A New American Theatre

Everything we know about how theatre functions in America today is the OLD AMERICAN* THEATRE. The NEW AMERICAN THEATRE is a naïve portrait of a future hopefully not too far away.

The New American Theatre focuses on “educational” just as much as “professional” art. In fact, this dichotomy is reviled by New American Artists. Saying something is more “theatre” than something else is lampoonery.

In the New American Theatre, either nonprofit theatre companies are only awarded 501(c)(3) status if they truly give back in tangible, dare we say it humanitarian ways, to our communities, or an alternative is proposed. This new system rewards the right artists, encourages collaborations with schools, and seeks to foster and share American art across the country, reminding us of our extremely complex, common history.This new movement, in the spiritual and legislative legacy of Zelda Fichandler, offers artists new systems of incorporating and financing that promote an actual weaving of art into the fabric of American life.

We need a 21st century way to make that functions in a 2016 America. We need to push beyond, just as Zelda did.

In the New American Theatre, process and empathy are valued as highly as showmanship and fame.

The New American Theatre proudly teaches students wherever and whenever it can. Teaching is a necessity for New American Artists.

New American Artists have something to say politically, and speak up. They reject the notion that artists are irrelevant, stop complaining, and reaffirm their authority as voices to be heard in a free society. They stop waiting to be told they are relevant and force the country to pay attention. In the New American Theatre, leading theatremakers are cultural critics, and what they say matters, because they show us what America is.

New American Artists cannot divorce their work from the country it is made in, and find this invigorating. With this, they crave contact and education from performance rituals and conventional “theatre” from around the globe, specifically outside of Europe, the tradition on which American art was built. New American Artists embrace their North American home base, yet are always gazing beyond their borders.

In the Old American Theatre, which is to say in this moment in time, what we say usually doesn’t matter, and often no one is listening.

We seek to change this.

We just can’t help it.

We really do think art can change the world.

We also think that here in America art, and particularly theatre and performance, isn’t doing much at all.

We make plays to make money to make people famous, to get richer to adapt our jukebox Broadway musical into a Disney Channel Original Movie. We do plays in schools to showcase the director’s daughter, who also happens to be auditioning for said stage-to-screen adaptation on the Disney Channel. We teach theatre to discover the students who have truly have “it,” only to ignore the other 23 yearning to be seen and play. Meanwhile, the “real” theatre artists making “real” art spend lavishly on elitist, distant performance that hardly reaches an audience filled with other theatremakers, let alone the public.

We need a wakeup call. We need art shared in communal spaces to remind us that we are all scientists in the Great American Experiment.

We need to ignite a new American culture where we seek to be challenged and use art to tell our stories to one another, not to show off or fuel a sense of personal egocentrism somehow tied to our historical reverence for individuality and self-aggrandizement above all else.

We need to transform our community theatres into spaces of American stories shared, immigrant struggles explored, US history unpacked, and neighborhood histories preserved.

SELF-EDUCATION ON THE IMPORTANCE OF ART AND CULTURE

We must enliven our community and educational theatre practices to infuse the American people with an understanding of why it is important to be challenged and engaged in our art, our entertainment. We must teach our children that there is inherent value in expression and creativity, that culture, despite the fact that Capitalism can’t quite figure out how to quantify it, is the heartbeat of a people, and in fact a way to bring us together to achieve the type of efficiency and success that Capitalism yearns for.

We are not bereft of performance and ritual culture in America, we just need to transform our current systems to value art participation for all of our citizens, not just those likely to be talented enough to generate capital to feed Mr. Capitalism’s infinitely expanding stomach.

When talking to student artists, we need to shift our constant focus on a possible “career” in the business, or a student’s chances at “making it” in New York City.
These adages suffocate our artist-citizens at early ages with talk of efficiency, financial promise, and chances of success. These are Capitalism’s terms and they must be anathema to American theatremaker-educators as we teach art in our schools to shape our future citizens.

 

* We’ve met makers from all over the world that question our nation’s easy use of ‘America’ to describe the United States. We needed a gentle reminder from friends that we are not, in fact, the one and only America. Perhaps we should call ourselves United Statesian instead.

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