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Performing Community 3

:
Short Essays on Community, Diversity,
Inclusion, and the Performing Arts
By Blair Ruble
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
One Woodrow Wilson Plaza
1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20004-3027

www.wilsoncenter.org

ISBN:978-1-938027-75-8

February 2018
SHORT ESSAYS ON COMMUNITY, DIVERSITY, INCLUSION, AND THE PERFORMING ARTS l III l

THE WILSON CENTER, chartered by Congress as the official memorial to President
Woodrow Wilson, is the nation’s key nonpartisan policy forum for tackling global
issues through independent research and open dialogue to inform actionable ideas for
Congress, the Administration, and the broader policy community.
Conclusions or opinions expressed in Center publications and programs are those
of the authors and speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center
staff, fellows, trustees, advisory groups, or any individuals or organizations that
provide financial support to the Center.
Please visit us online at www.wilsoncenter.org.

Jane Harman, Director, President, and CEO

BOARD OF TRUSTEES
Frederic V. Malek, Chair

Public members: Elisabeth DeVos, Secretary, U.S. Department of Education; David
Ferriero, Archivist of the United States; Carla D. Hayden, Librarian of Congress; Jon
Parrish Peede, Acting Chairman, National Endowment for the Humanities; David
J. Skorton, Secretary, Smithsonian Institution; Rex W. Tillerson, Secretary, U.S.
Department of State; Eric D. Hargan, Acting Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services

Private Citizen Members: Peter J. Beshar, Vice President & General Counsel, Marsh
& McLennan Companies, Inc.; Thelma Duggin, President, The AnBryce Foundation;
Barry S. Jackson, Managing Director, The Lindsey Group and Strategic Advisor,
Brownstein, Hyatt Farber Schreck; David C. Jacobson, Vice Chair, BMO Financial Group;
Nathalie Rayes, Vice President of Public Affairs, Grupo Salinas; Earl W. Stafford, Chief
Executive Officer, The Wentworth Group, LLC; Jane Watson Stetson, Philanthropist;
Louis Susman, Manager, CBI Holdings, L.P.

WILSON NATIONAL CABINET
Ambassador Joseph B. Gildenhorn & Alma Gildenhorn, Co-chairs

Peter J. Beshar, Eddie & Sylvia Brown, Ambassador Sue & Ambassador Chuck Cobb,
Thelma Duggin, Judi Flom, Sander R. Gerber, Harman Family Foundation, Frank F.
Islam, Willem Kooyker, Mr. and Mrs. Robert A. Mandell, Thomas R. Nides, Adam H.
Offenhartz, Nathalie Rayes, Wayne Rogers, B. Francis Saul II, Diana Davis Spencer,
Earl W. Stafford, Mr. and Mrs. Bobby Stein, Leo Zickler
Artistic Visionaries and Community Creators
The power of the performing arts to nurture inclusive
communities has been praised widely in recent years; so
much so that “creative placemaking” is now seen as a
powerful tool in community development. The supportive
role of community in fostering artistic innovation is less
acknowledged. This series highlights the work of visionaries for
whom creating communities of students, protégés, audiences
and donors has become a strategic element in transforming
their arts.
SHORT ESSAYS ON COMMUNITY, DIVERSITY, INCLUSION, AND THE PERFORMING ARTS l V l

CONTENTS
Chapter 1- Profiles of Artistic Visionaries and Community Creators: / 1

Dmitry Bertman and Opera / 2
Paul Carr and Jazz / 6
Zeljko and Natasha Djukic and Dramatic Theater / 8
Lawrence Edelson and Opera / 10
Vanessa German and Spoken Word Opera / 13
Hernán Jacinto and Argentine Jazz / 16
Andrew Kingsley, Andrew Vaught and Social Impact Theater / 19
Nikolai Kolayda and Playwriting / 23
Larissa Koniuk and Bicycle Opera / 26
Brent Lindsay and Amy Pinto and Community-Specific Theater / 29
Hugo and Rebecca Medrano and Hispanic Theater / 33
David Alan Miller and Contemporary Classical Music / 37
Mansai Nomura and Kyōgen Theater / 41
Mark and Susan Marie Rhea and Irish Theater / 44
Ari Roth and Transformational Theater / 47
Albert Schultz and Civic Theatre / 51
Daniel Soulières and Performance Dance / 54
Grace Srinivasan and Paula Maust and Baroque Music / 57
Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili and Physical Theater / 59
C. Brian Williams and Stepping / 63

Chapter 2-Conclusion to Performing Communities 1, 2 & 3 / 66

Making Cities Work as Holistic Communities of Promise / 67
Contents to Performing Community 1 and 2 / 71

l VI l PERFORMING COMMUNITY 3

INTRODUCTION

The Woodrow Wilson Center’s Urban now seen as a powerful tool in community
Sustainability Laboratory began posting development. The supportive role of
short essays in 2012 concerning the community in fostering artistic innovation is
importance of the performing arts for less acknowledged. This series highlights
inclusion in an era of urban diversity. The the work of visionaries for whom creating
first collection of essays was published communities of students, protégés,
in late 2015 and the second a year later. audiences and donors has become a
These brief compilations feature essays strategic element in transforming their arts.
by Urban Laboratory Director Blair A.
The artistic visionaries profiled here are
Ruble, with particular attention being paid
community creators. In nearly every case
to the role of diversity, inclusion and the
they came from somewhere else--as
performing arts in nurturing a sense of
migrants within their own countries, as
community. Information about the previous
immigrants, as students from elsewhere-
volumes are to be found at the end of this
-seeking the opportunity to innovate
report.
artistically. They have created new
This collection seeks to reverse the communities of performers, audiences
causal arrows in the relationship between and supporters sharing a fresh artistic
community and the arts by focusing on sensibility. These communities are
artistic visionaries who are also community open, inviting, dynamic and fluid. They
creators. The power of the performing constitute an alternative vision to notions
arts to nurture inclusive communities has of community conceived as closed circles,
been praised widely in recent years; so excluding all who are not among the
much so that “creative placemaking” is embraced. Their artistic visions include an
SHORT ESSAYS ON COMMUNITY, DIVERSITY, INCLUSION, AND THE PERFORMING ARTS l VII l

innovative sense of community suitable for
our times.

Now more than a quarter-century old,
the Wilson Center’s Urban Sustainability
Laboratory--which began as the
Comparative Urban Studies Program--has
long promoted holistic views of cities as
places of promise. Whether sponsoring
discussions about the expanding peri- component of the quest
urban communities in Africa, innovative for such urban values.
housing in Latin America, or new smart
transit systems in Asia, the Center’s urban As in the first two
programming has sought to embed the collections, the essays
discussion of specific urban challenges presented here are by Blair Ruble. They
in larger conversations about community, have benefited tremendously from the
governance and transparency. Our support and contributions of Urban
approach to the urban condition very Sustainability colleagues Allison Garland,
much aligns with the intention of United Kathy Butterfield, and Savannah Boylan.
Nations’ Sustainable Development
Goal 11 advocating for cities that are
inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable.
As the essays in this collection reveal,
the performing arts are an essential
Profiles
l 2 l

Dmitry Bertman and Opera
July 26, 2017

Moscow in 1990 was on a collision rationing. Many Muscovites viewed the
course with history. Within a year or so, era’s reformers as inept and everyone
the country of which it was capital would detested those still in power. Yet, for
no longer exist, taking entrenched elites, those with resources, the Moscow real
institutions and living standards with it. estate market offered munificent spaces
This future was already present. The city’s at a pittance. Musicians were cheap too.
streets appeared empty both because Among all the nightmares, dreams could
there were few places to go and because be born.
folks from elsewhere had stopped
Dmitry Bertman was a dreamer, and a
coming to Moscow to shop. Rather,
fortunate one at that. As he writes on his
Muscovites headed off to other cities
personal web site: “I am a lucky guy, as so
where nourishment was less expensive
many of my dreams when a child, came
and more plentiful. Food disappeared from
true.” Those dreams were operatic.
displays in most Moscow stores; though it
was still possible to obtain minimum daily From childhood, Bertman wanted to be
sustenance at work, private markets and part of opera. As the beloved director
from rationed goods still available at state of the Odessa Operetta Theater Matvei
stores. Prices were high, variety non- Osherovskii once exclaimed, “Bertman
existent and any task took extraordinary came to the planet of Earth to devote
time and effort. himself to Opera.... He knows opera,
music, and languages since his childhood.
The city literally was falling apart. People
He is a great pianist and knows everything
were exhausted, frustrated and had lost
about singing…. In him musical and
hope for improvement. Everyone seemed
theatrical talents focus like rays of light in
to have a horrid tale or two about two- to
a lens.”
three-hour lines for such staples as butter
or salt even though lines had shrunk with Bertman graduated from the Russian
Academy of Theatre Arts, where he now
l 3 l PERFORMING COMMUNITY 3

is a faculty member. At the age of twenty- Bertman has sought to bring psychological
three, he established his own opera realism and outstanding acting to the
company--the Helikon Opera--in far off opera stage without diminishing the
Syktyvkar, forestry center and capital of musical quality of a performance; and to
the Komi Republic eight hundred miles do so while presenting new interpretations
northeast of Moscow. Bertman named of nineteenth century classics together
his new company “Helikon” after the with lesser-known works from the Russian
Ancient Greek mountain that was home to and European repertoire. His emphasis on
the Muses and site of the pond in which acting necessitated a strong connection
Narcissus became transfixed by his own between performer and audience.
beauty. Accordingly, he favors performances
on smaller stages and at non-traditional
Months later he brought his show to
venues. There is nothing “grand” about
Moscow. He became music theater
Bertman’s opera even when the operas
director of the Elizabet Buhne Theatre in
being performed and the actors who are
Salzburg, Austria that same year, 1990,
performing them might appear with regularity
and has been presenting opera at major
at the world’s grandest opera houses. In
theaters across Europe ever since. The
2015, for example, Helikon joined with the
Helikon, which became a state company Moscow State Philharmonic Orchestra
in 1993, remains his paramount passion.

Boris Godunov, an opera by Modest Mussorgsky.
Photo: Quincena Musical (Flickr) https://flic.kr/p/8wEAGz
SHORT ESSAYS ON COMMUNITY, DIVERSITY, INCLUSION, AND THE PERFORMING ARTS l 4 l

to stage Anton Rubinstein’s 1871 opera As before, the now renovated elegant
“Demon” with international stars Dmitry state-of-the art mansion facility retains
Khvorostovsky, Asmik Grigorian, Alexander both a larger 250 seat hall and a smaller
Tsymbalyuk and Evgeny Svetlanov. auditorium for chamber productions.

To realize his dream Bertman required a Bertman’s company benefited from the
venue, performers and audiences. The depressed wages of the post-Soviet
collapse of the Soviet Union facilitated his collapse. He was able to build a company
quest. of world-class performers desperate for
any paying job. Beginning with seven
Taking advantage of Moscow’s
colleagues, Bertman has grown the
disintegrating economy, he secured
company to over 350 artists, musicians
control of a lovely eighteenth century
and administrators today; including some
nobleman’s house up the hill from the
of Russia’s premier opera singers. Many
Moscow Conservatory in the very heart
of these performers have come from
of Moscow. Dating from the 1730s, the
Bertman’s studios and training programs
Shakhovskoy-Glebov-Streshnev mansion
and share his dedication to acting
on Bolshaya Nikitskaya is among the few
excellence on the opera stage. To sustain
aristocratic homes remaining in Moscow.
these efforts, Helikon performs frequently-
Once the mansion was in his hands, he
-over 200 times a year--and tours abroad
was able to carve out two auditoria, one
regularly where the company has won high
seating just 250 and the other 70.
praise and recognition.
Eventually, the Helikon Opera rescued a
Central to Bertman’s vision has been an
neoclassical columned auditorium added
audience that embraces his view of opera
in the nineteenth century, redeeming it
as combining psychological depth, high-
from a Soviet-era tattered-yet-stately
quality acting and superb singing. Realizing
condition following decades of use by the
that his company could fill the seats with
USSR Union of Cultural Workers. Helikon
opera aficionados for only a performance or
created just the right room to host intimate
two at a time, Bertman set out to expand
opera performances.
the company’s audience to include many
The building would undergo major who never considered themselves to be
renovations between 2007 and 2015 fans of opera. He did so through innovative
during which time the opera was housed performances and enhanced accessibility,
in one of the tawdry Khrushchev-era office both within his own theater and in public
buildings along Novyi Arbat once thought spaces around the city.
to have symbolized Soviet modernity.
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Bertman brought new energy to old beloved songs from children’s films; while
standards. His staging of Bizet’s their production “Back in the USSR!,”
“Carmen” is filled with sex and drugs as another concert program featuring popular
the action is set in a burned-out carcass Soviet-era mass song, draws on the pull
of an automobile; the costumed cast of nostalgia to attract new audiences
of Johan Strauss’s “Die Fledermaus” who otherwise probably never would
greets the audience in the theater’s have considered attending an opera
grand staircase entrance as if welcoming performance.
everyone to an enchanting masquerade-
ball; Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin” is Bertman has fulfilled his dream of
performed in high 1920s costumes. a life in opera and much more. He
has elevated acting standards and
In other instances, Bertman focuses on expanded the psychological depth of
little-known and rarely performed works opera performances without devaluing
by famous composers, always doing so their musical quality. He has done so by
with a special dollop of the unexpected. In leveraging the harsh realities of social
the mid-1730s, as coffee was becoming collapse at the time of the fall of the Soviet
all the rage in Germany, Johann Sebastian Union, converting them into assets for
Bach wrote a cantata about the beverage extending the reach of his beloved opera.
evidently as a way of paying lighthearted He has emboldened opera as an art by
homage to the habitués of Zimmermann’s creatively engaging a wider public rarely
Coffee-House. In the hands of Helikon, seen at its performances. In accomplishing
Bach’s “Coffee Cantata” becomes a all of these achievements, he has
one-act opera set in an appropriately unambiguously reinvigorated the art of
delightful café as the cast compares opera.
life’s various pleasures unfavorably to
that of a good cup of coffee--all while
preparing demitasse and espresso and
serving the members of the audience.
Bertman reaches into popular culture for
inspiration working with the company
to produce completely new works. In
some instances--such as a celebration of
George Gershwin--the performance draws
on the more serious side of twentieth
century popular culture. In others, such
as “Cartoons-Opera,” the company
presents a concert program featuring
SHORT ESSAYS ON COMMUNITY, DIVERSITY, INCLUSION, AND THE PERFORMING ARTS l 6 l

Paul Carr and Jazz
September 19, 2017

Saxophonist Paul Carr tells the story of Carr grew up in inner-city Houston where
waiting with his saxophone at the baggage legendary teacher Conrad Johnson at
claim belt in St. Petersburg, Russia, Kashmere High School took an interest
when another passenger came up and in the young Carr. By the time he had
said: “Paul Carr, Westminster Church in graduated, Carr was a member of the
Washington.” Paul recounts this incident Kashmere High School Stage Band and
as a way of testifying to the global reach had inculcated the large Texas style of
of Friday Night Jazz at Westminster playing the tenor sax embraced by his
Presbyterian Church in Southwest early mentors Arnett Cobb and Don
Washington, D.C. Home to a hugely Wilkerson. In 1985, Carr packed up his
successful concert series now nearly two big Texas tenor sound and headed off to
decades old, Westminster has become a Howard University where he gained the
touchstone of the D.C. jazz scene. training that has enabled him to establish
his global presence on the saxophone
Telling the story in this way downplays
scene.
Carr’s own international fame. Not only
does Carr regularly tour the world and The Washington jazz scene doesn’t
the country, he was a regular performer always receive the attention it deserves.
at the White House during the Clinton The region’s strong musical institutions-
administration; sharing then President
Clinton’s love of the Saxophone.

