ArtWorks Guest Blogger- Jerome Davis
I’ve been going to the Under the Radar Festival in Manhattan for the last several years. It is organized by and largely run out of the downtown citadel of off-beat theatre, the Public on Lafayette Street and LaMama just a few blocks away. Over the last 8 years I have seen theatre companies from Belarus, Argentina, Japan, Holland and Belgium, England, Italy and even Austin, Texas. I’ve seen theatres from across the 5 boroughs, too. What I haven’t seen, alas, is any representatives from the southeastern United States (sorry, Austin, you don’t count). This has worried me for awhile.
About 40% of the population of our country lives in the southeastern United States. Many of the greatest novelists and visual artists our country has produced were Southerners. Jazz musicians, country singers, even rappers frequently hail from the southeastern United States. So why is it that in the theatre, the southeastern U.S. remains a wasteland, populated only sparingly. And when a theatre does rise to stability in our region, generally speaking, innovation is not a plank in its platform, shall we say. One reason may be that the media is ensconced in the northeastern U.S. The media is there, of course, because the money is largely there. Which means efforts made in the “forest” of the Southeastern US must be made very loudly, indeed, in order to be heard. Another reason is that we have spent decades cultivating the notion that to “make it” in theatre, you have to be in NYC or LA. But, if the value of an artist is in the degree to which he or she touches their audience, then why wouldn’t an audience in Raleigh or Chattanooga or Birmingham be just as valuable as an audience in Manhatten?
I don’t know all the reasons and certainly don’t have an broad answers, but I know that this geographic chauvinism must not continue, for the health of our region, our artists or the art form. In this age of online communications, there is no reason why innovation in an art form should remain confined to one quadrant of this great nation. So, how do we change this? How can the the South and more locally the Triangle push its theater out there?
Burning Coal Theater Company is currently taking one small step forward. We are rounding up some companies working in the Devised Theatre form … putting them under one roof for a couple of weeks … and seeing what sparks fly. All six of the companies are either based in the Southeast or have leadership from our region. Find out more (and buy tickets!) at PoliTheatrics 2012.
I will blog more on this idea, and the concept of “devised theater”, more in the coming months. What ideas do you have have to elevate theater in the Southeast?
Jerome Davis is Artistic Director at Burning Coal Theater Company in Raleigh.