The Year in Review from HowlRound: Farewell 2020

This year has been a challenge of epic proportions. Three hundred thousand dead and counting from COVID-19 in the United States alone. Our ability to gather in person at the theatre brought to a halt. Artists, cultural workers, and theatres facing loss of income and head-on economic devastation. The murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many more, and the subsequent uprisings for racial justice in our society and in our theatre field through the gift of organizing efforts like We See You White American Theater. A contested, fraught election season. So much broken, so much suffering, so much work to do.

Writing now from our makeshift home offices, as the first vaccines are being delivered in the United States, we feel a glimmer of hope for our future and for the ways in which the theatre field may emerge on the other side of these pandemics changed for the better. Despite the discomfort that comes with thinking through 2020, it feels important somehow to mark this year with a closing reflection as we usher in what we hope will be a better year to come.

How 2020 Has Clarified Our Priorities

This year has shown the team at HowlRound the importance of continually centering anti-oppression and the climate emergency in our work. Our commons-based approach has proven to be incredibly resilient in the face of 2020’s challenges, so we have also reaffirmed and strengthened our belief in this ethos. We have been evolving and iterating our curatorial frame and editorial processes to further embody our values of accessibility, equity, and inclusion. We are focused on deploying our resources directly to theatremakers in need. As a result, this year we have raised our contributor fees and we are constructing our upcoming programming with this in mind.

Overall, we are doubling down on HowlRound’s role as a field support. We are serving as an accessible digital space for theatremakers to ideate, connect, and collaborate across borders about practices relating to anti-racism, anti-oppression, the climate emergency, and adapting and innovating during this time. As a digital knowledge commons co-created by theatremakers who share their insights and experience, HowlRound has been uniquely positioned to meet this moment with resilience and responsiveness as we advance our vision of a theatre field where resources and power are shared equitably in all directions.

Theatremakers Respond to COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has radically increased the demand for ways to meaningfully connect with others virtually, so we have scaled our capacity for HowlRound TV to meet this need as theatremakers come to HowlRound to process this experience, to share artistic practice, and to envision what’s next. We were able to quickly offer a guide to the field as artists and producers scrambled to move programming online; partner with Nicole Brewer, Hannah Fenlon, Ann Marie Lonsdale, and Abigail Vega to produce #ArtistResource Talks that offered pandemic support to freelance artists; and to collect several exceptional pieces from our community of contributors on their learnings in the pivot to digital.

a screen capture of an ASL interpreter and live captions for a presenter on a Zoom video conference that was livestreamed

Live captions in real time during “Come Together: The Art of Gathering in a Time of Crisis”, an #ArtistResource talk with Bryan Joseph Lee.

In very short order, Frank Hentschker and his team at the Martin E. Segal Center put together a series of talks with legendary theatre artists across the globe to report on the state of coping with COVID from their different geographies. As varying levels of quarantine and isolation dragged on, Mark Valdez asked some powerful thinkers to reflect on the purpose of theatre in this new paradigm, resulting in the lyrical series Searching a Way Forward. More recently, we heard from Carl(os) Roa and other Colombian theatremakers about the realities of making art in Bogotá in the series Theatre in Quarantine (all articles are available in Spanish as well).

We’ve partnered with many artists throughout the year to livestream digital workshops, panels, and conversations to strengthen our artistic skills together. Throughout the long isolation period, we’ve had three separate series on playwriting from some of the experts of the craft, including Susan Lori Parks’ Watch Me Work (From Home), Virtual Lessons in Playwriting with Lauren Gunderson, and the Latinx Superfriends Playwriting Hour. And we’ve had the opportunity to deepen our connections with independent theaters in Europe, most notably Independent Theatre Hungary as they produced and livestreamed the Roma Theatre Retrospective 2020.

Racial Reckoning

As Teresa Coleman Wash noted in her essay “A Time of Interrogation,” these dual pandemics have offered time and space for our field to reckon with our own racism and problematic practices. As we continue to center our core values of equity, inclusivity, and accessibility for marginalized theatre communities and practices on our platform, HowlRound has become a place for artists to respond to calls for racial justice in our field, spurring brave essays like “We Don’t Want Your Statements, American Theatre or, The Solidarity We Actually Needed” by Kelvin Dinkins, Jr. and Al Heartley and We’ve Seen White American Theatre: How Can We BIPOC Now See Ourselves” by Betty Shamieh.

Through community-sourced content, we remain committed to amplifying theatremaking practices in service of anti-racism, racial justice, and collective liberation. HowlRound contributors have authored several striking calls for reform directed at combating institutional racism and other injustices, from “How Liberals Arts Theatre Programs Are Failing their Students of Color'' by Miranda Haymon and “Casting a Wider Net: White Institutions Must Seize the Moment” by David Valdes to Ann James’s provocative call to make space for leaders of color in her essay “Intimate Reform.” Madeline Sayet sparked riveting discussion through her piece “Interrogating the Shakespeare System” and Amrita Dhaliwal and Nathaniel Justiniano curated an impressive series called When Clowns Fight the Power, which marries the spirit of joy with acts of resistance worldwide. .

