The Horizontal

October 27, 2013

In the 15 years I’ve been working professionally I have found myself often tripped up by the thoughts of success, professionalism and the like that permeate arts and theater blogs and critical thinking.

Jacob Yarrow passed along an essay, a speech really, by Liz Lerman given in 2001 or so to a group of dance educators. She questions in it the idea of hierarchy in art: that the performing arts center is more important than the regional theater, the regional theater is more valuable than the college, the college is more valuable than the outreach at the nursing home or children’s after school program. Ostensibly, that some art and artists, some institutions and programmers are better or more valuable than others.

I think we all agree- all art is valuable.

The past few months my work has been undergoing a change. For three and a half years I have been in Iowa with my company performing a rolling commission with a major APAP presenter and partners in the National Performance Network but also performing in class rooms and nursing homes and other spaces. We’ve learned no project is small and no project is more valuable.

I have been reading about the Federal Theatre Project and the accessibility to great work and artists nationwide- in small towns and more-not simply the professionalism of Broadway.

I’ve also been thinking about where my work comes from. My family were Irish immigrants. When men would come over to our house telling stories of the troubles I would be on the edge of my seat. My politics and want for adventure was created at the dinner table.

When touring Killadelphia we started in found spaces, renovated art museums and business offices. By year four I was performing at palaces, University presenters, 1200 seat theater spaces. The professionalism was there, the star was rising but the immediate activism I wanted the audience to feel was absent. It was more voyeuristic at the end- big venue, hell of a story- people in the early run would ask where they could make a difference locally, they’d wait after the show and chat. But by the end no one waited even as the ovations were bigger. People had seen their story and could go home.

So back tot he living room. Back to the people.

Art is not a rope ladder to climb, it’s a string pulled across us, horizontal. A path with points along the way, not goals to be met and checked off but experiences to have and engage with.

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