About a year ago we moved back into our new home, Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. I say “new” because we moved into being a center for the production, presentation, development and study of American theater. With great excitement we unpacked our bags and began a new journey which included launching the journal HowlRound.
We made many discoveries when we came to the new Arena: how easily we can move in the new center, that our fears about finding each other in a new space would prove to be less of an issue than we’d originally thought, and how happy artists and staff are in light-filled spaces. While Arena has always had a great deal of programming that falls under the development and study pillars (commissions, reading series, arts-in-education, student and audience engagement activities), as a center we expanded our goals.
Part of the mission of the American Voices New Play Institute has been documenting and disseminating information about its programs and findings. From the New Play Map to HowlRound, each of these areas was seen as support for the whole theater community, but it wasn’t always taken that way. Some in the field were suspect about Arena’s motives, while others were uncomfortable about housing these programs within a producing theater instead of a service organization or college. From my perspective, because I believe in the future of American plays, studying them at this level made sense to me. But clearly it wasn’t making sense to some in the field at large.
Much like a writer who discovers that the first draft needs major revisions, we too began to see we needed to make changes. I’ve always seen Arena as a place to incubate great ideas and projects—and then have the potential to send them into the world.
Other evolutions began to happen at Arena Stage. David Dower, Associate Artistic Director, decided to leave Arena to join the Office of the Arts at Emerson College in Boston. David was the creator and the best salesman of these programs. Over the past few months we’ve been in discussions about the possibility of moving the programs to Emerson College, which is a place that specializes in arts and media. And of course, colleges are always about research. I believe in the necessity and the potential of these programs and have come to believe they will be better served under the umbrella of an academic setting instead of a producing theater. To quote Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle, “everything should belong to whoever is best for it—children to the motherly so that they shall thrive, wagons to good drivers to be well driven, and the valley to those who will water it and make it fruitful.” As the best parents for the Institute, the American Voices New Play Institute will stay at Arena Stage as a producing theater and will include our five resident writers, commissioning programs, Theater 101, among other audience and professional development programs.
There are no advances without inquiry, investigation, and discussion. Linda Loman in Death of a Salesman says that “life is a casting off.” The natural progression of all discourse is to move out of the original skin that birthed it and move to greater truths. Even though housed at Emerson College, HowlRound and the New Play Map will continue to enjoy their unique place in our field of the theater—as a place to express ideas, find new answers and enjoy the always evolving debate between theater artists. When the programs make the transition, Arena Stage will continue to be an active participant.
This transition reminds me of the ever-expanding idea of change. In the theater, we understand the need to change in a powerful way as our work is always about evolution.
I can’t wait to see what happens next with the programs as they make their way in the world.