Carr is more than a performer. He has
emerged as a tireless promoter of jazz, a
teacher as well as a performer, and the
moving spirit of a re-vivified Mid-Atlantic
Jazz Festival that extends the music’s
reach beyond well-trod territory. For Carr,
sustaining innovative improvisational music
requires sustaining the current and future
players who will take the art form to new
levels; and sustaining the audiences who
appreciate the sound. His holistic vision
of jazz emerges from his own experience Paul Carr in The Jazz Academy of Music Fall Concert.
growing up in Houston. Photo: woodleywonderworks
l 7 l PERFORMING COMMUNITY 3

-ranging from the Duke Ellington School permanently enriched by music as they
for the Performing Arts, through venerable move into various worlds far beyond the
music programs at such local universities world of music.
as Howard, Maryland, and UDC, to the
In 2010, Carr assumed leadership of
military bands and a plethora of non-
the East Coast Jazz Festival, founded in
profit venues such as Westminster--
1992 by beloved vocalist and educator
have enabled dozens of talented young
Ronnie Wells. Following Wells’ passing,
musicians to move into the mainstream.
Carr joined with others within the DC
These organized supports join with a score
community to relaunch the festival as
of musical village elders such as Carr
the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival held every
who share a passion for cultivating rising
Presidents’ Day weekend in February
musicians. Among recent D.C. products
at a non-descript suburban Holiday Inn.
performing around the world are rising
Regularly attracting as many as 4,000
bassists Ben Williams and Baltimore-born
jazz aficionados, the Festival showcases
Kris Funn, sax players Lyle Link and Elijah
national talents together with student
Jamal Balbed and drummer Kush Abadey.
groups, with every level of musical
Carr was once such a rising star himself, professionalism in between. The Festival
sitting in at Lawrence Wheatley’s creates new audiences for the music
legendary 1980s jam sessions at One which adds new support to the local
Step Down, and landing performance scene.
opportunities alongside trumpeter Terell
As important as his educational and
Stafford at Takoma Station. Having
organizational activities are, Carr’s
experienced the power of mentorship
musical vision remains foremost in his
in his own development, Carr remains
accomplishments. Inculcated from youth
passionate about jazz education even as
with the Texas tenor tradition of playing
he has moved among stages on several
large, Carr amplifies the influence of the
continents.
music’s Southern roots on contemporary
In 2002, Carr founded the Jazz Academy jazz. Whether playing in the United States,
of Music which sponsors summer camps South America, Russia or Asia--performing
and school-year ensembles for young before presidents, kings or students--Carr
players from around the region. The carries on the venerable tradition of jazz
Academy’s reach, which has sent a half- as an art form brought from the pastoral
dozen graduates on to the Julliard School South to the metropolitan city.
of Music in New York, brings together
As he takes this creative journey he
inner-city musicians with suburban
makes sure that others will follow. As he
students from some of the wealthiest
discovered in the baggage reclaim area in
neighborhoods in the country. While
St. Petersburg, his reach has no bounds.
many go on to careers in music, many
more of Carr’s students have their lives
SHORT ESSAYS ON COMMUNITY, DIVERSITY, INCLUSION, AND THE PERFORMING ARTS l 8 l

Zeljko and Natasha Djukic and Dramatic Theater
April 18, 2017

Zeljko and Natasha Djukic have shaped They moved the company to Chicago
one of the most inventive theater in 2002 where they quickly caught the
companies in one of the most creative attention of local theater devotees. For
theater communities in the country: Zeljko and Natasha, Chicago offered a
TUTA Theatre in Chicago. Named after gritty urban energy and authenticity they
the Serbian word for bedpan, TUTA found missing in other American cities.
promotes European-style psychological A storied theater town, Chicago already
theater through the dramatic restaging was home to audiences and actors well-
of modern and classical works with prepared to tackle their brand of theater.
startling design and passionate acting. Beyond her work for TUTA, Natasha
Their productions routinely receive rave crafted costumes and sets for several
reviews from the city’s toughest critics in a other Chicago theaters including the
highly competitive theatrical environment. legendary Steppenwolf Company and the
Critics from the Chicago Tribune meant Light Opera. In moving from Washington
as a compliment the observation that to Chicago, Zeljko and Natasha found a
TUTA productions were unlike anything creative environment which embraced the
else in the city. This is high praise in a contradictions of life that elude confident
city of committed audiences who value certainties and proclamations.
honest presentation of dramatic work over
celebrity and gimmick. As they settled into their Chicago life,
Zeljko and Natasha sought to energize
Zeljko and Natasha arrived in Washington, American theater both by presenting new
D.C. in 1990 from Serbia to pursue further
training at the University of Maryland,
College Park. A graduate of Belgrade’s
Drama Arts School, Zeljko added
additional degrees to his resume and
subsequently taught at several institutions
including the University of Maryland and
James Madison University. Designer
Natasha similarly advanced her skills
and taught full-time at James Madison.
Together in 1995 they established the
TUTA to bring challenging theater with
unique and exceptional ideas to American
audiences. Gentle, an adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s story
by Zeljko Djukic.
Photo: Kurtis Boetcher. Courtesy of
TUTA Theatre Chicago.
l 9 l PERFORMING COMMUNITY 3

works and by training a cohort of theater include important productions of Guy de
professionals inculcated with southeastern Maupassant’s “The Jewels,” featuring
European dramatic traditions. Their noted Chicago actor Kirk Anderson;
company has nurtured rising talent Berlin-based Blue Man Group veteran
through studios and various productions Martin Marion’s whimsical “The Anyway
insuring a steady stream of actors capable Cabaret (an animal cabaret)” satirizing
of performing the kind of theater they the events of the day; plus classics by
valued from their years in Belgrade. Brecht, Chekov, and Dostoevsky. Known
for presenting the works of Serbian
Following several early successes--
playwrights--including the world premieres
including a well-received adaptation of
of Ugljesa Saijtinac’s “Huddersfeld”
“Alice in Wonderland”--Zeljko and Natasha
and Milena Markovic’s “Tracks”--TUTA
secured their positions within the Chicago
similarly has presented major works from
community with a stunning staging of
the contemporary Russian repertoire
Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya.” Critics called
including the American premier of notable
their production of the Russian classic the
Yekaterinburg playwright Oleg Bogaev’s
best work in Chicago theater for 2008.
“Maria’s Fields.”
Indeed, reviewers ran out of superlatives
for the production, calling it compelling, The Djukics have experimented with
extraordinary, lingeringly lovely infused with a variety of formats to engage new
tenderness and humanity. They deemed audiences. TUTA has performed cabaret-
Zeljko’s direction to be a masterpiece style, presented works responding
of subtlety and simultaneously admired to contemporary events and has run
Natasha’s costumes. One critic, Venus dramatic laboratories in such popular
Zarris, writing for the “Steadstyle Chicago” venues as the Pritzker Pavilion stage in
website concluded that the production Millennium Park. These settings cultivate
proved to be “nothing short of the new audiences for the company far
quintessential ‘Uncle Vanya,’ sure to beyond Chicagoans embracing the avant-
delight the Chekhov devotee and novice garde.
alike.” Russian-language theater critic
Sergei Elkin considers this and other Among the several components of TUTA’s
TUTA’s productions to be landmarks of success have been Zeljko and Natasha’s
Chicago theatrical life. dedication to developing new talent and
an appreciative audience; as well as their
TUTA has brought contemporary belief in the importance of European
European theater to the American dramatic theater--both classic and
Midwest, having presented a half-dozen contemporary--for American viewers. In
world premier productions as well as bringing southeastern European theatrical
nearly as many American premiers. Almost traditions to the New World, they have
all their plays were new to Chicago. These reinvigorated the Chicago stage in return.
SHORT ESSAYS ON COMMUNITY, DIVERSITY, INCLUSION, AND THE PERFORMING ARTS l 10 l

Lawrence Edelson and Opera
May 18, 2017

Opera producer Lawrence Edelson and Boston ballet, Ballet West and BalletMet
composer/librettist Mark Adamo had Columbus before moving to choreography
been enjoying a pleasant enough summer for both opera and ballet companies. At
in 2002 as they worked away on a the same time, he sang in opera, oratorio
production of Adamo’s 1998 opera “Little and musical theater.
Women” at Cooperstown, New York’s
Glimmerglass Opera. The production Adamo grew up in suburban Philadelphia
was going well and the weather in New before attending New York University,
York’s Finger Lakes district had remained where he gained recognition for
comfortable, if a bit wet at times. Still, undergraduate achievement in playwriting.
breaks now and then were welcomed He graduated from The Catholic University
so, in need of an interlude in the mission in Washington with honors in music
of bringing an opera to the stage, they composition and was hired by New York
set off for drinks. Sometime later in this City Opera to curate a contemporary
century, that particular cocktail hour may opera workshop. Subsequently, he
be remembered as recharting the course became the company’s composer-in-
of American opera. residence.

As Edelson and Adamo settled in, Adamo’s first opera--“Little Women”--
they began to chat about how so enjoyed instant success. Within a few
many programs existed to help the years of its premier by Houston Grand
sorts of younger singers performing at Opera, the opera based on Louisa May
Glimmerglass. Nevertheless, very little Alcott’s novel had been broadcast on
systematic support existed for mentoring National Public Radio and the Public
those who wanted to write operas as Broadcasting System; had been
Adamo had been doing to critical and performed by opera companies across
audience acclaim. the United States; and, had appeared on
opera stages around the world. The opera
Neither Edelson nor Adamo were quickly became a staple of American
newcomers to the world of American summer festivals, which is how Adamo
opera. A native of Ottawa, Edelson had found himself at Glimmerglass with
studied voice and musicology at the Edelson.
University of Ottawa before heading
to New York to study dance at The Having learned their way around the
Joffrey Ballet School. He performed with backstages of opera houses, they
understood that hiring young singers was
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an asset for many companies as they cost to develop new works which spoke to the
less than established singers. Taking a present day. He established the American
risk on a new opera, on the other hand, Lyric Theater (ALT) based in New York
carried very real costs; especially as few to collaborate with other companies to
companies had the resources necessary produce new operas.
to nurture writing talent. Edelson decided
to do something about this particular The challenges of producing new opera
lacuna in the American opera enterprise. were numerous and complex. Many
American companies already were doing
Both Edelson and Adamo were concerned so; yet they often achieved less than
about the seeming decline in American hoped. Edelson realized that great operas
audiences for their beloved performing do not just happen; they begin with great
art. Edelson’s master’s thesis for the music and great librettos. Recognizing
performing arts administration program at the need to nurture new composers and
New York University was titled: “Opera: librettists, he mobilized ALT’s resources
The Irrelevant Art: Uniting Marketing and to launch the “Composer Librettist
Organizational Strategy to Combat the Development Program” (CLDP) in 2007.
Depopularization of Opera in the United
States.” He was concerned about the CLDP has become the country’s first and
art’s ability to attract and sustain new only complete mentorship program for
audiences with works that were removed operatic writers. The program is designed
from contemporary life. American opera to attract and nurture accomplished
faced numerous trials, including the need playwrights, poets, symphonic composers,

Lawrence Edelson mentoring Jeremy Howard Beck and Stephanie Fleischmann.
Photo courtesy of American Lyric Theater.
SHORT ESSAYS ON COMMUNITY, DIVERSITY, INCLUSION, AND THE PERFORMING ARTS l 12 l

lyricists and musical theater as well as A little more than two centuries have
opera professionals to become opera passed since Lorenzo Da Ponte--the
composers and lyricists. Predicated on librettist for Mozart’s most famous Italian
opera being a storytelling form, CLDP operas “The Marriage of Figaro,” “Don
favors narrative works setting writing for Giovanni,” and “Così fan tutte”--fled a
classically trained singers into pieces for swarm of European creditors for America
the contemporary stage. along with his common law wife Nancy
Grahl and their four children. Moving
Working with prominent opera authorities,
among several failed businesses--including
program participants are given the
grocery and book stores in New York and
opportunity to learn opera dramaturgy,
Pennsylvania--Da Ponte eventually gained
to hone their creative craft, to collaborate
an appointment as Columbia College’s
with others in developing new works and
(later University’s) first professor of Italian
to learn how to move their ideas through
Literature. Seemingly settled in the New
the creative process to production. The
World, Da Ponte produced the first full
program’s first year favors collaborative
performance of “Don Giovanni” in the
partnerships among entering class
United States in 1825, thus introducing
members. Faculty commission works from
New York and North America to opera. In
the most promising contributors during the
1833, when he was 84, Da Ponte founded
program’s second year.
the short-lived New York Opera Company
CLDP alumni are presenting their works which eventually became the precursor to
to growing acclaim across the country’s the New York Academy of Music and the
opera stages, including the Chicago New York Metropolitan Opera.
Lyric Opera, Houston Grand Opera,
Opera took hold in America and, by the
Opera Philadelphia, Fort Worth Opera,
time the bicentennial of Da Ponte’s initial
and Opera Saratoga, where Edelson has
production arrives in 2025, the country
been Artistic and General Director since
will have dozens of opera companies and
2014. As important, opera companies
festivals. In no small measure because of
around the country increasingly are
the efforts of Edelson and his colleagues,
investing in supporting librettists and
the anniversary will be met as well with a
composers through various initiatives
robust repertoire of new American works
including commissions, residencies and
speaking to the experiences of new
more limited mentorship programs. In just
American opera fans.
a decade, the U.S. opera enterprise has
created a variety of initiatives supporting
and promoting American-created opera.
l 13 l PERFORMING COMMUNITY 3

Vanessa German and Spoken Word Opera
March 1, 2017

One afternoon in December 2016, well comfort to those who live lives of “ordinary
over one-hundred denizens of official fear,” beginning in her adopted home of
Washington crowded into an auditorium Homewood.
in the Woodrow Wilson Center to
celebrate “creative placemaking.” With Once the home to various Carnegies, then
NEA Chair Jane Chu, New Orleans Mayor Irish, Italian, German and black residents,
Mitch Landrieu, and Kresge Foundation Homewood, in eastern Pittsburgh, was at
President Rip Rapson looking on, a young one time a place of middle-class life and
African-American artist stepped to the easy diversity. City plans in the 1950s for
stage and transported the entire room into a sports arena and other public facilities
another dimension with her moving poem displaced 8,000 residents, touching off a
about the children of the Homewood spiral of decline that accelerated following
neighborhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. disturbances after the assassination of Dr.
German transformed the afternoon into a Martin Luther King, Jr. in April 1968. By
spiritual awakening with what many were the turn of the twenty-first century, some
calling the most inspiring performance they 2,400 residents, of whom 98.3% were
had ever seen anywhere. African American, claimed Homewood
as their home; and nearly all were poor.
German is an accomplished self- Criminal violence accentuated the
taught artist whose works have been neighborhood’s reputation as a place to
incorporated into some of the country’s avoid. This was where Vanessa German
leading museums. She has shared the came for inspiration, and to redefine the
stage with luminaries such as former meaning of art for communities often
President Bill Clinton. Closer to home, the bypassed by the creative class.
Pittsburgh Center for the Arts named her
as its 2012 Emerging Artist of the Year. German, the daughter of a well-known
German’s deep exploration of indigenous fiber artist, was born in Wisconsin, raised
urban art forms melds painting, sculpture, in Los Angeles as well as in suburban
textiles, poetry and music into what Cincinnati before settling on Pittsburgh as
Pittsburgh Magazine has called “a collage her home. She established her reputation
of community activism and soul-searching as a sculptor producing what she came
artistry” unlike anything that has come to call “contemporary power figures.” In
before. As personal as her art may be, she the words of the curators at Baltimore’s
is about more than individual expression. American Visionary Art Museum, her art
German seeks to use art to give voice and transforms everyday objects “into an
iconography of astonishing metaphors.”
SHORT ESSAYS ON COMMUNITY, DIVERSITY, INCLUSION, AND THE PERFORMING ARTS l 14 l

