're now about to launch back to our travel grants in the spring. And with those, it gives people an opportunity to connect for the first time. So I'm curious about an ensemble that is in North Carolina, and so I can get on a plane and go and observe their rehearsal process. Versus exchange grants, which are the kind of the next tier of the grants, which are really about, I now have a relationship with XYZ ensemble and my ensemble and we want to do cross-pollinating exchanges in terms of learning each other's techniques and practices. And then even from there, once you get an exchange grant, you can get a continuation grant, which is really about, “Okay, now we met and we loved each other and now we want to go deeper,” right? Maybe now we want to co-pro or we want to do a project together.
So those are always like the... That's kind of our cornerstone funding program. And then we have, totally separate from the NET/TEN program, and that's again, open for ensembles and individual members. So the travel grant is open to everybody and the NET community, and then the exchange grant is open to ensembles. And then we also have what's called Ensemble/Playwright Collaboration Grant, and that's actually with The Playwright Center. And that's great because it's working with playwriting and playwrights and partnering them with NET members, NET ensemble members who are curious or who need support with playwrights. And it's a really great experimentation for the playwright and for the ensemble. And it's just, the partnerships that come out of there are so fantastic. And we have seen the partnerships stay, that they want to work with this playwright again and again, which is so fantastic.
So it's really about kind of opening up the door in terms of, I think you mentioned this earlier, like ensembles tend to work with people only within their... Sometimes it's a little insular and so this is a great way to be like, “Oh, let's work with an artist we haven't thought of before, or we just haven't had an opportunity to collaborate with.” So that background's also really great and fantastic.
Jeffrey Mosser: So, you talked about support earlier and just the way that regional theatres tend to carry most of the arts funding. Are you starting to see if ensembles are getting more support with the work around CTG [Center Theatre Group]? And hopefully we'll talk about that soon. Have you seen more institutional support of ensembles in recent years and in moments here?
Patricia Garza: I would hope, and I can't project into the future with my crystal ball, but I think there is a shift and a desire for more collaborative-driven projects. And the funding will follow that, right? This desire to fund practices that are collaborative and that put artists at the center or put community at the center. And then the art making kind of prisms from there. I think that's really the shift I'm seeing, even in funder conversations, you're seeing just such dedicated, intentional practice in terms of how do we make these applications more accessible? Who's on the panel? Let's be really intentional around that. Let's give the panel super crystal clear criteria so we're prioritizing and lifting up BIPOC individuals or in this case ensembles.
So that I am seeing a shift in for sure in terms of like the philanthropic conversation. In terms of maybe like how ensembles perceive that, I'm not sure. I think they are hoping that change is coming because like we said before, they have a lot to offer in these conversations. They've been doing this type of work for many years. And so I think if, let's say for example, regional theatres want to make a practice that is more about listening and more about collaboration, I think ensembles can definitely help with some of those field practices. And again, I think they also have a lot to learn too. So I think it could be this really beautiful dialogue that opens up either with philanthropy, with regional theatre, with different ways of practices that can really show the field a different way forward. And again, hopefully the funding will follow, right?
So, I think if the audience and the artists and the admin producers are all kind of advocating and frankly demanding that we work differently, I think we will start looking towards these kind of practices, right? That ensembles have already been putting in place for many, many years.
Jeffrey Mosser: Do you think regional theatres are starting to see partnerships with ensembles as more viable?
Patricia Garza: Yeah, it's an interesting question. So I worked at Center Theatre Group for twelve years, for a long time. And I did a lot of different roles. So I started in like management and then I moved to education and community partnerships and then I was in the artistic team for the last six years, under the amazing leadership and mentorship of Diane Rodriguez, who is such an advocate for ensemble practice. And I think what I was seeing was really, again, the desire to more so enhance the internal practices that ensemble creation demands, right? Collaborative caring, transparency, like these really beautiful values that I think ensemble practice brings to the mix. And I think that what Diane was trying to do is hopefully radiate that from within. And so that could influence not only the art that we were collaborating with or presenting, but also the internal practices of the staff and the artistic team specifically.
