In Search of the Artistic Home
Jamie Gahlon has asked theatre artists from around the country to talk about their personal search for an artistic home. Pearl Cleage continues this series.
What makes an artistic home?
I think the most important thing is to find other artists who share your vision of the world and your idea about why you do theatre in the first place. If you are an artist who believes theatre is all about revolution and you try to find a home at a theatre that is more interested in work that soothes the audience instead of challenging them, you're not going to be happy and neither is that theatre. As a playwright, I want to work with people who value my ideas not only about my own work but about the role the theatre plays in the community where we find ourselves and in the world. An artistic home should be a place where everyone you encounter is passionate about the work they do and where that work fits into the institution as a whole. And, of course, for any playwright, a great artistic home is a place where they actually produce your plays!
As a playwright, I want to work with people who value my ideas not only about my own work but about the role the theatre plays in the community where we find ourselves and in the world.
Where and when did you find yours and what does it mean to you?
I first worked with the Alliance Theatre when Kenny Leon was the Artistic Director. He commissioned, directed and premiered three of my plays during his time there and each experience was wonderful. However, I was working specifically on the play and specifically with Kenny. I had very little contact or interaction with the other departments at the theatre and with the other people there. I had been away from playwrighting for almost ten years writing novels, when I wrote a new play and approached Susan Booth, the current Alliance Artistic Director, about producing it in their season after it premiered at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, who had commissioned it. She loved the play and wanted not only to produce it, but to direct it. The production at ASF became a joint production with the Alliance with Susan at the helm. We had a great time working together and as I got to know her, I wanted to continue our collaboration and so did she. We both agreed that I wanted to do more than be a playwright in residence. I wanted to continue talking to people about theatre, about culture, about writing, about truth, about politics, about whatever was on their minds when they encountered me—an artist who was willing to talk. Susan created a position for me called "artist-in-dialogue," and it is exactly what it sounds like. I talk and listen, listen and talk. I visit community groups, book clubs, social clubs, educational institutions, political gatherings. If they invite me, I will go! I invite Atlanta's people to come and see what we're doing and explore how we can be a part of their lives. It sounds corny, I guess, but it's wonderful. And, the Alliance continues to commission and produce my plays, including a new one going up next season!
How can one create and/or build an artistic home for others?
As an artist, I think the best thing I can do in terms of building artistic homes for others is to do the work I'm being asked to do at the highest possible level so that the next playwright who comes has something solid to build on.
What is the artistic home of the future?
I think the artistic home of the future will have to be a place that respects change, diversity, beauty, truth, compassion, craft and excellence—not necessarily in that order! An artistic home has to provide income for artists to live while they do their work and collaborative possibilities that stretch the artist in the best possible way. Writing is such lonely work, being in residence at a theatre is a way to keep in touch with other humans who understand the craziness and encourage the journey.