Vanessa German.
Photo: Wilson Center

Moving beyond the visual, German writes has devoted her life to nurturing a cohort
and performs poetry that elevates the of children who add their own sparks,
everyday to the mystical, as she did that moving Spoken Word Opera ahead.
December afternoon in Washington.
Drawing on any number of street traditions Her inspiration for the concept of
from hip hop to meringue, she crafts what moving spoken word performance in
she has called “Spoken Word Opera”--a new directions arose while growing up
mixing of spoken word poetry, storytelling, in Los Angeles. She recalls attending a
music and movement. In 2014, Pittsburgh performance of the Alvin Ailey Company
Mayor Bill Peduto called on German to that included a piece set to the words
perform at his inauguration, which led her of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The more
to produce the dramatic poem “The City is she listened to King’s speeches the more
Ours Today.” she heard a gathering up of creative
understanding in which, she has said,
German finds sustenance in Homewood, love unfurls its petals. The insights she
where she sees life, motion, and music drew from King’s rhetoric convinced her
even as others see only blight. She draws of a need to move beyond the limits of
on that energy to create and then returns language. The result has been a theatrical
it to her neighbors. Embracing community and passionate style of storytelling
as a force that advances her art, German that combines various art forms into
l 15 l PERFORMING COMMUNITY 3

performance that does not fit in any single to a contemporary fusion of artistic forms
genre. marks a qualitatively new artistic genre,
Spoken Word Opera. She merges various
From the outset of her time in Homewood, historic and contemporary strands of
German noticed how interested African American culture into a unified
neighborhood children were in her work production, expanding spoken word
after painting and sculpting on her front poetry by infusing it with the theatricality of
porch. When asked by local children, opera, African American storytelling, and
“what is you doin’ in this neighborhood?” enhanced theatricality.
she responds, because “you live in this
neighborhood…. Because you are good At the close of her performance in
and strong and you fly.” Washington that December afternoon
German declared that “freedom is the
She subsequently opened her front sound of the loud man drunk on the
porch to all who wanted to join her in sun.” She exhorted those in that official
artistic creation. Her porch--now known Washington, D.C. auditorium to “rise as if
as Love’s Front Porch, an ARTHouse-- the sun, get up from whence you was” and
became a refuge for children in a violent “tell your story and then restore us with the
neighborhood as well as an incubator for story/ and rise.” In doing so she unlocked
talent that otherwise might go unnoticed. the door on the room of infinite possibilities
The children paint, sculpt, write music that she believes is energized by the power
and poetry, and perform. They constantly of love. In her new spoken opera, everyone
engage their community, as happened can go to places they never could imagine.
when she printed signs reading, “Stop The magic and mystery of that journey is,
shooting…Live Love Respect” and placed for her, the transformative and redemptive
them with the help of the children all power of art; a power she enhances by
around the neighborhood. linking art and community.
German is as artistically ambitious as she
is socially determined. Her commitment
SHORT ESSAYS ON COMMUNITY, DIVERSITY, INCLUSION, AND THE PERFORMING ARTS l 16 l

Hernán Jacinto and Argentine Jazz
October 11, 2017

Hernán Jacinto.
Photo courtesy of Hernán Jacinto.

Tucked away a couple of blocks off the jazz fans worldwide. Large enough to
prominent commercial avenue Santa Fe be comfortable and close enough to be
in a distinctly middle class section of the convivial, the Thelonious is a perfect room
well-groomed Buenos Aires neighborhood for attentive listening.
of Palermo hides a small doorway with
Musicians Lucas and Ezequiel Cutaia
the tiniest of possible signs invisible to
opened the club in 2000 to provide just
all who do not bother to look for it. Up
the sort of friendly venue their fellow
a treacherous winding marble staircase
musicians needed as a shared home
hides the Buenos Aires’ venerable
base in a teeming and chaotic metropolis
Thelonious Jazz Club. Stretched out over
of seventeen million souls. They craved
the Toledo Bakery and Pastry Shop, the
to have a place that recalled the famous
club’s main two-story room shifts mood
musician hangouts of New York and
from a sofa living-room style seating area
Chicago; and they have succeeded in
past a congenially cluttered and well-
nurturing and realizing their vision. They
stocked bar area on to the more traditional
were doubly fortunate in founding their
tables and stage arrangement known to
l 17 l PERFORMING COMMUNITY 3

club just as a master jazz musician--pianist jazz and, increasingly, electronic musical
Hernán Jacinto--was coming of age. modalities.

Born in 1981 in Buenos Aires, Jacinto Jacinto’s terrific talents make him a
was a child prodigy who began as a noteworthy addition to global jazz. Yet,
self-taught pianist at the age of seven. he is more. As his success has grown,
He quickly demonstrated genuine talent Jacinto has become a focal point for the
and studied classical piano with Claudio impressive yet disparate Buenos Aires
Espector of the National Conservatory jazz scene. Appearing at Thelonious
and jazz piano and harmony with Diego and other venues, he attracts the city’s
Schissi, Guillermo Romero and Ernesto best musicians. His favored trio includes
Jodos. These mentors prepared him well prodigious bassist Jerónimo Carmona
enough to win a scholarship to study at and drummer Daniel Pipi Piazzolla (yes,
the renowned Berklee College of Music in he is Astor’s grandson). His performances
Boston. Berklee brought him into contact are punctuated by guest appearances by
with leading musicians from around the local musicians of varying ages and skills
world, hence he set off touring Europe who sit in on one number or another. By
with Austrian saxophonist Karlheinz Miklin sharing his own presence with others, he
and Latin America with compatriot bassist has created an increasingly vibrant jazz
Javier Malosetti. Jacinto’s reputation scene that demands growing recognition
quickly grew so that by 2009 he received abroad. He also nurtures new audiences
the prestigious Clarín Prize as the Jazz who become introduced to jazz as they
Revelation of the Year. seek Jacinto out; and cultivates musicians
who, like he himself, emerge from
Jacinto began to appear regularly at surprising corners of the great metropolis.
leading jazz haunts in Buenos Aires,
including the Thelonious Club and the Few cities are more musical than Buenos
Bebop Club, with the city’s leading Aires, and fewer still have given the
musicians such as internationally world as distinctive sound as tango.
acclaimed Andres Boiarsky. He also Now ubiquitous, tango has evolved from
appeared playing both classical and jazz a pariah brothel sound to an instantly
repertoires in television broadcasts across recognizable global musical powerhouse.
Latin America. His monstrous technique The city always offers opportunities for its
and unique harmonic sense allows him musicians to find a gig playing what every
to move effortlessly from the sadly sweet tourist wants to hear. Classical and jazz
delicacy of his city’s tango sound to musicians--and, to some extent, traditional
the fiercely abstract improvisations that Argentine folk artists--have to struggle
dominate post-Bop modern jazz. He to make their way through the thicket of
also moves seamlessly among classical, tangomania.
SHORT ESSAYS ON COMMUNITY, DIVERSITY, INCLUSION, AND THE PERFORMING ARTS l 18 l

Jazz musicians in particular need safe
places to improvise and play off of one
another; and they need listeners who
appreciate what they achieve when they
do. Clubs such as the Thelonious provide
pleasing venues to attract audiences
to the sound of jazz. Places alone are
not enough to keep the music alive.
Dedicated musicians who draw on their
own popularity to redirect the gaze of
appreciative audiences to other talents
must fill those venues. Buenos Aires at this
particular moment in its musical history
is fortunate to have a native promoter of
jazz living in it. Hernán Jacinto brings new
verve to his music, and new ears to his
performances.
l 19 l PERFORMING COMMUNITY 3

Andrew Kingsley, Andrew Vaught and Social
Impact Theater
October 18, 2017

New Orleans in the Spring 2006 was At the same time, something phenomenal
a wounded city. Just months after the was happening. New Orleans and the Gulf
devastation of Hurricane Katrina and Coast had become the location of perhaps
its aftermath, the city hardly functioned. the largest private, voluntary charitable
Less than half the pre-storm population project in American history. Hundreds if not
had returned, and much of the city’s thousands of volunteers came to town to
infrastructure still lay in ruin. As Gary Rivlin try to put what was broken back together
noted in his book, Katrina: After the Flood: again. Students, church groups, medical
professionals, educators, musicians and
Broken stoplights still dangled artists came to town intent on saving the
in parts of the central business city and its unique culture. There never
district. Stores even in the center had been a civic charitable response of
of town remained shuttered a year such magnitude to a disaster on United
after Katrina. To reach the city’s States soil.
economic-development office
one entered through a side door, While many of the volunteers and
as the revolving doors out front organizations came for specific purposes
were still boarded up. Shell was and limited periods, some decided to stay
back, but Chevron announced it and commit to the city’s uncertain future.
was moving its offices to higher This was especially true of many young
ground in the suburbs. Traffic at the artists, musicians, dancers and chefs for
port was almost back to normal, whom New Orleans was too precious to
but the city’s manufacturing base lose.
post-Katrina was almost non-
New Orleans long has nurtured
existent. One survey found that
a distinctive culture rooted in the
twelve months after the storm, two
improvisational blending of its various
in every three businesses were
human and natural ingredients. Tulane
still closed. Shops catering to
University historian Lawrence Powell
tourists complained that they were
captures its distinctive heritage in his city
doing maybe half their pre-storm
business. One local economist history, The Accidental City:
predicted that 40 percent of the The kitchens may have been
city’s businesses would end up a French, but the cooks were slaves,
casualty of Katrina.1
SHORT ESSAYS ON COMMUNITY, DIVERSITY, INCLUSION, AND THE PERFORMING ARTS l 20 l

tossing in the same kettle culinary Kingsley and Andrew Vaught--were among
ingredients plucked from three them.
continents. They received direction
Kingsley and Vaught came with a belief
from the mistress of the house, but
that the theatrical arts should engage
they were the ones who occupied
with society and with the issues of the
the nexus of town and country.
day. Post-Katrina New Orleans cried
Not only did they cook the food
out for discussions of the city’s endless
but they purchased the groceries
challenges which could transcend existing
from petty tradesmen and footloose
social, racial, economic and political
trappers, themselves slaves, and
divisions. They saw theater as a means for
in the process, they skimmed off
framing the most difficult problems facing
something extra--‘lagniappe’, as
the city while engaging its numerous
later generations would describe
contentious communities. Their Cripple
it--in the form of income and
Creek Theatre Company was born out
victuals…. In other words, African
of an engagement with a traumatized
slaves not only stirred the pot; they
city that seemingly was overwhelmed by
filled it too.2
insolvable problems.
What was true of the pots and pans
Founded in 2006, the Cripple Creek
that hung over the stoves of this swamp
Theatre Company has grown from two
metropolis proved equally true when New
company members to more than ten
Orleanians put down their spoons and
currently with Co-Artistic Director Emilie
knives and picked up musical instruments,
Whelan, reflecting the animated diversity
writing pens and paint brushes. Even
that has always marked New Orleans and
Edgar Degas reinvented himself as a
its culture. The company has enjoyed
painter while visiting relatives in the city.
artistic success and acclaim while
The result has been a distinctive blend
producing nearly three dozen theatrical
that has remained resistant to the forces
works of social importance. From their
shaping a broader American mass culture.
first production, Tennessee Williams’
Two of New Orleans’ earliest suburbs- The Kingdom of Earth, to their most
-the nineteenth century neighborhoods recent--such as a lively production of
of Faubourg Marigny and Bywater just Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew-
downriver from the foundational French -Kingsley and Vaught consciously used
Quarter--that had been spared Katrina’s theater to explore the most difficult issues
rising waters, quickly became favored confronting their city in order to provoke
stomping grounds for idealistic and social action.
creative new arrivals. Two theater majors
Kingsley and Vaught held open auditions
from Ohio’s Kenyon College--Andrew
from the very beginning. At the outset,
l 21 l PERFORMING COMMUNITY 3

they needed flexibility to find the artistic promoting civic and social engagement,
talent required for their ambitious they have positioned their productions to
productions in a city slowly recovering include workshops, creative collaborations
from catastrophe. Their productions, and post-show conversations which serve
including such works as Lanford Wilson’s to enhance audiences’ understanding of
Balm in Galead, Bruce Norris’s Clybourne the social issues addressed in the pieces
Park, Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the they present. More strikingly, they tour to
People, August Strinderg’s Erik the underserved audiences throughout the
XIV and Jules Feiffer’s Little Murders, city and region. Their 2017 presentation
presented artistically challenging plays of Taming of the Shew, for example,
revolving around the most pressing social opened at the Dixon Correctional
and political issues of the moment from Institute in Jackson, Louisiana before
the perspective of other times and places. being performed on the New Orleans
Open auditions showcased new talent Shakespeare Festival’s mainstage season.
and reinforced connections between Previously, the company offered, a three-
universally acclaimed works and their local course maritime-inspired dinner by Chef
community. Jessie Wightkin served between acts
and produced works at the Saturn Bar
Kingsley and Vaught extended their before heading to the Bayou Playhouse in
outreach beyond the stage, bringing their Lockport, Louisiana.
work directly into communities rarely
served by theater. They did so to discover Not surprisingly given its origins in a hurt
talent, nurture audiences and sponsors, city and its mission of social engagement,
and more. Building on their goal of the company has moved around quite
a bit. In addition
to temporary
stages--including
a residency at
the Shadowbox
Theatre housed in
a former pharmacy
along Marigny’s
Saint Claude
Avenue--the
company most
recently has found
a home in the heart

Saint Claude Arts District in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Photo: SL Snyder (Flickr) https://flic.kr/p/4x832B
SHORT ESSAYS ON COMMUNITY, DIVERSITY, INCLUSION, AND THE PERFORMING ARTS l 22 l

of the Saint Claude Arts District at the and complex disunions. In doing so,
AllWays Theatre. the community expands the company’s
creative impulse, encouraging it to take on
Settled into AllWays’ two-story nondescript fresh artistic challenges. Beyond audience
New Orleans roadhouse brightly painted cultivation, the company’s Louisiana Stage
in pastels, the company shares the stage Writers’ Workshop promotes inventive
with bayou blues burlesque shows, expression among imaginative people
cabaret and dance nights, perfect partners who, like Kingsley and Vaught, came to
for the social impact theater Kingsley and find their muse in the ever provocative city
Vaught seek to cultivate. Saint Claude of New Orleans.
at this point is a bit too wide--and the
buildings a bit too modest--to ever claim In 2013, the company presented Vaught’s
the moniker “charming.” The area is too original work Possum Kingdom, which told
industrial, the trees on the street’s neutral the story of an economic dystopia in which
ground (median) too spindly and the forest dwellers who scrape trees to sell
sidewalks too cracked to ever be called their covering are in constant competition
“grand.” More importantly, the atmosphere with killer possums who aggressively
bristles with creative energy, the sort scavenger from the forest dwellers in a
of vitality produced by exciting artistic Darwinian competition for resources. The
visionaries doing all they can to create a audience arrived at a backyard on St.
community constantly responding to the Claude Avenue decked out in colored
deepest and most painful challenges of lights. When conversations stopped at
the moment. Be it bayou blues burlesque the surprise of the lights having gone out,
or Shakespeare, dedicated artists such ushers with flashlights emerged to escort
as Kingsley and Vaught are working in the audience members down a winding
all variety of genres to insure that post- path covered with roots and leaves to a
Katrina New Orleans remains a global cluster of seats facing some trees. There,
creative hot spot. in the dark interior of an otherworldly city
block, the play began. At that moment
Vaught challenges the company and everyone knew they could be no place
himself to remain mindful of whom they other than New Orleans--a city where the
serve in a world full of distraction. His goal phantasmagorically improvisational rules a
has been to stimulate communication and world beset by constant struggle.
engagement across the city’s numerous

Endnotes
1 Gary Rivlin, Katrina: After the Flood (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015), p. 292.