So I think in that sense, when I was on kind of the way out of Center Theatre Group, was I was really seeing that dialogue, that desire starting to stir to say, “Hey, I would love to know more about how the season is selected.” Or, “I would love to have a say in the programming that we're doing in a public way." Or, "How are we holding ourselves accountable and starting accountability groups from within?” So I do see a movement in that sense. At least I could only speak for when I was at CTG, but I am seeing that just fieldwide. And we see this at like the Theatre Communications [Group] conferences or at different national conversations that people are very hungry for a different, again, a different way ahead, a different model, a different approach, a shared leadership model.
I mean, I think for the first time to see, and not the first time, because we've seen this in ensemble practice with five artistic directors or, because you mentioned Rude Mechs earlier, but I think it's for the first time to think, oh, at a regional level, we could have two co-artistic directors or we could have a team of people picking the season and rotating, right? You're starting to see that more and more. And that's very exciting because I think what that does is it equalizes power, it becomes not about one aesthetic, and it's about shared leadership and decision making. I mean, I think what's better than that? To have more input and more collaboration. I think there's nothing better.
Jeffrey Mosser: Can you talk a little bit more about your experience with Diane and “The Roadmap To Innovation”? Which I should say for folks who may not know about it. So in 2019, we met at Theatre Communications Group very briefly, where I sat in and listened to yourself and Diane and Diana O. and Chris Columbus and somebody else—
Patricia Garza: Olga; and Olga.
Jeffrey Mosser: And Olga, who's also a guest on this season. It's where so many things synthesized for me. So this Roadmap To Innovation, the paper that was written about it, can you just sort of talk about your experience in the process of creating and thinking about developing a new model of ensemble producing at a regional theatre level?
Patricia Garza: This was an initiative that again, giving all credit to Diane Rodriguez, the mastermind behind this and the previous person who had my position before me was Malcolm Derrell. So Malcolm and Diane really created the program. They're the ones that kind of kicked off at Center Theatre Group while I was in education, rooting them on from the sidelines. And then when Malcolm decided to pursue other opportunities, I kind of split over and supported. So I just want to credit and name that. And yeah, the idea was that Diane could see the missing artistic aesthetic of contemporary performance within a regional model. And so for her, and this initiative was all funded by the Mellon Foundation. And so she, over eight years had really built out a program that would explore different models for partnership and presenting and producing collaborative, what we defined as hyper-collaborative work.
Patricia Garza: And so through there, and with, Michael Richie was artistic director at the time. And so I think her dialogue with him was really about, we need to be ahead of the curve in terms of these type of work is not being presented at big theatres. They're being presented more so in smaller theatres or self-produced, right? A lot of ensembles self-produced. And so if we start introducing and wedding our audience's appetite, right? Then we can maybe program them main season eventually, right? So we started doing kind of more popup performances, maybe for one week at a time, two weeks at a time. And then we moved into like putting them in the season, right? Later on.
And so from there, it was really about exploring also different models because we know ensemble practice tends to have a lot more people. I mean, theatre in general has a lot of people power, but ensembles for sure, a lot of people power. And so it became expensive, the budget, because we're paying at union rates. And so the budgeting around that became really about how can we even collaborate it further. So I think it almost drew us into more of a collaborative setting. So we became co-producers, partnering on tours with other regional theatres, like La Jolla and co-presenting. So we co-presented locally with like REDCAT and the UCLA CAT program, and we were able to share cost. So if a show was coming in from New York, say for example, we were able to budget it three ways instead of one way, then everybody would get the show and it would work out for the artists because they were also able to just like, do go down the line instead of having to fly back and forth, try to build these tours.
So that was really great. And I would say the biggest takeaway or the biggest, I would say success that Diane and I really synthesized in the paper was the completion commission model. So, typical commissions at like a regional theatre level, you pay a playwright X amount of funds to write a play. It could last, I mean, an open commission could be anywhere from two to five years. So it's a very long process. Sometimes the playwright's ready to go and great, it closes out in a year or two. But then you workshop it and then et cetera, et cetera, we call it this developmental churn, right? Like sometimes you get stuck in it. So Diane was trying to find a way that would cut that in and half almost.
And so what she found was because ensemble practices or ensemble creators were always working... I mean, they always had something in the hopper. She would go and just see works in progress. So maybe a presentation here or a reading here, or even just having meetings with people to say, “What are you working on? Let us know.” From there, we would give them what we call the completion commission model, which was a chunk of change to finish, right? To complete a commission maybe that was already in progress. And so it was a project that was already a little bit down the road. So we were able to clearly see the vision. So we were like, “Do we want to endorse or do we not?” Right? Do we want to get on the train or not? And then we were able to say, “Well, no, we do. And so let's really put some funds behind it and get it ready to launch.” Right? To get it ready to produce.
