Jamie Gahlon has asked theater artists from around the country to talk about their personal search for an artistic home. Radha Blank continues this series.
What makes an Artistic Home? For me, an artistic home is any place where an artist can feel free and completely themselves. A place where one feels safe. Where one can be honest and it not cost them. A place where one can feel a sense of possibility. Where one doesn't feel pressured to create a hit but ready, open and supported in creating their best work. And most importantly, to call a place your Artistic Home, you have to feel like you not only belong there, but that you were meant to be there, almost as if the voices, support and inspiration were just waiting for you to show up.
Where and how did you find yours and what does it mean to you? So far, I've been quite fortunate to develop work at great artistic institutions; as a member of The Public Theater's inaugural Emerging Writers Group, I was able to use the year-long residency to write my play nannyland in a supportive environment and share the play in a well-attended public reading. And they continue to be a resource of support for former EWG members. At developmental retreats hosted by Voice and Vision and Hedgebrook, I was able to further hone my latest solo play HappyFlowerNail in environments dedicated to supporting women playwrights. I've also been gifted with a great sense of community through these retreats. And through The Hip Hop Theater Festival, where I began as a young performer with my first solo play Kenya, I've found, more than ten years later, immense support with the premiere production of my first ensemble play SEED.
But if it's one entity that feels most like home to me... I have to say it's in the arms of my theater friends and community. They show up. They give great feedback, based, not on what I've written, or what prizes I might be up for but the kind of writer they see me becoming. There's pure honesty there and I've received support in a way I am not sure I can define. It's almost spiritual. How a colleague will just call out of the blue and say... "I passed your name on to so and so... or I think THIS place should be reading your work." Or simply to tell me that they believe in me and to not give up the "good fight". I've grown so much as a writer over the last ten years and many of these folks have been there to bare witness. And I am quite grateful to know and have fellowship with them. They are my family.
How can one create and or build an Artistic Home for others? An artistic home can be a living room. A garage. A park bench. And if someone is deeply invested in just creating a space, then it wouldn't require much more than a commitment to maintain this space. And invite people into this space. (And maybe having some cookies and fruit punch?)
But when it comes to institutions developing this kind of space for artists, I, for one, don't know what it means to run artistic institution, to balance a budget, a season, an artistic staff... I don't know what it means to do that and then create a space for new voices who need the time and space to grow as artist... I just know it's crucial, that it should be just as important an investment as budget, season, staff, no? Creating and sustaining this space where artists can grow would only serve the institution in incubating new, exciting plays. AND new opportunities to develop new audiences... because that's important too, no?
But I think the idea is to be open, take risks and to really take the time to "see" each artist who walks through the door. In a family, four siblings can grow up in the same home and have very different experiences... but one would hope that each child, no matter birth order or potential would be given equal amounts of love and support, support tailored to suit their individual path and personality.
What does the Artistic Home of the future look like? I can't predict what my own path in theater will look like so I can't predict this. I can only hope that there's some big revolving door involved... one that is well greased at its axel so that once a so-called "emerging artist" has emerged, they can always swing back home and incubate a bit... marinate in the comfort juices, experiment with their voice, build work with new collaborators and stretch a bit. Cause that's the first thing I do when I get home... kick off my shoes... unhook my bra... put my feet up and stretch out on the couch... then, I let out a breath. Because when you feel that level of comfort, you feel free to think, move and create with no boundary... because you are safe... you are home.