2 Lawrence N. Powell, The Accidental City. Improvising New Orleans (Cambridge: Harvard University Press,
2012), pp. 97-98.
l 23 l PERFORMING COMMUNITY 3

Nikolai Kolyada and Playwriting
May 3, 2017

The master dramatist Nikolai Kolyada reach, and close enough to the Siberian
has made himself the center of gravity prisons to become a magnet for newly
around which much of the new drama released prisoners. It stood astride
world revolves in Yekaterinburg, Russia, major transportation routes connecting
a city of 1.4 million residents just beyond narcotics-growing fields to the south
the Urals tucked inside the edge of Asia. and east and drug markets to the west,
Born in 1957 in the bleak and remote with a vast population of factory workers
provincial settlement of Presnogor’kovka and their families who were beginning
in the Kustanay Region, Kolyada trundled to feel the first indications of a national
off to the theater school in Sverdlovsk- economic collapse that would shut down
-as Yekaterinburg was known for much their factories. Everything about the
of the Soviet period--at a young age. city promoted the emergence of vast,
Graduating at twenty, he began a career disciplined, aggressive, and malevolent
on stage with the Sverdlovsk Academic bands of armed criminals, hangers-on,
Theatre of Drama. As an aspiring actor, and wannabes.
he played the sorts of wide-ranging,
As the Soviet industrial economy collapsed
ever-more-prominent roles that are typical
in the late 1980s and early 1990s, criminal
of the Russian repertoire. But Kolyada
cartels--known in Russia as “mafiyas”--
was drawn to writing, so he enrolled in
moved in to lay claim to the region’s vast
the prestigious Gorky Literary Institute
mineral wealth; to seize and dismantle
in Moscow. This move brought him to
the enormous factories that could only be
the Soviet capital at the height of the
used as scrap; to sell off light and heavy
excitement and ferment prompted by
weaponry from military bases that were
Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost’ (openness)
no longer under any form of discernible
and perestroika (restructuring) policies.
control; to traffic in desperate human
The Soviet-era Sverdlovsk he left behind beings trying to find some way to survive;
earned a reputation as one of the most to push drugs and launder their profits;
criminally violent in the entire Soviet Union. and to extort whenever possible.
Indeed, the same factors that enriched its
These gangs entered into turf battles
economic and cultural life made it a natural
following the collapse of the Soviet Union,
center for vice. The city was sufficiently
unleashing a brutal and massive gang
far from Moscow to be beyond its direct
war. Explosions, shootings, and murders
control yet close enough to remain within
became a daily occurrence from 1992
SHORT ESSAYS ON COMMUNITY, DIVERSITY, INCLUSION, AND THE PERFORMING ARTS l 24 l

until 1994, with Yekaterinburg earning a to direct and produce plays, to organize
reputation as the most criminal-plagued theater festivals (e.g., the Eurasian Drama
city in Russia. With turf divided up by late Competition Festival, which began in
1994, criminal cartels allegedly expanded 2003, as well as the Kolyada-Plays
their horizons, reputedly laying claim Festival, which began in 2006), and to
to various local, regional, and national serve as an intellectual leader in the Urals
political positions. region (as confirmed by his decade-long
editorship of the intellectual journal Ural).
Post-Soviet Russia’s criminal gangs in These activities nurtured and sustained a
Yekaterinburg and elsewhere thrived by thriving theater community in this Soviet
drawing new recruits from those who felt rust-belt leviathan.
they had lost out during the collapse of the
Soviet Union. By the late 1990s, Russia had In December 2001, Kolyada founded his
no shortage of those who had been slapped own company, the Kolyada Theatre, which
in the face, pushed into the gutter, and initially performed at Pushkin House in
abandoned during the post-Soviet collapse- a historic Yekaterinburg neighborhood.
-and no shortage of writers and artists trying Though operating with almost no state
to give form and meaning to their travails. funding, Kolyada kept his company together
Which brings us back to Kolyada. at times by asking its members to bring in
any items that they no longer needed at
Once in Moscow, Kolyada became a home, and by drawing on the considerable
cause célèbre after penning Slingshot international interest in his work to secure
(1986), a play that offered a sympathetic support for his actors and protégés.
view of a gay relationship. While shocking
Moscow, Kolyada found an enthusiastic Kolyada attracted controversy yet
reception in California where the play again. Unlike many among the
was performed at the San Diego Russian intelligentsia, he publicly and
Repertory Theater. He became an enthusiastically embraced the 2012
international sensation for the first time. candidacy of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin
After graduating from the Gorky Institute for a return term as Russian president. The
in 1989, he returned to Sverdlovsk move brought Kolyada a wave of outrage
and, since 1994, has taught at the and approbation from many former
Yekaterinburg Theatrical Institute, offering supporters, combined with charges that
one of the few playwriting and dramaturge he had sold out to those in power in order
curricula in Russia. to secure a new theater.

Once back in the Urals, Kolyada began While Kolyada thrived, many observers
to write plays (more than one hundred, of were arguing that Russian theater was
which more than half have been performed just one more victim of the post-Soviet
in Russia and abroad), to teach others to transition. But just as some were sounding
write and act (his students include some of the death knell for the Russian stage, a
Russia’s most exciting young playwrights), New Russian Drama Movement coalesced
l 25 l PERFORMING COMMUNITY 3

around talented writers and directors who playwrights living in Russia as well as
were liberated by the end of censorship abroad. The Kolyada-Plays Festival
that accompanied the collapse of concentrates more directly on his own
communism; actors who were increasingly work together with that of his students.
exposed to a rich tapestry of competing
Yekaterinburg theater seasons during
styles now unencumbered by the legacy
the 2000s have included new directors,
of the Soviet stage’s ossified psychological
new plays, new writers, and new stars,
realism; and audience members who
as the local opera company, ballet
were trying to find their own lives amid
company, academic dramatic theater,
the wreckage of post-Soviet culture being
children’s theater, and smaller chamber
overrun by the most degraded and least
theaters have attracted fresh talent. Local
creative artifacts of increasingly globalized
productions--whether they are tragedies
pop culture.
or dark comedies, multi-act or single-act
As important as Kolyada has been productions, allegories or high realism--
for the theatrical and cultural scene in share a concern with the joys and pains
Yekaterinburg, his ambitions extend far of everyday life in a turbulent society. They
beyond its boundaries. He has sought to emerge from the individual keyboards of
free Russian theater from its traditional writers who are embedded in the wider
fixation on director-producers (rezhissery) community of writers and theatrical
so that it can find a new focus on writers. institutions--writers who are engaged in
This commitment to writing becomes a common search for meaning in a city,
especially evident in the city’s Eurasian society, and country where every marker of
Drama Competition, which has become stability and identity has vanished. Writers
a showcase for Russian-language nurtured in large measure by Nikolai Kolyada
and the community he has helped create.

Nikolai Kolyada’s ensemble. Photo courtesy of the Kolyada Theatre.
SHORT ESSAYS ON COMMUNITY, DIVERSITY, INCLUSION, AND THE PERFORMING ARTS l 26 l

Larissa Koniuk and Bicycle Opera
October 4, 2017

Few places on the planet are more of the National Sawdust’s 200 seat
hip than Brooklyn’s National Sawdust, space combined with the proximity of the
which, according to its website, as “an singers’ live voices to forge an empathetic
unparalleled, artist-led, non-profit venue, connection among the audience,
is a place for exploration and discovery. performers and the nameless sweatshop
A place where emerging and established workers around whom the story swirls in
artists can share their music with serious The Bicycle Opera Company’s a cappella
music fans and casual listeners alike.” chamber opera Sweat. Just as important
for company founder and artistic director
Housed in the shell of a former
Larissa Koniuk would be the show’s
sawdust factory in the “Hipster Central”
subsequent 600 kilometer, two-week
Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, there
bicycle tour through the un-hip towns of
is little that is traditional about the place.
Southern Ontario.
Thanks to the teamwork of leading
architects with Bureau V and acoustic Contemporary Canadian opera has
engineers at Arup Acoustics, National prospered in recent years as companies
Sawdust has emerged as one of New large and small--such as Toronto’s
York’s premier venues for contemporary Tapestry Opera and the Toronto Symphony
music. The stately New Yorker magazine Orchestra’s New Creations program--have
covers its season openings together with promoted contemporary opera and choral
those of the august Metropolitan Opera a works. Toronto-based soprano Koniuk
few miles and cultural lightyears away on has built a successful singing and acting
Manhattan’s Upper West Side. career gaining particular notice for her
interpretations of new vocal compositions.
Despite all the trappings of planned
She has become a “go-to” performer for
spontaneity and crafted informality,
works ranging from The Bells of Baddleck-
National Sawdust is a most serious
-a music-drama about Alexander Graham
place for performers and inventors of
and Mabel Bell performed at the Alexander
contemporary music to launch a new
Graham Bell National Historic Site in
work. Critics notice when a small, Toronto-
Baddeck, Nova Scotia--to engagements in
based contemporary opera company
Toronto, Montreal and Los Angeles.
that gets to its performances by bicycle
premiers a new work at the Sawdust. The company’s mission has been to
bring the vibrant music being written
The Village Voice did in October 2016, for
in Canada to audiences for whom it is
example, when it declared the immediacy
l 27 l PERFORMING COMMUNITY 3

unknown. An enthusiastic environmentalist Had the move from the countryside
and cycler, Koniuk joined with singer/ improved their lives?
ethnomusicologist Nadia Channa in
2012 to launch summertime operatic Prompted by the ethical dilemmas poised
bicycle expeditions across Ontario. As by their own shopping expeditions in
the Bicycle Opera Company grew, the search of discount clothing, Chatterton
circuits extended to Nova Scotia; as the and Palmer recreate the sonic world of
newly commissioned works became more the factory floor with an a cappella chorus
ambitious, the company began extended and no instrumentation. They set out the
stays in Toronto and, in 2016, in Brooklyn. lives of the workers toiling under dingy
conditions as they battle with one another
The company of a dozen or so performers and the larger world over forming a union.
and support staff typically arrive in town The factory owner and overseer want to
before sunset, perform the next day, and lock the factory doors in response until all
move on. Some productions require that the orders for dresses have been fulfilled.
costumes, props and larger instruments
such as cellos are transported in carriages To reflect the global reach of the
attached to cycles. Their cycle caravan sweatshop economy, Chatterton wrote the
catches the attention of audiences and words sung by the four leading characters
resident media alike. Minor on-the-road in English, Cantonese, Tamil and
mishaps (such as busted tubes and Hungarian. In doing so, the creative team
broken spokes) frequently lead to chance underscored the work’s immediate social
encounters with locals along the road who commentary as they used the languages
invariably become fans. spoken in contemporary international
media reports of worker abuse.
This exoticism captures attention of many
who have never given much thought to Sweat is but one of Bicycle Opera’s works
contemporary music. The company’s high which seeks to break down barriers
quality performances and promotion of between audiences and performers by
important innovative new work lures in highlighting the power of storytelling
serious aficionados, as their performances through the expressiveness of the human
of the new opera Sweat demonstrated. voice in intimate spaces. Cycling into town
is another part of the package. The bike
Librettist Anna Chatterton and composer grease breaks down any lingering notions
Juliet Palmer set their opera in a generic that opera must be an elitist enterprise.
contemporary sweatshop of indeterminate
location to lure the audience into Toronto in recent years has emerged
considering the workers themselves. Why as a global hotspot for contemporary
were they doing such underpaid and music with many companies--such as
difficult labor? What were their dreams? Esprit Orchestra, New Music Concerts,
Continuum, Contact and Music Gallery-
-focusing on a 21st century repertoire. audience that appreciates them. Since its
The city is home to more than a half- founding in 1979, for example, Tapestry
dozen opera companies offering a variety Opera has premiered 160 opera shorts,
of opera ranging from the large-scale twenty chamber operas or experimental
classical productions of the Canadian operatic works and seventeen full length
Opera Company to small studio Canadian works.
companies. Two opera companies-
-Tapestry and Bicycle--focus on Conventional wisdom suggests that
contemporary work. Brooklyn is about as hip as hip can get
at the moment. Yet, even Brooklyn did
This ecosystem supports composers, not nurture serious opera brought to new
musicians, singers, librettists and audiences on the wheels of cycles.
backstage workers alike, nurturing
a steady flow of new works and the

Bicycle Opera. Photo: Gary Lloyd-Rees (Flickr) https://flic.kr/p/opb6Fs
l 29 l PERFORMING COMMUNITY 3

Brent Lindsay and Amy Pinto and Community-
Specific Theater
April 10, 2017

A garage door dominates the cinderblock consisting of non-Hispanic whites; more
industrial storefront tucked onto Santa than a quarter being Hispanic or Latino
Rosa, California’s Sebastopol Avenue next of any race, with the balance drawn from
door to the Criminal Baking Company and African Americans, Native Americans and
uncomfortably close to a major highway a dozen or more immigrant communities.
cloverleaf. Only a splash of purple paint “Scrappy” rings true for the city and
and a seemingly handmade red sign its internationally renowned theater
suggest what lurks inside--an exciting company as much as the local Chamber
scrappy theater company--The Imaginists, of Commerce’s claim that their city is
dedicated to art, activism and community, “California’s Cornucopia.”
bringing theater to the disenfranchised
Lindsay and Pinto launched the company
and the disenfranchised to contemporary
with the goal of creating unintimidating
American theater. The word “scrappy” has
theater, completely re-thinking theater
been applied so often to the company by
who participates, where it happens and
reviewers that the label amplifies how far
what it is. They create works that reflect
contemporary theater has moved from
the variety of voices all around them and
daily life. For founders Brent Lindsay and
to do so in a way that break down existing
Amy Pinto and their ensemble-driven
hierarchies within the theater and within
company, using theater to reach out
the community. Ensemble, audiences
to day laborers, undocumented youth,
and community blend together as The
immigrant rights groups, and English-
Imaginists regularly collaborate with local
Spanish bilingual audiences is not so
partners traditionally excluded from the
much “scrappy” as “normal.”  
stage. In doing so, they make no sacrifice
Santa Rosa, the county seat for the famed in theatrical excellence.
Sonoma Valley wine district, is itself at
Not only do their superbly innovative
the “scrappy” intersection of upscale and
productions prompt Bay Area residents
hardscrabble. Long an agricultural center,
from San Francisco and Berkeley to travel
Sonoma remained just far enough away
an hour or more out of their comfort
to be outside of the stresses and strains
zones; they also take their shows on the
of big city life in San Francisco, an hour or
road. Their productions regularly tour
so away. Presently home to approximately
nationally and internationally, earning
175,000 residents, Santa Rosa has
kudos as far away as Moscow. As
become ever more diverse in recent
important, their productions travel to local
years with over half of the population
SHORT ESSAYS ON COMMUNITY, DIVERSITY, INCLUSION, AND THE PERFORMING ARTS l 30 l

middle and high schools in low-income As the company notes in its website:
districts. Such works focus on real-life
Often the lives of the collected
challenges for their audiences, such as
ensemble bleed into the fabric
the tale of a young undocumented person
of the made-up world of the
navigating the system to become a “real”
performances we are making. We
boy. Beyond touring, Lindsay, Pinto and
play with the layers of who we are
their associates participate in international
and who we are pretending to be.
exchanges with such leading companies
We make theater of place and we
as Hungarian Árpád Schilling’s cutting
include people from that place in
edge Kretakor. Such connections reach
our productions. Our process has
out within the United States and California
grown out of many years of making
as well, including an exchange with the
theater with varied groups, from our
Los Angeles-based Teatro Jornalero sin
actor-driven beginnings to young
Fronteras.
people, community members,
The Imaginists were preceded by the emerging artists, artists across
Knights of Indulgence Theatre United discipline, and hybrids of all of
States (KITUS), founded in 1993 by Pinto, these—always impelled to include
Lindsay, and five other artist colleagues those who had never thought
with the goal of moving theater beyond themselves performers.
established bounds, conceived as a space
In trying to describe how the company
in which individual voices would contribute
works, a member told an interviewer for
to a shared understanding of community.
The Oak Leaf News, “If other theaters
By 2001, KITUS had grown into The
are like farmers using the rich soil left by
Imaginists under the leadership of Pinto
volcanic lava, this theater is a volcano.”
and Lindsay.
Under the hand of director Lindsay, a
In keeping with their non-traditional
recent adaptation of Euripides’ The Trojan
inclusionary mission, Pinto and Lindsay
Women reimagined the surviving women
encourage members to draw on their
of war-torn Troy as a tired band of veteran
own stories and imaginations to write and
circus performers. Moving from shabby
produce performances that are unique.
dressing room to worn-out circus ring, the
This goal has become embedded into
women reenacted their tragic life stories
the very production of plays, which begin
and continuing battles to become the
by gathering the ensemble for each
twenty-first century WarCircus. As Helen
new work to contribute ideas, stories,
emerges from a giant steaming egg,
images, writing, movement choreography
Euripides becomes as contemporary as
and/or research as part of their unique
the iPhones carried by audience members.
collaborative process.
l 31 l PERFORMING COMMUNITY 3