And so that really worked well. We did that with, I mean, I think our last one was with Los Angeles Performance Practice, with Lars Jan's piece, the White Album. And so the White Album premiered recent at BAM and then it came over to California. So Lars is a California artist and an LA artist specifically. And so that was just great because we already knew his work, we knew Miranda Wright who runs Los Angeles Performance Practices' work, and we were able to say, “Let's see a little bit of it.” We went to a couple of like techs and presentations. And we were like, “Oh, this is going to be really special.” And so then we were able to give them some funds to complete it. And then it premiered BAM.
I think it's a wonderful model for regional theatres in terms of trying to put some weight behind something that's already in motion and then give it the support, or either presenting it at your house or presenting it elsewhere. And just saying we want the work to live. We want the work to be successful. And of course, we get credit on the project, but it's really about endorsing or being behind a project that we believe in.
Jeffrey Mosser: I want to go into how you found those works in progress a little bit more. I mean, some of them had national reputation around the time that this started. I know this was a process that started in 2009. How were opportunities identified? Because typically, the Without Walls Festival or Under The Radar, or some of those bigger ensemble presenting festival locations are typically, those are near finished products at that point, right?
Patricia Garza: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. But you named it. I mean, I think that's part of it. I mean, we definitely would go to those festivals for sure. And that would maybe even just introduce the artists to us and then we'd be like, “Oh, let's have another conversation with them and see what else they're working on.” Also, Under The Radar did a wonderful thing where they would have this speed dating moment, where it wasn't works that were finished. It was works that were looking to tour or works that were a little bit more needing some support. And we would go to those religious, like Diane and I would go to those religiously... Diane was very wise. The part of the budget that she had pitched to Mellon included travel. And so a big part of her role was going to international festival. So like me, the Mil festival in Chile, Santiago, Chile. Noorderzon festival, Edinburg, obviously, and then Under The Radar locally, and then Without Walls festival, also just really random.
I mean, like we would go like anywhere and everywhere to see something, just because you have to be hungry, right? You have to be curious and hungry and open to seeing all kinds of work. And we would just pack our schedules. So we would... Like say, for example, something like Under The Radar, we would see also things in the American Realness festival, our, the Prototype festival. And so we were like, like 10 shows a day kind of thing. REDCAT also has a new works festival here in Los Angeles. And we would really set up meetings with artists and just really follow up on again, either a project we seen that maybe was like a presentation, or if we liked their of work, we would say, “What else do you have going up?” I mean, Gob Squad was the perfect example.
So Gob Squad and Diane had a very long standing relationship. And so it really then became when they did have a new work, they came to us, right? First to say, “Can you help develop it? Can you give us either a commission or a completion commission.” We had different types of commissions. And then we would always kind of fully commit and then move it to production because Gob Squad is just amazing and does amazing work. And it was so delightful to work with them and see what they had in their creative brains, what they were working on. But like, say for example, Rimini Protokoll, which does more site specific immersive work, Diane saw them in a festival and she did their remote, I can't remember if it was Remote Santiago or Remote Madrid, I can't remember. And came back and was like, “We have to do Remote LA.” And was like, “Okay, what does that mean for those of us who didn't get to experience it?”
And we put it on and it sold out in a day. So it was one of those amazing things where I think the audiences, particularly regional theatre audiences you would think would be scared or don't want to do this type of like kind of funky, immersive, experimental work. And I found just the opposite. That our subscribers were like buying up all the tickets, because they were like, “What's this? Something new? Like, yay.” And it was just such a wonderful example to remind you to not be afraid to program something a little risky and daring. That actually people want newness. They want to be challenged. They want to experiment with you, right? They want to experiment like with the artists. They want the go along that journey. And we got really great feedback about that.
Jeffrey Mosser: In my paper, I wrote win, win, win, because it was a win for the artists ensembles. It was a win for the theatres, for the presenting regional. And then it was a win for the audiences because it was such a deviation from something, but it was still theatre and it was exciting. But my question when I walked away was, do you think that Los Angeles audiences are more adventuresome than others?