Early on in the pandemic, the Latinx Theatre Commons (LTC), a flagship program of HowlRound, recognized how racial and economic injustice disproportionately place the burden of COVID-19 on Black, Indigenous, communities of color. The global pandemic has devastated the economy, putting already vulnerable populations, like BIPOC theatremakers, at even greater risk of financial insecurity. As part of a coalition of theatremakers of color, the LTC launched a survey to understand and widely report the short-term and protracted impact of the pandemic on BIPOC practitioners and theatre organizations. Additionally, the committees that comprise the LTC held space to discuss and process other more localized responses. The LTC’s committees are extending their year in retreat as they reckon with anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism endemic in the Latinx diaspora and culture, which the LTC sees as a critical step toward continued organizing.

The Climate Emergency

We know that any fight for racial justice is inextricably tied to climate justice. Throughout this year, we have continued to address theatre’s role in combating the climate catastrophe through Chantal Bilodeau’s Theatre in the Age of Climate Change series, and in particular Hanna Cormick’s beautiful meditation on intersections of the climate crisis and disability, “I Am the Damage We Have Done to the Earth.” Groundwater Arts’ Green New Theater livestream series hosted compelling conversations centered on combating this damage through indigenizing and decolonizing theatre practices from leadership models to publicly transparent budgeting. Just two weeks ago we published Alice Stanley Jr.’s timely piece, “Fire Season: Making Site-Specific Theatre About Climate Change that Could Be Threatened by Climate Change.” For more on this work, check out “The Green Rooms: The Earth is Watching…Let’s Act,” produced by NAC English Theatre in partnership with the Canada Council for the Arts and Festival of Live Digital Art (FOLDA), and Praxis Sessions for Virtual Collaboration, a series of talks hosted by Unsettling Dramaturgy: Crip & Indigenous Dramaturgies—both offer radical resources and ideas on rethinking our relationships as people and artists to the ecology of the planet. In addition, here at HowlRound we are experimenting with cleaner, lower-carbon livestreaming techniques, which have the benefit of added accessibility for those in our global community with limited internet bandwidth.

zoom video chat of several people

In July 2020 we virtually convened cohort 3 of NPRP, a program funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and administered by HowlRound.

Convenings

Though HowlRound and the Latinx Theatre Commons canceled or postponed all planned in-person gatherings this year, we continue to organize with the Arts, Culture, and Commoning working group, and we are also supporting an emergent, values-aligned group of United States–based international presenters who are organizing to continue international work and exchange in this challenging time. (You can watch some members of this group presenting on their process and engaging in these conversations at Under the Radar and the APAP Conference here and here.) In July 2020, we launched round three of the National Playwright Residency Program with a digital convening. This round features a cohort of thirteen new residencies, which join the seven that were renewed. This was a bright spot of the year since the program affords playwrights three years of financial security through salary, benefits, a guaranteed full production, and a discretionary fund in an otherwise precarious time. This program makes a compelling case for supporting artists' work holistically, as detailed by former program manager Ramona Rose King in her essay "We Need to Invest in Writers". You can also learn about what these artists are doing in the home communities, and nationally, here.

Changes

Despite our continued best efforts, the World Theatre Map struggled to be as vibrant as other HowlRound projects and we sunset it this year. We hope others might find use of the collective work that went into the Map and have open-sourced and published the code and database for it, making all the data free and open to reuse, remix, and redesign.

In March 2020 we launched the latest iteration of our advisory council, members of which serve as strategic advisors and community ambassadors for HowlRound Theatre Commons. Working with the advisory council has been an absolute joy, and we are grateful for their thought partnership and contributions throughout this year.

This year we bid farewell to our producer Ramona King, associate producer J.D. Stokely, and communications manager Jax Gil, and welcomed creative producer Abigail Vega (former Latinx Theatre Commons producer), associate producer Deen Rawlins-Harris, and communications manager Shannon Knapp. We are blessed to work in collaboration with such an incredible group of colleagues.

Looking Ahead

HowlRound would not be where we are without our global community of theatremakers who have written, streamed, and created podcasts for our platform since January 2011. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you! We couldn’t do this without you and your support of all kinds (including those who are able to support us financially during this difficult time). If you want to be part of HowlRound in 2021, there are many ways you can participate.

Next year marks HowlRound’s tenth anniversary, and we’re excited to celebrate the past decade of contributions by theatremakers worldwide and ask together, “What comes next?” What would it take to fully manifest our vision of a theatre field where resources and power are shared equitably in all directions, contributing to a more just and sustainable world? Stay tuned for more news about our anniversary plans—and opportunities to contribute to this dialogue—soon. Until then, we wish you a peaceful, healthy, and balanced new year. Take care of yourselves, your family, and your communities. Let’s rest up for the year ahead.

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