In SitCalm!, the Company deconstructs There, they set up an ever-evolving The
the American television sitcom with Art is Medicine Show/El show el arte es
Pinto and Lindsay playing mom and medicina.
dad. Described by KQED’s Senior Arts
Moving easily between English and
Editor Chloe Veltman as “a totally warped
Spanish, the performers might draw from
take on sitcom tropes,” the play draws
a classical text--such as Federico Garcia
on stereotypical teenagers from all the
Lorca’s poetic drama The Butterfly’s Evil
ethnicities, backgrounds and personalities
Spell/El Maleficio de la Maripoisa--or from
found in Santa Rosa to deliver a sprawling
some new inspiration drawn from the
dystopia about American family life and
actors’ imaginations, such as a recent
television culture.
take on Prometheus Bound: Calderon’s
Every summer, Company members Life is a Dream. They invite audience
take their show on the road with a “free, members on stage, or ask them to create
bilingual, bicycle-powered” tour on Santa an end to the story. Some performances
Rosa’s public parks, day laborer centers include community potluck meals, while
and community centers. Beginning in others are a brief interruption in a summer
2001, they put their props, costumes evening’s merriment.
and sets on their bikes and peddle off
at sunset to nearby public settings. While “scrappy” is often employed
by critics to describe the production,

The Imaginists.
Photo courtesy of the Imaginists.
SHORT ESSAYS ON COMMUNITY, DIVERSITY, INCLUSION, AND THE PERFORMING ARTS l 32 l

audience members writing on Facebook art, activism and community and taking
may have gotten closer to the truth by it to the disenfranchised. By doing so
describing the company as: “Inventive;” Lindsay and Pinto are creating new
“Creative, Angry, Itchy, Under-the-skin audiences for contemporary theater and
irritating;” and, as “Brave. Fearless, transforming contemporary theater in the
Inclusive. Honest. Uplifting.” These process.
characteristics led KQED Theater Critic
Once a visit to a park or a community
John Wilkins to note that “Santa Rosa’s
center is over, the actors load up the
The Imaginists is the type of theater
assorted tools of their trade, climb back
company you wish every city had, deeply
on their bicycles and peddle away. As they
committed to community where they
do so, they leave behind new connections
reside, yet full of a cosmopolitan dash and
between community and theater that are
daring.”
transforming both everyday life and art.
Such comments underscore the
company’s success at bringing together
l 33 l PERFORMING COMMUNITY 3

Hugo and Rebecca Medrano and Hispanic Theater
October 25, 2017

In some ways Argentine actor and director culture in the city, the Washington
Hugo Medrano began a career in theater metropolitan region was about to become
at a most unpropitious time. He graduated an immigrant gateway. At first, large-scale
from university with a degree in theater immigration came from countries torn
studies just as his homeland was about by civil strife, followed soon thereafter
to descend into a dark political era now by economic migration. If less than five
known as the “Dirty War.” He set off for percent of Washington’s population was
Spain to hone his craft, spending five foreign born when Medrano arrived in
years working in theater there at the end the city in the early 1970s, almost fifteen
of the Franco dictatorship. As with many percent would be in the early years of the
South American intellectuals of the period, twenty-first century.
he found refuge in the United States,
Large immigrant communities spread
settling into Washington, D.C. He initially
across the Washington metropolitan
worked in the city’s only Spanish-language
region. During the 1990s alone, a quarter-
theater at the time, a bilingual children’s
million immigrants from 193 countries
theater company Teatro Doble.
and territories settled in the Washington
Washington has rarely been considered metropolitan area as the region became
a major outpost of Spanish-language the fifth most common destination for legal
culture; though perhaps it should immigrants in the country, behind New
be. The city’s long-established Latin York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami.
diplomatic community draws heavily on Unlike the patterns in more customary
well-educated intellectuals steeped in receiving cities, no single immigrant group
traditional Spanish language letters. As dominated; though a third travelled from
the political, ideological and philosophical Latin America and the Caribbean, and
conflicts unleashed by the geopolitics of Salvadorans constituted the region’s
the Cold War ebbed and flowed, cultural largest single immigrant group.
creators--including several future giants
This was a moment when English
from across South America--came
translations of Latin American literature
and left Washington, depending on the
were moving to the top of best sellers
ascendency of left or right political regimes
lists. Growing interest in Latin American
back home.
magical realism lured more than a few
Less visible, though no less significant for non-Spanish-reading intellectuals further
the development of Spanish-language
SHORT ESSAYS ON COMMUNITY, DIVERSITY, INCLUSION, AND THE PERFORMING ARTS l 34 l

and further into Spanish literary traditions. ungentrified multicultural bohemian Adams
This was especially true in Washington, a Morgan neighborhood.
city that was home to a well-educated and
In 1976, operating out of a typical
worldly professional middle class.
Victorian-era brick D.C. townhouse,
By the 1970s, demand in Washington Medrano and Read--who married
was exploding for both high and low one another--joined with their friends
brow Spanish language based culture. to establish the Grupo de Artistas
Medrano arrived just at this seminal LatinoAmericanos (GALA). The consortium
moment. Making his way around the embraced visual artists, writers, dancers,
city’s Spanish-speaking communities singers, musicians and actors who wanted
Medrano encountered Rebecca Read, to nurture Latino culture in Washington.
a former dancer who was working at GALA’s productions presented Latin
the Organization of American States. American works performed in Spanish
Medrano and Read settled into the as-yet- as well as in English. From the very

GALA Hispanic Theatre.
Photo courtesy of Shalev ‘Stan’ Weinstein.
l 35 l PERFORMING COMMUNITY 3

beginning, the Medranos and their As the century came to an end, the
colleagues sought to integrate their Latin D.C. government requested proposals
American artistic traditions and sensibilities for redevelopment of the historic Tivoli
into the larger Washington cultural Theater in the increasingly multicultural
community. Columbia Heights community to support
the area’s revitalization. Designed by
Early GALA productions often showcased noteworthy theater architect Thomas
the political themes of the era. Many W. Lamb, the Tivoli was a city landmark
immigrants in Washington at the time had when it opened in 1924. A few years
fled their homelands for political reasons, later ownership passed to Warner as
including intellectuals who were escaping part of a consolidation of the company’s
dictatorships. Joined by large numbers of Washington operations.
Central American migrants escaping civil
war, politics naturally were at the top of The Tivoli survived as a cinema until the
everyone’s mind. GALA quickly developed April 1968 civil disturbances following the
an additional educational mission, assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
presenting children’s plays and working when the neighborhood suffered severe
with community leaders to transfer Latino damage and was slow to recover. The
cultures to the next generation. Such building was boarded up in 1976 and sat
outreach and children’s theater efforts have vacant for the next quarter century.
remained central to GALA’s operations
The Medranos had long been interested
ever since.
in the building and joined in a proposal
By the turn of the twenty-first century submitted by the Horning Brothers
GALA had become a widely-respected developers to convert the building into
and much-praised presence on the a mix of offices and retail with a theater.
D.C. cultural scene. During its first three City officials were taken with the idea of
decades, the company produced nearly returning the Tivoli to its original theatrical
150 plays in Spanish and English while purpose as well as recognizing GALA’s
supporting poetry, music and dance contributions to the neighborhood over the
programming. The company established a previous decades. In 2005 the Medranos
network of actors who came from across moved their company into its now
the Americas to perform in Washington, permanent home.
and became a leading institutional
Over the course of the two decades of
touchstone for the city’s growing Hispanic
the company’s residence at the Tivoli,
community. Nonetheless, they still did not
GALA has consolidated its presence
have a permanent home.
in an ever-growing Washington theater
SHORT ESSAYS ON COMMUNITY, DIVERSITY, INCLUSION, AND THE PERFORMING ARTS l 36 l

scene. Recognition has followed with The at times difficult-to-please Washington
the company winning several Helen Post critic Peter Marks could hardly
Hayes awards and the Medranos being contain his enthusiasm. “So there is a
named 2010 Washingtonians of the sense of linguistic homecoming for this
Year by Washingtonian Magazine. The kaleidoscopic story of contemporary life
company’s outreach programs have among the Americans of Puerto Rican,
become a mainstay of child-oriented Dominican, Cuban, and Mexican descent
cultural programming in the city; its highly in Manhattan’s Washington Heights to
professional and innovative productions be sung,” he wrote in April 2017, “in
regularly attract wide and diverse the language of its rollicking, struggling
audiences, all just two miles uphill from the characters. And how grand for GALA
White House. Hispanic Theatre, the tenacious company
tacking Spanish and Latin American plays
In 2017, the GALA premiered the first in Columbia Heights, to be the one to
Spanish-language production of Lin- produce it.”
Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights” to rave
reviews. The show was a triumph for the Hugo and Rebecca Medrano are leaving
values expressed by the founders of the an indelible mark on Washington, D.C.
Grupo de Artistas LatinoAmericanos four and on American theater by embedding
decades previously; all the more so as Latin American drama in the heart of
it appeared in one of the nation’s most the Washington theater community.
vibrant multicultural urban neighborhoods, GALA Theater demonstrates the power
Columbia Heights, in a treasure of a of multiculturalism with each new
theater originally designed by one of this performance.
country’s most distinguished theater
architects.
l 37 l PERFORMING COMMUNITY 3

David Alan Miller and Contemporary
Classical Music
September 11, 2017

High water, thunderstorms, flash Section, “As the Albany musicians tuned
floods and tornadoes were forecast in up Amsterdam’s mayor, Michael Villa,
upstate New York throughout the week surveyed the audience members who had
leading up to July 4, 2017; perhaps opened lawn chairs on every available
perfect weather for the imagination of a patch of grass and were lined up at
Romantic Era composer, but hardly ideal trucks offering ice cream, fried Twinkies,
for contemporary musicians planning barbecue and wraps.”
on playing on a barge. The always
entrepreneurial David Alan Miller, music The scene would be repeated that week
director of the Albany Symphony, plans at Albany, Schenectady, Little Falls,
for celebrating the bicentennial of the Erie Baldwinsville, Brockport and Lockport; all
Canal seemed as if they might become towns that boomed with the canal in the
unraveled even before they could begin. early nineteenth century and languished
approaching despair at the end of
The barge, musicians and enthusiastic the twentieth as New York’s industrial
audience all arrived at a riverside park in economy entered an agonizing death
Amsterdam, New York as the distressed spiral. Each of these once proud small
skies cleared. Miller once again had industrial cities seemed a more than
achieved something remarkable. Over the appropriate setting for Miller’s quarter-
preceding months, he had commissioned century of programming as the Albany
new works from young composers who Symphony’s music director in which he
had been sent into the seven canal towns has shaped innovative programs blending
that were to host celebratory concerts the old and the new, the traditional and the
stretching 360 miles or so from Albany to modern. Miller’s musical accomplishment
Lockport. The Grammy award-winning stands as a successful example of what
Miller reconfirmed his reputation as a each of these communities is trying to
leading champion for new American achieve by retooling their economies.
classical music.
The Erie Canal secured New York’s
Of even greater importance, Miller was position as the continent’s leading harbor
bringing new sounds and new composers for at least half a century, until the railroads
to new audiences once again. New York came to dominate continental shipping
Times critic Michael Cooper noted in (which New York also would dominate).
the lead article of the July 8, 2017 Arts On November 4, 1825-- a short eight
SHORT ESSAYS ON COMMUNITY, DIVERSITY, INCLUSION, AND THE PERFORMING ARTS l 38 l

Albany Symphony Orchestra at the Hudson River’s Amphitheatre in Albany, New York.
Photo: Judy Baxter (Flickr) https://flic.kr/p/gBptd

years after the first shovel had been put Albany is one of the continent’s oldest
to earth--New York governor DeWitt European settlements north of Mexico.
Clinton poured two casks of Lake Erie Founded by Dutch settlers as Fort Orange
water into New York Harbor from the first in 1614, the town continued to grow
flat barge to make the trip from Buffalo throughout the Dutch and British colonial
east through the canal and south on the eras. The city became New York State
Hudson, touching off a wild celebration. capital in 1797, a status it has retained
Within a year, shipping costs plummeted since. Albany hit its economic stride in
from $100 a ton to under $9. No other city the nineteenth century when it was one of
could compete with New York; not even the first cities in the world to install public
New Orleans, where the entire Midwestern water mains, sewer lines, natural gas lines
river system emptied into the sea. As the and electricity.
canal’s eastern terminus where barges
Like many Northeastern industrial cities,
moved into the Hudson River, Albany was
Albany began to fall on hard times during
the lynchpin for the entire system.
the second half of the twentieth century
l 39 l PERFORMING COMMUNITY 3

when its traditional urban cityscape was Berkeley before heading East. Earning
mangled by megalomaniacal New York a Master’s from The Julliard School,
Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Tearing out Miller began his conducting career with
the city’s historic heart for ultra-modern the New York Youth Symphony before
megastructures tied to highways luring heading back West to hold various
residents into sprawling suburbs, Albany conducting positions with the Los
lost population from an historic high of Angeles Philharmonic. Miller’s eclectic
134,995 in 1950 to a low of 97,856 in musical tastes stretching from Classical
2000. The city has fared better in the to Funk and numerous other genres of
twenty-first century becoming home to contemporary music has made him a
a technology boom and gentrification. champion of American modern classical
Situated at the center of the Capital music.
District, Albany joins with several nearby
communities to form a metropolitan The Albany Symphony has provided an
region of some one million residents. The ideal platform to seek out and promote
city nonetheless continues to suffer from young composers and new music. Over
above average poverty and violence for a his tenure at Albany he has helped the
community of its size. company support numerous young
composers who have gained national and
As this topsy-turvy history implies, Albany international reputations. Miller also has
is home to a combination of impressive served as guest conductor with nearly
legacy institutions and innovative start- all of the country’s major orchestras. In
ups. The Albany Symphony Orchestra, 1994, Miller invited eighteen members
established as the People’s Orchestra of of the Albany Symphony to form the
Albany in 1930, stands among the city’s contemporary rock-classical music
most prominent cultural establishments. ensemble Dogs of Desire, which has
Much more than a modest regional commissioned over 100 new works
orchestra, the Albany Symphony and has toured widely promoting
embraces a singular mission of performing contemporary classical music.
new works by modern composers
thereby expanding its own audience while Miller has returned frequently to Los
advancing American classical music. David Angeles, and has performed widely
Alan Miller’s tenure as Music Director-- in Europe, Australia and the Far East
which began in 1992--has secured the offering plentiful opportunity to promote
ensemble’s reputation as one of the a new American classical sound. These
country’s major supporters of young accomplishments have earned Miller a
composers and artists. bookcase full of awards, including a 2014
Grammy Award for his Naxos recording
Miller grew up in Los Angeles and with the Albany Symphony of John
graduated from the University of California, Corigliano’s “Conjurer.” His 2017 Erie
SHORT ESSAYS ON COMMUNITY, DIVERSITY, INCLUSION, AND THE PERFORMING ARTS l 40 l