Patricia Garza: Well, I don't think so because it came from... So we learned a lot from Remote Houston. So Remote Houston was part of their, more of a festival setting and they did their own version of it. And that was very popular and widely received. Yes, LA has a very specific immersive culture in terms of an appetite for that type of work, but not necessarily the Taper subscribers or the Ahmanson subscribers. And so I think it's really about distilling down what it is so it's clear, right? I think we called it a pedestrian live art experience. So we're like, you're walking, et cetera. So getting that clarity, I think we can make it very audience-friendly and people will then take the risk and go with you.
Jeffrey Mosser: So that risk is almost how you build your audience.
Patricia Garza: Yeah, I think so. I think it's building the audience, but it's also about pushing the audience that's already there to say, “Hey, this is also theatre. This is also what theatre can be. And it doesn't have to be sitting on your butt. Like you can actively be part of it.” And then I think even next level, right? In terms of like some of the community work that we did there, which isn't necessarily in that paper, but is we did a lot of community initiatives as well. Diane, myself and the Community Partnerships Director, Jesus Reyes, where it was they were the show, they were the participants, they were the artists. And that became the next level of engagement.
Jeffrey Mosser: Was there ever an experience where an ensemble walked away feeling exploited?
Patricia Garza: I would say the feedback we received was really about scope and scale. So because Center Theatre Group had larger resources and had more people, right? The people power in terms of like, oh, we have a marketing team marketing it, we have the props team pulling your props, we have a whole audience engagement team developing lobby engagement. So then the ensemble was like, “Great, great, great.” And then after they left, they were like, “We can't recreate this show.” Right? The show got so big that it wasn't able to be toured or maybe it didn't have all the thousand whistles that it had with us. And so that was a good lesson for us is that, sometimes you really need to honor that artist's practice in terms of when they leave there, what is the show going to look like? Or if it's a show for developing towards a tour, how can we leave it in the best place? So that way that ensemble can then take it and run with it.
I think with somebody like Gob squad who has done this for decades, they build it with that in mind, right? They're like, “We know we're going to tour or all over Germany, all over Europe, all over America.” So they don't build pieces that are like, they're not tourable. They go in with a razor focus in terms of like, okay, how can we make it unique to the area, but, like Remote LA, too, same thing, it's called Remote X. And they know it's going to need these five things in order to get mounted in that area. Versus I think some other ensembles who are maybe a little bit newer to touring or maybe just again, “Oh, okay, great. Let's add that. Let's add that. Let's add that.” And then they're left with something that maybe is it feasible in terms of remounting in that particular fashion.
And so I think that was something we had to learn and really grow from and then maybe articulate to artists like, “Hey, we could do it this way, but we could also do it this way. Where we give you the funds and then you go create it the way you can create that's sustainable for you.” I think if anything, people want to see longevity and commitment to the artistic practice. So I think even though we have this very specific funding that was helping to integrate ensemble and collaborative practice into the regional model, I think folks wanted to see more, right? You want to be like, “I don't want to be the only one in the season,” as we have seen, right? And this is the case with a lot of tokenization that happens within season selection.
So similarly with artistic aesthetics, right? It's like you don't want to be always couched as the experiment, because the work is valid and the work is true. So I think that's something that, instead of always putting it in like a side season or a popup event or like a special offering, it's like, how do we get it actually into the main season was a big conversation we had. So that way it can combat some of those feelings of like, “Oh, we're not being fully integrated into the artistic world of that particular theatre.”
Jeffrey Mosser: I really love the micro tours. I just want to know if there was any growth that came out of that for the ensembles.
Patricia Garza: One, I think it helped the regional theatres too. I think it was a mutual, beneficial model in order to again, get the work out in a way that was helpful to the artists so that they weren't trying to like build their own tour. Also, for us, again, sharing expenses, sharing even marketing materials, all that good stuff. I think what it did again, if an artist was wanting to tour, if that was the goal, I think it was just a great container for that to happen so that they were all like, "Oh, I already have three spots lined up. Fantastic." Oh great. We have this set piece that I'm building and it could just, whatever it is, it could just move on down. And I think it gives them opportunities like maybe the first one, they learn something, either a scene isn't working or the audience is not necessarily responding to a certain part in the piece.
