On October 12, the Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley and the Curatorial Practice at the California College of the Arts are partnering to host a live-streaming of the Creative Time Summit, an annual conference in New York that brings together cultural producers–including artists, critics, writers, and curators–to discuss how their work engages pressing issues affecting our world. To jump-start the conversation in advance of the event, attendees have been asked to submit a paragraph on a keyword associated with one of the summit themes: Inequities, Occupations, Making, or Tactics. This posting is by Maureen Towey, TCG Leadership Fellow at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre.
I just returned from a wild working weekend with Sojourn Theater at an unlikely location in St. Louis. We were invited to the Catholic Charities Annual Conference as their artists-in-residence – this is a convening of about 100 local chapter organizations who all share a social justice mission. For my nine colleagues and I, our goal was to interview as many of the attendees as we could and then create a 30 minute performance for their closing session that would reflect back the biggest questions and tensions of the conference.
This type of Making is whirlwind. We conduct a day of pre-conference rehearsals to create an outline for staging that we can drop our text into once it comes. Then we conduct back to back interviews, quickly type up the notes, send them back to our writer who edits and adapts as we go. We break out and attend key sessions of the conference that will help us to understand some of the more complicated issues at the heart of the work. We learn songs that our composer is writing based on what he has heard in the interviews. We rehearse, we interview some more, we adjust the script. We tailor our work to our audience (ie: Will a room full of Catholic activists be offended by booty dancing or will they appreciate it?). We try to synthesize what we have heard.
And then, on very little sleep, we perform for hundreds of people. We were surprised by where the audience laughed. There was visible tension as we tiptoed through some loaded issues. We saw people light up hearing their own words on stage. In the world of this conference, I felt useful in a really concrete way. For me to take my theater tools and use them in a different context like this, it is thrilling. I always forget that most people do not get to play as part of their work. Our playing is able to clarify and re-contextualize their experience. It’s important for us as artists to seek out these contexts where our Making takes on new meaning.