Canal tour is but a small component of an implementing a variety of ticket packages
enormously ambitious strategy to energize and playing in an expanding array of
American music. venues, the orchestra has managed to
secure its subscription base in a virtuous
For Miller, his engagement with living circle which reinforces its recording and
composers and their music is an touring opportunities while encouraging
opportunity to continue learning. Once new sponsorships and donors. This
known as a rising young talent himself, business success rests on the exciting
he has used his platform in Albany to creative verve that Miller has sustained for
constantly refresh his own creative spark; over a quarter-century. Miller has been able
often challenging his musicians and his to expand the horizons of classical music
audiences in the process. His programs by bringing new resources to the table:
purposefully combine the familiar with the creative; financial; and, social. This new
unfamiliar to provoke new ways of listening capital in all of its forms has energized the
and playing. This style has earned him Albany Symphony and American classical
such monikers as “Space Captain Dave” music.
and “Cowboy Dave” even as his long
tenure has made him a well-respected In June 2017, Geraldine Freedman, the
community icon. music critic for the Schenectady Daily
Gazette, reviewed the Albany Symphony
Miller’s constant reinvention of orchestral Orchestra’s concert at the American
music and style is a creative response to Music Festival in neighboring Troy.
many forces which have swept over the The festival extended over two days,
American classical music community in attracting large audiences to hear the
recent decades. By keeping the music world premiere of five works by newly
fresh, he has continued to attract new, arising composers. The music ranged from
often younger, audiences. He reminds his miniature musical comedy and clarinet
musicians, composers, audiences and concerto to a percussion quartet featuring
critics that orchestras and the music they tuned water glasses and compressed air
play are organic, constantly changing in containers besides snare drums, cymbals
response to new environments. and xylophones. Through every piece,
The Albany Symphony--which has Freedman reported, “the ASO performed
become a thriving, vital community brilliantly with a real sensibility for what
institution under Miller’s leadership-- these composers, most of them under 35,
nonetheless confronts all of the challenges were trying to say. It was a comfortable
faced by regional classical ensembles reminder that the future of classical music
across the country. Despite Miller’s efforts, is in capable, inventive hands.” She might
classical music attracts a shrinking have added, that those are the hands of
audience base even as fixed costs rise. By visionary conductor David Alan Miller.
l 41 l PERFORMING COMMUNITY 3

Mansai Nomura and Kyōgen Theater
June 26, 2017

No role can possibly be larger than Mansaku’s father Manzo, in turn, was also
Godzilla, even if the actor portrays the declared to be a Living National Treasure
world’s most famous lizard through motion as he came to personify the traditions of
capture. Kyōgen idol Mansai Nomura must the distinctive Izumi School of kyōgen (in
have experienced special pride in playing contrast to those of the Sagi and Ōkura
the rampaging giant in the 2016 film traditions).
Godzilla: Resurgence, the 29th installment
of perhaps the world’s longest cinematic Despite his prestigious dramaturgical
series. Then again, Nomura had already pedigree, Mansai Nomura did not decide
done it all since first appearing on stage to become an actor until he was in his
in Quiver of the Monkey at the age of late teens. His talents simply could not
three. For nearly a half-century, Nomura be contained by any single tradition.
has garnered every conceivable Japanese In addition to his impeccable kyōgen
award for stage and screen following his credentials, he studied at the Royal
masterful appearance at the age of 17 in a Shakespeare Company in London, has
supporting role for Akira Kurosawa’s epic lectured in aesthetics at the prestigious
Ran (1985). Furthermore, he has collected Tokyo University, and has won the hearts
kudos worldwide for his adaptations of of tens of thousands of television and film
Shakespeare to Japanese stage traditions. fans. Yet, it is to kyōgen that he always
His kyōgen production of Macbeth has returns.
enjoyed rave reviews in nearly every Often compared to Italian Commedia
major theater city on the planet; and his dell’arte, kyōgen is among one of the
transformation of Richard III into A Country oldest of all theatrical traditions. Originating
Thief won munificent praise at home. as a comedic counterpart to Noh drama
Mansai Nomura is but the latest at the dawn of the 14th century, kyōgen
noteworthy in a family line of prominent began as an improvisational art drawing
actors reaching back more than two humor from the everyday. Centuries
centuries. His father Mansaku--a Living later, kyōgen still is known for its straight-
National Treasure of Japan--has been forward storytelling and expressive, clear
praised for proselytizing Japanese speech. These characteristics made its
theatrical traditions around the world ever repertoire of around two-hundred or so
since his rousing initial appearance at the plays readily adaptable to television and
Paris International Theater Festival in 1957. film so that kyōgen remains hugely popular
in contemporary Japan.
SHORT ESSAYS ON COMMUNITY, DIVERSITY, INCLUSION, AND THE PERFORMING ARTS l 42 l

Despite its age, kyōgen remains very the existing repertoire with new works.
much a living art form. Older performers Nomura similarly has trained and mentored
pass the drama’s spirit as well as its young performers; and, he has expanded
technique to younger performers while audiences using his own star power to
its improvisational origins encourage multiply the community of kyōgen fans.
contemporary performers to hold up
Nomura’s celebrated father and
their classical mirror to modern life. By
grandfather are unlikely to have played
doing so, they sustain tradition through
Godzilla (and probably never would have
distinct costumes, delivery and especially
been invited to do so). Mansai, however,
language which ties a performance’s
has cultivated an enthusiastic fan base in
slapstick and satire back to century-
contemporary theater, as well as in film
old traditions. The result is a fusion that
and on television. His popularity reaches
constantly reinvigorates the classical with
across generations as he has used
the modern.
appearances on the popular children’s
Nomura’s time in London expanded his television show Let’s Play in Japanese to
vision for this dramatic practice of kyōgen. introduce ever younger viewers to kyōgen.
More specifically, he has acknowledged, He has staged the centuries-old kyōgen
he found that British actors trained in play Sanbaso to the backdrop of Maurice
Shakespearean conventions learned Ravel’s Boléro, emphasizing similarities in
how to use their body and physicality the underlying structures of both works.
to express emotions relating to the At the same time, he has argued that
contemporary world, thereby opening greater accessibility should not be allowed
the door to radical reinterpretations of to deplete aesthetic standards. Rather, he
old works. Understanding kyōgen as the seeks to reinvigorate Japanese culture by
most emotionally accessible of all historic bringing traditions into the present.
Japanese art forms, Nomura imagined a
pathway to align a centuries-old art form
with modern life. Similarly, he fixed on
the centrality of gender relations to the
kyōgen storytelling as an entry point into
emphasizing universality across time and
space.

Nomura was not alone in his desire
to connect kyōgen to contemporary
theater. Kazuhiro Morisaka, for example,
has encouraged young performers to
embrace a variety of performance styles
while simultaneously striving to expand
Sanbaso, an ancient divine dance,
performed by Mansai Nomura. Photo: Ars Electronica
l 43 l PERFORMING COMMUNITY 3

Most recently these various efforts staff and producers create a play based
have converged at the Setagaya Public on the stories told by local residents.
Theatre where Nomura has been artistic
director since 2002. The theater opened Nomura has insured that, at some point
its doors in 1997 in a non-descript during their school career, each of the
commercial complex in one of Tokyo’s ward’s 6,000 schoolchildren attends one
outer boroughs. Setagaya is one among of the theater’s kyōgen performances.
two-dozen administrative wards that Somewhere around a third of ward
make up the city and would not seem very residents have attended a performance of
“suburban” to most Americans. Home to some kind at the theater, while the theater
around 900,000 residents, it is the largest estimates that between 80 and 90 percent
among Tokyo’s wards in population and of its audience arrives from outside the
second largest in the amount of territory it ward, including from abroad.
occupies. Setagaya’s population density is Mansai Nomura is custodian of a
about twice that of New York City. centuries-old theatrical tradition that has
Founded at the initiative of the ward been associated with his own family for
administration, Setagaya Public Theatre’s too many generations to recall. He has
mission has been to keep a living culture dedicated his career to reinvigorating that
central to local life. The theatre has tradition, linking it to the contemporary
provided a welcomed home to large world without weakening its own
numbers of visual artists and writers; distinctiveness. To do so, he has enlisted
the ward in turn created an autonomous thousands of fans in a community of
literary museum to celebrate its own shared intention, including Japan’s most
cultural successes. The theater’s artistic well-known radioactive lizard behemoth.
team promotes jazz, modern dance and Indeed, he has made the path from
contemporary theater to local audiences. medieval Zen monk to Godzilla, from
Outreach programs extend to the disabled television idol to Macbeth, appear
and infirmed, to children and the elderly, remarkably effortless.
and the merely interested. Each year, the
SHORT ESSAYS ON COMMUNITY, DIVERSITY, INCLUSION, AND THE PERFORMING ARTS l 44 l

Mark and Susan Marie Rhea and Irish Theater
November 1, 2017

Nearly two decades have passed since American classics as well as lively musical
two young actors appeared opposite productions.
one another in a small foundling theater
Mark and Susan Marie similarly were
company’s second production of
ambitious in their artistic goals. They have
Tennessee Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin
shaped their company around a belief
Roof as Brick and Maggie. Texan Mark
that theater succeeds only in so far as it
Rhea had just combined his love for Irish
presents an honest, pure exploration of
and American theater within a newly
the human condition. Moreover, they have
formed Keegan Theatre in Washington,
been committed to allowing actors to draw
D.C., and New York-trained Susan Marie
on their own experiences to explore their
(now) Rhea won the play’s lead. Both had
characters and the play’s text. They have
worked together in an earlier production of
sought out directors equally committed to
The Taming of the Shrew yet the emotional
open, participatory artistic leadership.
demands of Williams’s sparring characters
deepened their connection with one Throughout the company’s history Keegan
another and with the fledgling company. has sought to create opportunities for
Much to the delight of Washington theater young talent to enjoy theatrical excellence
audiences, the Rheas and their Keegan in their work. Their intern program has
Theatre have thrived ever since. encouraged dozens of young theater
professionals to pursue their passions
Mark founded Keegan to share his
while their work with young artists similarly
passion for the Irish theater that had
has nurtured budding talent.
developed as he explored his own
heritage. His unique vision was to bridge Beyond what happens on stage, the
two theatrical traditions by forming a Rheas are on a mission to bring classic
company that would take American and modern plays and musicals to the
classics to Ireland and perform Irish community at affordable, neighborhood
masterpieces in the United States. The prices. They have consistently promoted
company garnered enthusiastic audiences an artistic vision which links sophisticated
and enjoyed immediate critical success drama to the experiences of real people
on its first tour to Galway in 1999 and has and have done so by bringing real people
returned to Ireland on tour almost every into their productions.
year since. The company similarly has
won praise and a passionate following in The results of their efforts have been
Washington presenting a blend of Irish and stunning. Their Irish productions of
l 45 l PERFORMING COMMUNITY 3

American classics continue to reap at the historic Church Street Theatre in
enthusiastic kudos from audiences and Dupont Circle.
critics alike; their Washington shows earn
critical acclaim as evident in enthusiastic The Church Street Theatre was a
reviews, fervent audiences, dedicated diminutive century-plus old gymnasium
supporters and armfuls of the Washington that had once been attached to a long
Helen Hayes theatrical awards. dispatched private school. Independent
companies had found its intimate
Throughout the company’s first decade, dimensions and low overhead congenial
they performed wherever that could with various productions passing through
find a stage. The wandered around the over the years. Synetic and its earlier
Washington area performing in Arlington incarnation, the Stanislavsky Theatre
and elsewhere in Northern Virginia, in Company, settled in at the end of the
churches and schools. Despite this twentieth century and, in 2009, Keegan
drifter existence, they retained a growing moved in to take its place.
audience which managed to find their
productions no matter how inconvenient Charming deterioration threatened to
the venue may have been. In 2009 they decline into degrading decay by the time
took advantage of Synetic Theatre’s move Keegan arrived. The Rheas and their
to Arlington to find a permanent home supporters secured a generous gift from

Mark and Susan Marie Rhea.
Photo courtesy of Keegan Theatre.
SHORT ESSAYS ON COMMUNITY, DIVERSITY, INCLUSION, AND THE PERFORMING ARTS l 46 l

an anonymous donor who purchased charm washes over audiences as they
the building and underwrote a $2 million step out of the theater after a performance
renovation. When it opened in 2015 with a onto historic sidewalks surrounded
fitting production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, by three-story Victorian townhouses
the company enjoyed a theatrical gem. The exuding a quiet domesticity that remains
addition of a glass enclosed entranceway, compatible with the company’s artistic
a more spacious lobby, functioning values.
restrooms and improved stage and
The Rheas have dedicated their
backstage facilities left the theater’s intimate
professional lives to promoting bold,
performance space largely untouched.
honest classical theater that brings life’s
Rechristened The Andrew Keegan Theatre,
serious conundrums to life on stage.
there are few stages in Washington better
Blending lively musicals and children-
suited for transporting audiences into the
oriented productions with works by some
world playing out on stage.
of Ireland’s and America’s most thoughtful
The connection between theater and dramatists, they have forged a deep bond
community could not be stronger. Nestled between two communities, and between
on a bucolic one block-long stretch of the theater and community.
Church Street between Seventeenth
Long time African American
and Eighteenth Streets just off of Dupont
Washingtonians speak of the souls of
Circle, the theater and its neighbors have
their city’s earlier residents who manifest
largely avoided the intrusion of the area’s
themselves to all who embrace their
hyper-gentrification.
ideals. Many of this country’s leading
Trendy is to be found nearby, and writers have lived within a five minute
development is transforming into walk of the Church Street Theater during
overbuilding in the surrounding area. Indeed, some of their most productive years.
a park nestled in the ruins of the burned Langston Hughes, for example, as well as
out church that gave the street its name Duke Ellington, Sinclair Lewis, John Dos
is being replaced by an overscaled condo Passos, and Frances Parkinson Keyes.
development just a few hundred feet away. They all undoubtedly walked past the old
A row of popular taverns and restaurants gymnasium many times over; probably
can be found a couple of hundred feet in the not paying it much mind. The Rheas--with
opposite direction on Seventeenth Street. their dedication to forceful, honest and
sophisticated artistic expression--honor
Keegan is very much embedded in one such spirits by insuring that they continue
of the city’s most dynamic and energetic to enrich the city even as redevelopment
corners. Nonetheless, a sense of serene runs at fast pace.
l 47 l PERFORMING COMMUNITY 3

Ari Roth and Transformational Theater
July 12, 2017

Playwright, producer, director, educator story of genocide with complexity, depth
and provocateur, Ari Roth has added fresh and texture while weaving together
verve to an already lively Washington, several compelling layered plots into a
D.C. theater scene by heading outside vividly horrifying appraisal of violence.
its well-worn flightpaths. In launching his “Unexplored Interior” proved to be an
latest project--Mosaic Theater Company ambitious yet risky launch for a new
of DC--Roth has set the goal of producing company trying to attract new audiences.
theater that is simultaneously entertaining As DCTheatreScene website reviewer
and engaged in issues of social justice. Jessica Pearson recorded at the time, the
As important, Roth has made expansion Mosaic production was “a beautiful and
of the Mosaic content and audience a moving piece of theatre and, most of all,
primary artistic goal. His emphasis on it is important because it confronts issues
post-performance programming--including that American theatre audiences would
panel discussions, Peace Cafes, race and rather ignore and ‘Unexplored Interior’
identity workshops and open microphone cannot be ignored.”
artistic response forums--regularly
incorporates the diversity of his audiences Mosaic’s second season began with
into what transpires on stage. A show at a poignant, moving and humorous
Roth’s theater pulls back a corner of the production of Terry Teachout’s one actor
curtain on what the U.S. Census Bureau play “Satchmo at the Waldorf” featuring
already tells us about our country: more a bravura performance by veteran
than ever, we are and will always be a Washington actor Craig Wallace. Set in
colorful medley. the jazz master Louis Armstrong’s Waldorf
Astoria dressing room at the end of his
The company’s fall 2015 inaugural show- career, Armstrong’s monologue takes the
-the world premiere of Jay O. Sanders’ audience through the racism, tawdriness
“Unexplored Interior”--captured these and criminal thuggery that constantly
foundational qualities. Sanders’ play forces reigned in the career and life of one of the
the audience and actors to bear witness twentieth century’s seminal musicians.
to Rwanda’s genocidal civil war pitting Reminiscences of towering conflicts
neighbor against neighbor in a violent between an African-American musician and
spiral of death and destruction. Beautifully a Jewish manager define the ever-present
staged by Derek Goldman and powerfully limits for an American career of genius
performed by a stellar fourteen-member constrained by racism, criminality and
cast, Roth’s new company told the horrific endless greed.
SHORT ESSAYS ON COMMUNITY, DIVERSITY, INCLUSION, AND THE PERFORMING ARTS l 48 l

Ari Roth.
Photo courtesy of Mosaic Theater Company of DC.