And so they're able to have the two other micro tour thoughts to kind of tweak or adjust, or now you also have the weight of the reviews, right? From the first stop to then help launch the other two stops. So that was also a big conversation. I mean, this was really the case for like How to be a Rock Critic. CTG really helped develop it and then also premier it, but we got amazing reviews. And so that was able to be really plastered all over when it moved around. And even when they did it in New York, I think they did it in one of the Under The Radar festivals. It was able to really have these amazing kind of pockets of reviews so that they can pull from that. And also they had learned, they had learned okay, even from something as simple as like wig design or the props that they were using and seeing what was too much, what was just right, maybe they could cut back on the design in the next couple iterations. So that was really helpful to them.
Jeffrey Mosser: And it didn't water down the audience at all.
Patricia Garza: No, because what we're seeing, and what we saw in LA was LA, Orange County, and San Diego were very different audiences. People do not come past freeways, right? In LA there's this like big line of like “no.” Orange County audiences or San Diego audiences were like, “Oh great, it's coming to my hometown so I don't need to run up there.” And so it didn't really cannibalize audiences at all because the audiences are really about proximity and particularly in Los Angeles where traffic and freeways are just in the distance between those three cities is pretty wide. So it really does help when you can kind of localize and then focus on the audience right around your area versus trying to capture everybody to come up to LA.
Jeffrey Mosser: I'm going to jump into something from the Roadmap. A note from Center Theatre Group Associate Artistic Director and Program Director, Diane Rodriguez. She writes, this is relating to the directors circle that was created. And it says “the goal of the directors circle was to further explore the development of professional and trusting relationships between presenters and producers.” I guess my question there has always been, what was the level of distrust perhaps?
Patricia Garza: Well, I think like any art form, right? Is grounded in trust and relationships. And we know theatre, a hundred fold. I feel like every time I run into somebody, it's like, “Do you know so and so?” It's like a Kevin Bacon game. So I think it's very fun and I that's what's the beauty of theatre and that's also the challenge of theatre, right? Because again, we become very insular. What she was referring to there, if you're a curator, right? A curator of work, you're going to get bazillion pitches. You just are, I mean, that's the reality. And so, but that's not really relationship building, right? Like you can pick up a show because you saw it or you got a good pitch deck, and then you're like, “Okay, I'm going to move this forward because of XYZ reason, money, maybe it appeals to an audience, you like the themes or aesthetic, but with the directors circle, what they were hoping to accomplish is to really challenge themselves to have these really robust conversations around curation and programming and trust building and relationship building with themselves, right?
So to say, “Hey, did you know about this artist?” Or like, “Hey, I had with this amazing artist. I really think you all in the U.S. would benefit from it or in LA specifically.” And to know that you have a colleague that you can trust that you've been having these really, really in depth conversations around art, aesthetics, intentionality with the work. So that was one thing that I think was a wow, that she pulled from a lot. And then I think it's also with the artists, to feel like they know these presenters, these producers are trustworthy and will really hold their work in a responsible kind of very careful way, that they weren't going to splash it on the stage and then not understand what the work needed to be fostered under, because I think that's also part of when you're talking about ensemble or devised work, they may need six years. Yeah. I mean, some, honestly, some people need a lot of time and they need 13 people in the room because that's how they work.
And so how do we create flexible models that are not the typical, right? Oh, playwright director, designer. Okay, good. We're done. It's like, no, actually they need 15 people and they all do different things and they all wear different hats and they all play music and to be okay with that. And so I think that's part of it too, is to, by traveling together, by experiencing new work, they were able to expand their aperture to be like, "Wow, I need to think differently about art making." Or, "I need to think differently about what artists need." And so then when you're able to meet with a local artist or somebody that's doing the work maybe nationally, you have that vocabulary to offer to the conversation and that understanding, so you're not trying to squash them into the typical developmental model. You're able to be more expansive in terms of how you're approaching the work.
And so I think that's what that was referring to in terms of trying to build joint accountability within their own practices of curation and producing and presenting, trusting each other, giving each other recommendations and feedback, and then also to say the artist, "I know how to hold this work in a way that maybe other folks don't because I've been doing this homework." Right? "I've been doing this deep, intentional reflection."
Jeffrey Mosser: I like how the completion commission could go so many different ways, but especially how some companies had the option to develop on their own turf, which eliminated so much unnecessary travel and housing costs that could have been incurred to bring 15 people to LA. How often would they bring that finished or near-finished product to CTG?
