I am loving the city series on HowlRound. A different city is chosen periodically and various people making theatre within that city write about how the scene is and then other people read that stuff and, in true blog fashion, discuss. So far San Francisco and Minneapolis-St. Paul have gone under the microscope, with very different results.
Because Providence’s theatre community is small when compared to bigger markets like Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boston, Portland, Seattle, etc, etc we are probably a long way from getting HowlRound’s ”city spotlight.” However, as I read the Twin Cities theatre-makers big debates I reflect on the state of my own backyard.
I arrived here two years ago, after the Black Rep folded, post-New Gate Theatre and right in time for Rhode Island’s only center for new work and rentable, sizable black box, Perishable, to gasp its last gasp. As a pushy newcomer with an agenda, I have spent the last two years wondering if this was the best time to arrive or the worst. However, we made it through the summer and saved the black box. Perishable is now in the process of being reborn as 95 Empire and a program of AS220. With this new development, the entire Rhode Island theatre community has been forced to ask itself a lot of big questions. Turns out, being a part of big conversations is something I love.
Last night many of us who will be using the new 95 Empire in the near future gathered to discuss the proposed contract and the new models for presenting. I was surprised by how few people showed up, but also know that not everyone values public discourse the way I do. Plus, for people who have lived here longer than I, this is a difficult conversation to have. Some of the people in attendance had been programming in that very space for decades, and are now being given new rules, guidelines, and numbers. We live in a state with the word “hope” on its flag, and it’s times like this that I see the value in that persistent little word. The artists who keep showing up are generous and clear. AS220 and 95 Empire’s new manager are flexible and reasonable.
As we discussed the new policies and procedures I heard two repeating themes: 1. “This new model won’t work for me and my shows. I should open my own space.” and/or 2. “How can we turn this into an opportunity for greater collaboration and partnerships among all the small companies?” Both of these reactions are music to my ears. They affirm the reason that I am not leaving for a bigger market anytime soon. Much the way I like to make performance in an open no-rules/reinvent-the-rules kind of way, I relish that I have managed to move to the Wild West (and it’s in New England!) in terms of infrastructure.
So, yes, Providence is far away from a debate like the one the Twin Cities is having on HowlRound. The Twin Cities is steeped in the necessary conversation that comes when a community has a diverse and thriving scene. Were I to compose something for Providence, my concerns would be more over-arching. I would encourage theatre artists to apply for the funds that are available every time they are available; to give comps to artists who you really want to come; to see each other’s work; to show up to the meetings and gatherings and info-sessions; to involve other people from outside the theatre community; to show up at each other’s strikes and load-ins; to look beyond Rhode Island for models of work and structure; to think of us as big, even though we are small. I would also rhapsodize about how lucky I feel to arrive somewhere right at the moment that everything is changing; how after living in places where I wasn’t sure where I fit, I have found a place where everyone fits because we need everyone. I would end by saying that I hope the decisions we make today push us forward, so that someday theatre-makers in Providence can debate each other on HowlRound too.