The second season recently closed with simultaneously tells a story of Israelis and
an exploration of social justice through Palestinians and of insider and outsider
voices directly from the Middle East. lovers at home.
Palestinian-American actor-writer Hanna
Roth and Mosaic have found an ideal
Eady and U.S. writer Edward Mast’s
home for the company’s signature
two-character play “The Return” takes
commitment to “transformational, socially-
the audience on a voyage of discovery
relevant art” in the Atlas Performing Arts
as an Israeli woman returns from the
Center, a renovated former cinema in the
U.S. to find an Arab-Palestinian auto
increasingly trendy H Street NE Corridor
mechanic who has paid a terrible price for
just beyond the shadow of the United
a brief rooftop dalliance with her thirteen
States Capitol Building. Once a major
years earlier. Powerfully performed, “The
shopping street for the city’s African
Return” confronts audiences for their own
Americans, H Street fell on bad times
assumed sense of privilege which asserts
following the civil unrest in response to the
itself in relationships among society’s
1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther
betters and those who serve them.
King, Jr. Lying fallow for more than three
For an audience comprised of Middle
decades, H Street began to revive as a
Easterners, Americans Jews and Muslims,
Hipster haven anchored since 2006 by
African American and white Americans,
a renovated Atlas movie theater that has
the agonizing interplay on stage
l 49 l PERFORMING COMMUNITY 3

come to serve as a pioneering performing Previously, his theatrical experience had
arts center. As Roth understands been limited to playing in the band of a
more than most, the recent wave of high school production of “Godspell.”
gentrification has added but a patina
of Hipsterdom to the already rich and Subsequently teaching at Michigan,
textured community that predated it. Brandeis and New York Universities as
well as at Carnegie Mellon and George
When moving to the Atlas, Roth Washington University, Roth not only wrote
purposefully set out to diversify his board about theater, he wrote theater. While still
by inviting long-time Washingtonians and at Michigan, he won two Avery Hopwood
African Americans to join in. From Mosaic’s Awards for Drama given by Arthur Miller.
first season, plays focusing on the Middle
East alternated with those about American In 1989, Washington’s Arena Stage
race relations. Interestingly, before its commissioned Roth to write “Born
premier season’s end, Roth discerned not Guilty,” a work based on Peter
only an overall growth in the company’s Sichrovsky’s interviews with the children
audiences, but its diversification as well. and grandchildren of Nazis “Schuldig
African Americans began appearing for Gleboren.” The play moved from
Middle East-oriented productions; while Washington to Off-Broadway in New
previous supporters of his work as director York in 1993, earning rave reviews--
of the D.C. Jewish Community Center’s The New York Times labeled the play
Theater J started buying tickets to plays “searing drama”--before it continued
about the Black experience. Similarly, he on to Chicago and beyond. That work’s
has brought the neighborhood’s young 2002 sequel “The Wolf in Peter” enjoyed
vibe into the house with productions of critical success while a somewhat
new plays focusing on what it means to autobiographical 2013 prequel--“Andy and
come of age in today’s America such as The Shadows”--further extended Roth’s
“Milk Like Sugar” and the enormously creative reach.
popular “Hooded: or Being Black for Ari and his wife, NGO executive Kate
Dummies.” Schecter, moved to Washington at the
Mosaic’s success builds on Roth’s end of the 1990s when Kate landed a job
earlier accomplishments which have at the World Bank; and Ari secured an
long garnered a multitude of admirers appointment as Artistic Director of Theater
within the Washington theater community J. Over 18 seasons at Theater J beginning
and beyond. The son of Holocaust in 1997, Roth produced 129 productions
refugees, Roth grew up in Chicago before including 44 world premieres and new
attending the University of Michigan, productions from the Middle East.
where he discovered the power of theater.
SHORT ESSAYS ON COMMUNITY, DIVERSITY, INCLUSION, AND THE PERFORMING ARTS l 50 l

Roth’s term at Theater J came to indispensable platform for discussions
an end in 2014 as some vociferous which must--but too often do not--take
stakeholders in the Greater Washington place about the nature of Washington as
Jewish Community (including a group an urban community. Roth and Mosaic,
self-identified as Citizens Opposed to however, present more than a listening
Propaganda Masquerading as Art, or post. The company presents high quality
COPMA) expressed their concerns over dramatic art.
what they saw as an anti-Israeli bent in the
In reviewing “The Return” for The
company’s repertoire. As COPMA exerted
Washington Post, critic Nelson Pressley
pressure on both the boards of trustees
began: “It took Mosaic Theater Company
of the DCJCC along with the Jewish
no time to forge a social justice identity
Federation of Greater Washington, Roth’s
beyond the Jewish lens of Theater J where
departure became a public spectacle,
Mosaic Artistic Director Ari Roth had
capturing the attention of the Washington
worked for nearly two decades until his
and national press and theater
firing at the end of 2014. But the Voices
communities. At one point, over 100
from a Changing Middle East Festival,
artistic directors of U.S. theater companies
begun in 2000 under Roth at Theater J,
published an open letter in Roth’s support.
continues at the impressive young Mosaic
Roth quickly moved on to his new venture, as one of the most valuable streams in
Mosaic, which has established itself as Washington theater.”
an important fixture on the Washington
That stream, in turn, contains company
scene. The company’s engagement with
members, supporters, audiences and
various local communities over painful
communities who collectively carry Roth’s
issues swirling around race and class
artistic vision to new levels.
in contemporary America provide an
l 51 l PERFORMING COMMUNITY 3

Albert Schultz and Civic Theatre
June 1, 2017

Young Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto, Canada.
Photo: jofo2005 (Flickr) https://flic.kr/p/KRb4u3

Albert Schultz came of age with Canadian create civic theater, give the classics a
theater. Born in 1963 in Port Hope, Canadian accent, and take the voice of
Ontario, Schultz grew up in Okotoks, Canadian theater to the world. Toronto’s
Alberta before heading to Toronto and two-decade-old Soulpepper theatre
London to study at York University and the company has proven to be a powerful
London Academy of Music and Dramatic collaborator in bringing his dream to reality.
Art. His career has moved among stage,
Schultz arrived on the Canadian stage
television and film; from acting to directing;
just as French and English Canadian
from performance to fundraising. Schultz
theater were coming into their own after
connected with leading innovators in late
twentieth-century theater ranging from a long history. Various chroniclers date
Robin Phillips at the Stratford Festival to a the arrival of European theater in today’s
Canada to 1583; others to 1606, and
long creative interaction with distinguished
1640. Whatever the precise date, English
Hungarian theatrical professionals. Always
and French language classics by such
ambitious, Schultz is on a mission to
authors as Molière, Corneille, Racine
SHORT ESSAYS ON COMMUNITY, DIVERSITY, INCLUSION, AND THE PERFORMING ARTS l 52 l

and Shakespeare enjoyed wide following end, just as Schultz became a theater
among Canada’s early French and professional.
English colonists. Given Canada’s sparse
Schultz joined with a dozen other rising
population--plus the hostility of Protestant
Toronto artists in 1998 to form Soulpepper
and Catholic clerics--theater primarily
as a company that would present classical
remained an amateur entertainment well
works by such noted playwrights as Harold
into the nineteenth century. Even then,
Pinter, Thornton Wilder, Tom Stoppard,
Canadian performing arts largely remained
Samuel Becket and Anton Chekhov, all
connected to distant metropolitan capitals
from a distinctively Canadian perspective.
in Europe (and later in New York and
Seven seasons later the company moved
eventually California).
into the Distillery District, an artfully
The state of Canadian theater changed renovated industrial site next to the
following World War II. Regional theaters Gardiner Expressway east of downtown,
came into being across the country where whiskey was once produced.
while nascent English and French
Within a decade, Soulpepper had become
television networks encouraged writers,
Toronto’s most popular theater attracting
actors, directors and producers as
as many as 100,000 viewers each season.
they scrambled to fill the airways with
The company expanded its repertoire to
distinctive Canadian content. By the
newer works including a widely acclaimed
1960s, smaller experimental theaters
production of Tony Kushner’s Angels in
emerged across English Canada while a
America. Not everyone was pleased by
distinctive French theater took shape in
this turn of events. In 2013, University
Quebec at times drawing on the Quebec
of Toronto Professor Holger Syme
idiom joual.
complained in an email to Toronto’s major
Grants supporting Canadian playwriting newspaper The Globe and Mail that, “If the
in anticipation of Canada’s Centennial in company started out 15 years ago hungry
1967 spurred further development. One for a challenge and committed to making
major project, Toronto’s St. Lawrence old texts newly exciting and engaging,
Centre for the Arts, emerged as an they have now transformed themselves
important focal point for English Canadian into a commercial enterprise offering an
theater which encouraged the continuing utterly conventional, very safe repertory
development of Toronto’s vibrant theater of not-very-old plays staged with slick
community. Many associated with the production values in polished and largely
Centre anticipated that it would secure unchallenging performances.”
a solid foundation for a new form of
Schultz, the company’s Artistic Director,
Canadian civic theater. Toronto grew into
indeed set his sights on a different agenda
a theatrical powerhouse by the century’s
as he returned to the Centenary-era goal
l 53 l PERFORMING COMMUNITY 3

of creating a “National Civic Theatre.” The development of new works; to the stage,
company actively seeks engagement with including plays, presentations and other
communities across the city and nation events; to the road with touring; and,
running ambitious training programs; to the air through digital and broadcast
commissioning new works by Canadian media. Their charge is clear: everyone
authors; regularly touring throughout belongs at Soulpepper.
Ontario, Canada and internationally;
expanding its reach through social media In his message to the audiences of his
and other digital platforms; engaging new 2015 season, Schultz observed:
Canadians as they discover their country Our profoundly gifted company
through theater; all while maintaining of artists are, like you, citizens of
active seasons at its home base in the this community and represent the
Distillery District. To celebrate Canada’s cultural, generational, and artistic
Sesquicentennial and its own twentieth diversity of your city. The work on
anniversary, Soulpepper presented a well- our stages looks out to the world
received repertoire of six Canadian plays in while simultaneously focusing on
June 2017 at New York’s Pershing Square our national voices. Our offerings
Signature Centre on 42nd Street, just west are multi-disciplinary and expansive
of Times Square. in their scope; they acknowledge
Soulpepper’s artistic and popular success the gifts of our collective cultural
undergirds its activist civic mission of past while imagining our creative
becoming “a place of belonging for future as a nation.
artists and audiences of all ages and Schultz has led Soulpepper through
backgrounds.” The company realizes a transition from a stage dedicated to
its mission through six sets of activities the classics to a civic powerhouse.
which look to the community through civic In doing so, the company has not so
engagement of various forms including much abandoned its original mission
programming in schools; to the future as expanded it. The transformation to a
through The Soulpepper Academy training community asset has created a support
up-and-coming generations of theatre system that sustains and replenishes the
artists; to the “pipeline” through the company’s original vision.
SHORT ESSAYS ON COMMUNITY, DIVERSITY, INCLUSION, AND THE PERFORMING ARTS l 54 l

Daniel Soulières and Performance Dance
August 25, 2017

Montreal and Quebec had come out of accompanied by secularization,
World War II stuck in a time warp that the creation of a welfare state, and
placed La Belle Province at odds with incompatible federalist and sovereigntist
much of North America. For more than factions. Identities and values radically
a century, the province languished under loosened as Quebec went, according to
a brokered allocation of power which numerous surveys, from being the most
stymied entrance into the contemporary religious to the most secularized society in
world. An Anglophone Protestant elite North America.
controlled the commanding heights of
Nothing escaped this makeover including
commerce from their granite citadels in
performance dance. Beginning almost
Montreal. French-speaking Catholic clergy
immediately following the World War
controlled the rest of the province, keeping
II, those Montrealers connected to
their flock tied to the countryside for
continental trends in the arts began to
farming or, in many instances, the messier
push back against repressive policies
task of resource extraction. A nationalistic
of Duplessis and the Roman Catholic
right-wing populist government under
Church. New Montrealers debarking
Premier Maurice Duplessis and his
from war-torn Europe brought their
thuggish Union Nationale Party--together
cultural tastes and expectations with
with corrupt police and officialdom--
them. Before 1945, the only serious
used its gerrymandered majority in the
dance reaching Montreal stages was
Assemblée nationale to insure that nothing
performed by visiting companies made up
would change.
of Americans, Europeans and displaced
Transformation came as the rest of Russians (including Ruth St. Denis, Isadora
the continent increasingly became
incorporated into what would grow in a
few years into the most dynamically mobile
continental economy in world history.
Eventually, following Duplessis’s death,
the previous system snapped during
the “Quiet Revolution” begun in 1960 by
a new Liberal Government under Jean
Lesage. Modernity arrived in Quebec with
a vengeance, unleashing intense socio-
political and socio-cultural adjustments Par le chas de l’aiguille (Through the eye of the needle),
a choreography by Audrey Bergeron.
Photo courtesy of Danse-Cité.
l 55 l PERFORMING COMMUNITY 3