Patricia Garza: Sometimes. Yeah. So I think the intentionality behind the completion commission was always, yeah. We have you an option to produce within that completion commission contract, but ideally it would be, yeah. If it was ready, right? Like, say for example, if like the one thing they needed was maybe another workshop or the one thing they needed was a set piece that they were trying to get the money for. So we were able to put funds behind that and see it in full completion and then decide for ourselves if it was fitting in the season. So it just really depended. It was very case by case. We only have so many spots in the season. And again, we were trying not to always put them into like a one week showcase. It was like, "No, we should honor this piece and we either find a partner to co-present or if they were going to do it anyway, maybe we put some funds behind that production."
There was a whole initiative called off center, which was really about funding projects that we had already developed. Like either through a completion commission or a different commission. We weren't going to put it in our season for whatever reason, but they were already ready to go. And so we were like, "Well, why don't we co-present in that way where it's XYZ company, but presented in partnership with Center Theatre Group?" And we were able to push tickets, we would like co-market together. And so that was a really successful model because again, it's like we should be out in the community. We should be supporting this work getting done. Period. End of statement. And so I think that was really successful. So, I mean, Straight White Men is the perfect example. I mean, Diane was such a huge advocate of Young Jean Lee's work.
And premier to New York, we did it here. We did co-pro with CAT UCLA, and then it went on Broadway. So it was just this beautiful circular growth and expansion for that piece that, and it changed. Like, Diane and I went to the Broadway premier and we were like, "Oh!" There was just some very small introductory moments that really made the piece sing. And I was like, "Wow!" Like, I could see where Young Jean was really tracking it from all those different spaces. And so it was great that that piece got so much opportunity to shift and breathe and to change. And so that's I think the beauty of the completion commission or any commission, is that you can... It may not be that you are the best home for it at that particular time, maybe we can find it a home for it later if it fits the intentionality of the season, but it may all also just be that we want to support this artistic project and then it influences the field in a really beautiful way.
Jeffrey Mosser: You touched on the idea of having a wig well-suited for this space, but maybe not for this space. Even in the paper, I think it's mentioned that production departments at regional theatres are typically very hierarchical creatures. And so this sort of ensemble-based work or hyper-collaborative work often requires a lot of moving parts. And I'm wondering if there are any big discoveries that you realize for production department in terms of what they need in order to be as flexible as they a need for the ensembles or hyper-collaborative creators.
Patricia Garza: Oh, how much time do we have Jeffrey? Because that's such a good question. And I want to honor like the work of my colleagues that did that with us because it's not an easy task to ask folks to try something new. And I think the beauty, and I'm talking every department, I think you're mentioning production, but we challenged our general management department. We challenge our casting team, our PR team, everybody. And I think first and foremost, you have to ground it in the why. Why am I working on this weird, funky thing? Why are we doing this? What is the value in this? And that's really grounded. And I think what the beauty of the initiative is is that we were so clear what we were trying to accomplish. It's like, this is about hyper-collaborative work. This is about innovation. This is about pushing ourselves, pushing the art making, the aesthetic making.
And so really trying to get co-conspirator is in that vein that are like, oh, okay. So that means I'm not going to have a roadmap, right? I'm not going to have a game plan that I can just fall back on, like. So the expectation is set from the beginning. That is going to be something new. It's going to be something different. So that way you're not springing surprises left and right. So that's first and foremost, I think as the artistic staff, that's your job to do, I think, is to articulate the why. And sometimes that doesn't happen. So I think that's really important. And then I would say second, once you do have your colleagues and collaborators kind of, "Okay, I'm ready. I'm prepared." Then it's really inviting them to be in all aspects of the process. Like, so for example, for Remote LA, we had never really done that type of show before.
And so Diane and I were really open to being like, "We're learning. New idea, anything you think of." "Okay, that spot you picked there seems really not okay. This is why." Okay, great. Let's cut it. Let's talk to the artist. Let's work on something new." Or, "Oh, have we thought about safety protocols? Have we thought about security?" So they were very pragmatic in their approach and I think that's helpful to the artist. It's helpful to the artistic team to say, okay, yeah, let's logistic this, right? Together. I mean, I remember distinctly the artist wanted some kind of very specific ending to that piece. And we were already really far down the road. And the production team was like, "Hey, this is the reason why we can't do it." And I think it took us to say, "Okay, we hear you."
Because they had been through the journey. It wasn't that they were just coming in at the last hour and they were like, "No, we don't want to do that." It was like, "No, you're a team member. You are a part of this team. We hear you. We hear those concerns. Let's cut it. Let's go with this option instead." Or like, "How can we compromise and get a little bit of both?" So that was really helpful. So I think it's really about expanding the practice even if, like I said this before, but just to reiterate, it's not just about the art making, it's actually how we make the art. It has to be a collaborative environment internally to produce this type of work well. Because I think sometimes we still continue to want to do the regional way, right? Of like, okay, this is the script and you do your thing, you do your thing.
And yes, we're all collaborative and having meetings, but it's really about no, everybody is equal, every voice is important, everybody has their own expertise they're bringing to this project and the artists are one, but so is the production manager, right? So I think it's really about open yourself up to different ways of working, trying to compromise, and also just really being a team player in a really beautiful way. And I think this really manifested itself, not even with the hyper-collaborative initiative through the Mellon, but when we partnered with the Irvine Foundation to give us again, I mentioned this before, but the community as creators funding, which was really about two new artistic aesthetics, which were community-driven aesthetics, and that again, production had to be like, oh, we're working with artists that work very differently? They don't have a script. The script is going to be created as we go, as we move through the process, or we need to like build the show with the community.
So we don't have a list of all the supplies we need from the get go, right? It's going to organically emerge. I would hope, I'm not speaking out of turn, but what I've heard from my colleagues was actually it rejuvenated them in their own artistic practice as like a props person or as a tech director or as a production manager, because they were able, again, to be in the co-creation model of, oh, we're all doing this together. It's when you see community members speaking the words, singing, doing the puppets, or speaking their truth on stage and it was created by all of us. It was a shared experience. It just has a different power, I think. And it's just such a beautiful way of working that it then can fuel you to do some of the other stuff that maybe isn't that way, which is fine, because that's a different way to produce. That's a different way. That's a different model.
So I think having the mix and the marriage of like both of those models in a season really helps, I think, people stay alive, stay on their toes, stay challenged and really do what we're here to do, right? Be creative workers be creative colleagues and artists. So I think that's what was so beautiful about seeing that, that different way of working, that different way of being and approaching the work.
Jeffrey Mosser: Fantastic. Thank you so much for that. That leads really well into one of my last question here, which is, so now what, how do we keep the momentum going on this model, this paper? I'm not sure what order in which I'll broadcast these, but one thing that Olga mentioned to me was the inspiration that was taken from dance presenting models in how dancers typically tour in this fashion and creating the creation of a festival atmosphere or like a touring circuit type of situation for ensemble-based practices. And I got to say, my heart went pitter-pat when she said something like that, because I was like, that feels very possible, but do you think that there are steps on the path to that? I mean, let's look at ensemble crystal balls. What's next?
Patricia Garza: I mean, it's like let's dream, right? Like let's dream what's next and let's create it together. I think that's the beauty of collaborative work is like, if you have an idea let's do it. I love that. I love that we can dream of a festival model that potentially upholds ensemble practice. I know with Los Angeles Performance Practice, we have a festival called LAX festival every year that features contemporary practice, contemporary dance and performance and LA needs it. LA needs a festival for our new work and contemporary work, ensemble-based work or hyper-collaborative work, dance theatre, performance art, work that again is saying, "Is this theatre?" "Yeah, it is. What is theatre?" I do think that as we see this funding conversation shift and we see the equity conversation. So I think it's parallel tracks, right? That are going to be intersecting soon.
I do see again, the model for ensembles to be hosting these conversations, to be hosting workshops, to be hosting field-wide thinking around collaborative work, non-hierarchical models. And hopefully I think we'll also, like I said, I've already started seeing it in the regional theatres or in small intimate theatres, just thinking differently, right? Stopping, pausing. Why has it been this way? Why are we working this way? And so hopefully what's next is really that, is folks again, looking internally to say, "What am I personally doing? How can I challenge my own practices, my own collaborations, my own ways of doing things, so then that way it ripples into the field?" Because the field is us. It's right up above us. And so hopefully we will see more and more localized funding that is going towards collaborative work and contemporary work and individual artists, specifically.
And I also hope that the funding is really prioritizing this type of work because I again, think that it's going to be pushing the field forward in terms of what is ensemble practice, what is contemporary practice and performance and all of that, the more we fund it, the more we see it, the more audiences engage with it. It pushes us forward. It pushes us, it challenges our aesthetics, it challenges our notions of theatre. And that it only creates more room and more opportunity for artists to grow, artists and audiences alike to grow and to gain a new understanding of what is the now? What am I into now? So I'm excited for that.
Jeffrey Mosser: Me too. That's fantastic. Anything else that you'd like to say out loud that I haven't given you a chance to say in our past few moments together?
Patricia Garza: I mean, I would offer... My work is really grounded in equity, and so I do a lot of work with artEquity, which is a national organization that is really rooted in social justice and practice and collective liberation through the arts. And I think you cannot do this work anymore, right? You cannot do this work anymore. You couldn't even do it back then, but people got away with it without being super, super self-aware and learning and growing daily about your equity practices. And so, just really reflecting on how that influences your programming, how that influences the way you work internally with staff, how that influences how you take meetings, how you market. I just think that people need to be super aware and conscious of how your work is informed by your equity values. So that's what I would offer my kind of last thing that I always try to say is again, what do you value and how can you center that in all your work?
Jeffrey Mosser: Yeah. Thank you. Patricia, thank you so much for your time. Truly, this has been a delight. And just to sort of put me back in Miami with you and remember why we're doing in this work and just looking out and forward into the next steps with you has been such a pleasure today. So thank you so much for your time.
Patricia Garza: Well, thank you. This is great, and I'm so glad we got to reconnect after all these years.
Jeffrey Mosser: I know. Really, it's only been a couple, but I mean, the past-
Patricia Garza: Yeah, but it feels like a decade.
Jeffrey Mosser: I know. I know. Did you catch all that? They think the ensemble-based work is the missing artistic aesthetic of contemporary performance within a regional model. Hold onto that one. It really opens up if this work should be held as a contemporary process that can contain a multiplicity of voices as creators that speaks to an audience. I also love that Patricia talked about how audiences who are used to a particular thing were excited to try something new. What if regional theatres did mix it up? There shouldn't be only one artistic aesthetic featured in any sort of program, right? Audiences are smart you all. They'll play along.
“The Roadmap to Innovation” is a public document and you can find a link to it on this show's description page howlround.com, as well as a link to the other resources from the Network of Ensemble Theaters that Patricia mentions. If you enjoy this conversation, I think you'll really like next week's interview with Olga Garay-English. She's going to talk us through her work with the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and her hot takes on regional theatres and her work funding partnerships between them and collaboratively creative theatres. Thanks, Artists. We'll catch you next time. And now, our sound check lightning round.
Great. And can you tell me your favorite salutation.
Patricia Garza: Friends? Hey friends.
Jeffrey Mosser: Can you give me your favorite exclamation?
Patricia Garza: Probably like, wow.
Jeffrey Mosser: Your favorite mode of transportation.
Patricia Garza: Walking.
Jeffrey Mosser: What's your favorite ice cream?
Patricia Garza: Probably chocolate chip.
Jeffrey Mosser: What would you be doing if not theatre?
Patricia Garza: Oh Lord. That's the question. Probably working in a social justice organization.
Jeffrey Mosser: And what's the opposite of the Network of Ensemble Theaters?
Patricia Garza: Probably regional theatre.
Jeffrey Mosser: This has been another episode of From the Ground Up. The audio bed was created by Kiran Vedula. You can find him on SoundCloud, Band Camp, and flutesatdawn.org. This podcast is produced as a contribution to HowlRound Theatre Commons. You can find more episodes of this series and other HowlRound podcasts in our feed on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever you find your podcasts. Be sure to search HowlRound Theatre Commons podcasts, and subscribe to receive new episodes. If you love this podcast, post a rating and write a review on those platforms. This helps other people find us. You can also find a transcript for this episode, along with a lot of other progressive and disruptive content on howlround.com. Have an idea for an exciting podcast, essay or TV event the theatre community needs to hear? Visit howlround.com and submit your ideas to the comments.
The Roadmap to Innovation: https://issuu.com/centertheatregroup/docs/f-mellonfound-roadmap-lores
Network of Ensemble Theatres Grants: https://www.ensembletheaters.net/grants/view/net-grants
The article is just the start of the conversation—we want to know what you think about this subject, too! HowlRound is a space for knowledge-sharing, and we welcome spirited, thoughtful, and on-topic dialogue. Find our full comments policy here