Duncan, Anna Pavlova and various legacy dancers in Montreal, performing an
companies from Les Ballets Russe). By average of thirty-seven shows each
the 1960s Montreal had its own classical year between 1977 and 1996. These
company--Les Grands Ballets Canadiens- productions included roles created for
-and the first of what would become a him by choreographers James Kudelka,
panoply of modern dance troupes. Françoise Sullivan, Jeanne Renaud
and Paul-André Fortier among many.
The theater community constituted a
He himself choreographed and co-
radicalizing vanguard pushing forward
choreographed dozens of works.
exciting fresh voices who were striving
to decipher the meaning of everyday Soulièrs established Danse-Cité to
experiences on stage. Les Grands Ballets promote contemporary dance. He began
Canadiens established dance at the by presenting new works over a two
forefront of the city’s cultural life during week period--his Treize chorégraphes
the late 1950s through its performances, pour deux danseurs ran a month--and
its school and studios and its community actively sought out young performers
outreach programs. Contemporary dance and choreographers to bring their work
companies appeared as an increasingly to the stage. His reliance on new talent
vibrant community formed with more made for an easy transition to new troupe
and more performers arriving, audiences leadership in 1986.
growing and donors opening their coffers.
Beyond Danse-Cité, Soulières worked
Danse-Cité was the inspiration of as artistic advisor to the legendary
Daniel Soulières who founded the Montreal dance company Le Groupe
company in 1983 before turning it over de la Place Royale and founded several
to choreographer Jean-Pierre Perreault. production groups including Qui Danse,
He remained a major player within the Les Événements de la Pliene Lune and
company in numerous capacities ever Most Modern. These efforts supported
since, serving as Artistic Director in recent the development of emerging artists
years. throughout the 1980s and 1990s into the
current century. Such programs expanded
Soulières embraced dance after having
over time to embrace exchanges with
completed his degree in psychology at
European companies.
l’Université de Montréal. Initially studying
classical ballet, he turned to contemporary Soulières insisted from the very
dance working with leading teachers such beginning that Danse-Cité have no single
as Peggy Baker, Peter Boneham Linda choreographer or artistic team, featuring
Rabin and Tassy Teekman. Soulières instead a variety of ground-breaking works
quickly became one of the most popular by numerous innovative artists. At least
three generations of youthful dancers and
SHORT ESSAYS ON COMMUNITY, DIVERSITY, INCLUSION, AND THE PERFORMING ARTS l 56 l

choreographers got their start though The twentieth-first century began with
various Soulièrs-organized programs Montreal well established as a significant
including, among many: Irèni Stamou, international center for performance
Isabelle Van Grimde, Jane Mappin, Roger dance, and a global leader in the two
Sinha, Holy Body Tatoo, Estelle Clareton dance-related genres of physical theater
and Laurence Lemieus. and circus arts. One might have thought
this always was so. However, just a half-
Soulières similarly sought to cultivate century before, clerical arbiters of public
new audiences for contemporary taste throughout Quebec frowned on
dance. He took his artists into the physical artistic expression in almost any
community, often appearing at nearly a form.
dozen cultural centers scattered around
the city. He attracted new audiences The emergence of first classical, then
with multidisciplinary approaches to modern and contemporary dance in
performance dance combining dance, Montreal is inexorably linked to broader,
theatre and poetry. He expanded the profound changes in society that drove
relationship between artist and public in political conflict and deep cultural wars.
every way that he could imagine. Most The Quebec transformation to modernity
recently, Danse-Cité has promoted the use is no less dramatic for being swift
of dance to mediate across the cultures of and largely peaceful. Accompanying
Montreal’s varied local communities. dislocations drove the preeminence of the
arts--including literature, theatre, cinema,
Thirty-five years after its founding, Danse- television, circus, music or dance--as a
Cité bills itself as a “Montreal-based form of bringing together high culture with
research, creation, production and street performance.
distribution company dedicated to the
advancement of contemporary dance” Dance became embedded in Montreal
by being at the “forefront of Montreal’s life--a space in which it had largely been
cutting-edge dance scene.” The company absent--because the dance community
produces four works and presents three constructed a broad base of supporting
dozen shows during the course of most institutions ranging from studios to
years as it seeks to meld works by schools. Dance has thrived in Montreal
younger new artists with works drawing on because it became rooted in local society
their collaboration with more established by interacting with it. Artistic visionary
practitioners. Daniel Soulières helped make this happen
while creating community.
l 57 l PERFORMING COMMUNITY 3

Grace Srinivasan and Paula Maust and
Baroque Music
March 29, 2017

On almost any given Sunday nine blocks favorite pew at the back of the sanctuary
west of the White House on Washington’s is memorialized by a bronze plaque.
Pennsylvania Avenue, the parishioners of
Saint Stephen Martyr Catholic Church are Srinivasan has retained her connection
transported to thoughts of Heaven by the with Saint Stephen Martyr from her college
golden soprano voice of Cantor Grace days even as her career has taken flight. In
Srinivasan. Srinivasan, who grew up in the addition to recitals and stage appearances
Washington area, graduated with degrees around the world, she played the lead role
in music from nearby George Washington in the 2014 PBS docudrama Enemy of
University, and studied ballet, the cello, the Reich recounting the heroic story of
and, later, voice at Baltimore’s Peabody Noor Inayat Khan, who aided the French
Conservatory. Resistance during World War II and was
killed in Dachau.
Saint Stephen Martyr has a long and
distinguished history. Founded in 1867, the Srinivasan met Paula Maust while
parish’s sturdy brick sanctuary and school studying at Peabody Conservatory. An
stood proudly over the city’s tumbledown accomplished harpsichordist and organist,
Foggy Bottom neighborhood for nearly a Maust has earned a multitude of degrees
century. Prominent local architect Adolf in early music and organ performance
Cluss--who had been the Best Man at from Peabody, the Cleveland Institute of
Frederick Engels’ wedding prior to leaving Music, and Valparaiso University. She has
Germany--designed the church in a earned praise for her performances and
signature carnivalesque red-brick style has served as music director and organist
that came to define much of Washington’s at several churches around the country.
cityscape (among his surviving buildings Srinivasan and Maust’s shared passion
are The Smithsonian’s Arts & Industry for early and Baroque music drew them
Building, Eastern Market, and the Franklin together. They perform regularly around
School). When structural damage proved Baltimore and Washington and beyond
too severe, the old church was replaced with numerous groups and colleagues,
in 1959 by an elegantly Modernist and they promote their music through
sanctuary defined by a progression of teaching and by encouraging new
liquefied parabolic vaults. The new Saint audiences to discover the music. Maust,
Stephen Matyr became the home church for example, teaches at the University of
for President John F. Kennedy, whose Maryland Baltimore County and Towson
SHORT ESSAYS ON COMMUNITY, DIVERSITY, INCLUSION, AND THE PERFORMING ARTS l 58 l

University as well as taking on private Together and with other musicians in a
students. Yet, they wanted to do more. variety of venues and events ranging from
pop up concerts in public spaces to formal
Last year, Srinivasan and Maust joined recitals at esteemed institutions, Srinivasan
together to form Musica Spira (Music and Maust enjoy diverse and elevating
Breathes) dedicated to promoting careers as performers and teachers. Their
Baroque music that captures “the successes extend beyond promoting their
essence of life’s stories” thereby making own considerable talents to redefining
the music relevant to contemporary the masterful music of the European
society. Together, they curate and Enlightenment for new audiences. In doing
perform programs touching on the trials so, they are building new communities of
of life in the twenty-first century through followers who, in turn, revivify the legacy of
the music of the seventeenth and the past.
eighteenth centuries.

One such program featuring the music
of women composers is entitled
“Shattering the Glass Ceiling: Women
Who Defied the Odds.” Another,
entitled “In Pursuit of Fidelity,” explores
the meaning of trust through the
music of Henry Purcell, Peter Philips,
Thomas-Louis Bourgeois, Joseph-
Nicolas-Pancrace Royer and Domenico
Scarlatti. Concluding with Scarlatti’s
rage aria, “Fille, gia piu non parlo,” their
performances humanize a music that
might otherwise seem distant from
contemporary society and life.

When collaborating as Musica Spira,
Srinivasan and Maust draw musical
traditions of the past and present into
renewed conversations about the
importance of life and values. Working
in partnership to develop uncommon
programs, they highlight shared themes Grace Srinivasan and Paula Maust.
which reach across centuries of Photo courtesy of Musica Spira.
seeming difference.
l 59 l PERFORMING COMMUNITY 3

Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili and Physical Theater
February 3, 2017

Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili arrived in the The Tsikurishvilis were already highly-
United States with their own immigrant trained professionals when they left home
dream: to integrate their distinctive brand in search of fresh opportunities following
of physical theater into American theatrical the collapse of the Soviet Union and an
life. As The New York Times has noted, on-going vicious civil war close to home
their vision produces an “elegant fusion in Georgia. During her final courses at
of dance and experimental theater.” Their Georgia’s national ballet school, Irina
approach draws on the long-standing discovered the power of pantomime to
theatrical traditions of their homeland, tell stories through gesture, music, and
the country of Georgia, which merges movement. She was won over, tossing off
physicality and mime into an exceptional a promised place in Georgia’s celebrated
brand of performance. Now widely national folk-dance company upon
known for their striking productions of graduation to pursue pantomime theater.
Shakespeare plays without dialogue, the
Tsikurishvilis and their Synetic Theater in Paata, meanwhile, came to physical
Arlington, Virginia, create an aural and theater from a different direction. A
visual indulgence resembling dance and promising film student, Paata had
theater while being not quiet either. completed a bachelor’s degree in acting
and a master’s in film directing at local
Paata and Irina are products of a universities. He was performing in a home-
distinctive late-Soviet theater culture grown pantomime company waiting for a
which merged Soviet (and Russian) film project to come along when a group
theatrical practices with earlier Georgian of aspiring ballerinas visited to learn more
traditions celebrating distinctive national about incorporating gestures into their
polyphonic a cappella singing, regionally performances. Irina was among the group.
specific dance from both the mountains
and lowlands, and pantomime theater. Tbilisi at the time was no place to launch
They grew up as artists surrounded by acting careers. Confronting a collapsing
masters of visual storytelling through economy brought on by a punishing war
acting, movement, and music. Georgian among competing political factions, Paata
theatricality came with them, packed away and Irina decided to take their theatrical
in their suitcases, as they travelled to their dreams and growing family (including
new homeland in the United States. their newborn son Vato) on the road.
They made their way to Germany, where
they established the Mimodrama Theater.
SHORT ESSAYS ON COMMUNITY, DIVERSITY, INCLUSION, AND THE PERFORMING ARTS l 60 l

Immigrant and theatrical life in Europe theater to form a company housed in
proved to have its own challenges and Washington’s diminutive Church Street
before long the Tsikurishvilis were looking Theater near Dupont Circle. Dedicated
further afield. to performing European classics, the
company relied heavily on physicality
Meanwhile, Irina’s father, an Olympic to overcome at times suspect English
gymnastics coach, had made his way language skills. Irina and Paata established
with Irina’s mother to the United States, their presence in Washington theater with
where he eventually would join the Ohio stunning performances as Ophelia and
State coaching crew. Her parents helped Hamlet in the wordless “Hamlet… the Rest
Irina, Paata and Vato to follow their path is Silence.”
across the Atlantic. After a rough patch
of performing before school assemblies Members of the original Church Street
and the diners at a Russian restaurant company soon set off in different
in Baltimore, the Tsikurishvilis sought directions. Irina, Paata, and fellow
entrance into the American theater scene. Georgian, film star Irakli Kavsadze, took
their Synetic Theatre (from SYNthesis
In 2001--now joined by newly born for “the coming together of distinct
daughter Anna--Irina and Paata united elements to form a whole;” and KenETIC,
with other actors trained in Soviet for “pertaining to or imparting motion,

Master and Margarita, a Roland Reed’s adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel.
Photo: Graeme B. Shaw, courtesy of Synetic Theater.
l 61 l PERFORMING COMMUNITY 3

active, dynamic,” to produce “a dynamic focal point for a growing community of
synthesis of the arts”) across the Potomac artists and their admirers who continuously
to Arlington, Virginia. From there, they expanded the reach of a new concept of
set about to redefine American theatre theatrical art.
“by blending innovative techniques and
movement, investing in artists’ growth, and With the support and encouragement of
creating unforgettable visceral experiences Arlington County’s vibrant arts programs,
for every audience.” Synetic secured increasingly capable
facilities for both performance and a
Thinking about how to infuse their visionary robust educational program in Rosslyn,
approach of physical performance into then Springfield, and now Crystal City
American theater, Paata looked to the as well as at the Kennedy Center and
career of an earlier Georgian artistic Shakespeare Theatre Company in
immigrant, George Balanchine. Noting Washington. These mainstage productions
how Balanchine took on all opportunities- have been supported by the creation of
-including working with fellow immigrant a band of performers and other artists
Igor Stravinski on a “pachyderm ballet” embracing Synetic’s vivid staging, striking
for circus elephants--Paata came to costume design, haunting music, and
appreciate that every performance offered other-earthly movement set free from the
insight into American audiences. To move laws of gravity.
forward, Paata, like Balanchine, needed
audiences and donors. Synetic’s fresh As their company grew, Irina and Paata
artistic vision needed performers trained in expanded educational outreach to include
a new way. studio training for all ages from seven
through adult, summer camp, children’s
In short, personalistic artistic visions theater, and teenage performance.
require their own idiosyncratic In recent years, they have taken their
communities to sustain their creativity. The company on the road, performing on
vision would thrive as students headed out numerous U.S. college campuses as well
into the world, as audiences spread the as in Mexico and in their native Georgia.
word and as checkbooks were dispatched These activities have extended the
in patronage. Balanchine, Paata realized, company’s reach to over 40,000 patrons
created his own like-minded community annually. More important, a small company
which eventually transformed American of formerly Soviet performers matured
dance. Irina and Paata, through Synetic, into a self-replenishing network of young
would do the same; building a company American players who bring fresh vitality to
which not only performed, but trained and the mainstage productions and are moving
cultivated as well. Synetic would be more out onto stages across Washington and
than a mainstage; it would become the the nation.
SHORT ESSAYS ON COMMUNITY, DIVERSITY, INCLUSION, AND THE PERFORMING ARTS l 62 l

Synetic protégé Ben Cunis has moved on night on the town, Washingtonians pulled
to Los Angeles where he is performing on across the Potomac by the promise of a
stage and screen (including The House of memorable night at the theater, members
Cards); John Milosich appeared in the first of the international diplomatic corps
U.S. National Tour of War Horse. Joseph looking for a more “European” experience,
Carlson similarly has been in numerous and many more drawn from a rich tapestry
roles beyond the Synetic stage (including of local groups. The Synetic audience
appearing in the film Lincoln); Rebecca is among the youngest of all theater
Hausman may be seen in The Coming audiences in Washington, and one of the
Storm; and Courtney Pauroso appeared most devoted.
in If Women Ruled the World. Brittaney
Irina and Paata have enjoyed recognition
O’Grady has enjoyed perhaps the most
and honors of various kinds, including
visible success in the role of Simone Davis
a collection of Washington theater
in Fox Television’s series Star. Actor by
community’s Helen Hayes Awards and a
actor, designer by designer, Irina and
grant for innovating emerging theatre from
Paata are bringing their distinctive artistic
the New York theater wing, the founders of
vision to American audiences; and they
the TONY awards. They were recognized
have done so by nurturing a community
by Washingtonian Magazine in 2013
of appreciating artists, audiences, and
as among a handful of Washingtonians
supporters.
of the Year. Most important, they have
At any given Synetic performance in created a theater unlike any other in the
Crystal City, Arlington the audience nation’s capital; and they have done so by
includes hopeful young performers who investing in nurturing a community around
have benefitted from the company’s their effort. They are living their dream of
various studio workshops, Russian and bringing a new style of physical theater
Georgian emigres who grew up watching to America. And American theater is
one of the world’s great theater traditions beginning to change in response.
unfold on stage, suburbanites out for a
l 63 l PERFORMING COMMUNITY 3

C. Brian Williams and Stepping
October 2, 2017

Having just completed business training Gumboot dancing emerged in the early
at Howard University as South Africa twentieth century in the migrant worker
was moving towards electing Nelson clubs around Durban and other South
Mandela as its first post-apartheid African cities where rural migrants were
President, C. Brian Williams set out to segregated into barracks as they worked
teach small-business skills in Lesotho in South Africa’s gold, coal, platinum and
and to encounter the emerging South diamond mines. Dancing in the Wellington
Africa surrounding it. A member of Alpha boots often used in the mines, performers
Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. Beta Chapter sometimes added bells to the boots which
at Howard, Williams had learned the rang as they stomped the ground.
complex rhythmic stomping and chanting
art form popular among African American The dances are drawn from a variety
college students known as Stepping. He of sources including indigenous steps
was caught off guard by Southern African brought by the migrants from their
Gumboot Dancing, which immediately home communities; steps from various
reminded him of the dances he had missionaries; the dances of sailors who
performed with his fraternity brothers back visited the port city of Durban including
at Howard. This unexpected moment Russian folk dance; the popular social
dances of the 1930s and 1940s such as
changed his life.

C. Brian Williams.
Photo: The Napoleon Complex Project, courtesy of Step Afrika!
SHORT ESSAYS ON COMMUNITY, DIVERSITY, INCLUSION, AND THE PERFORMING ARTS l 64 l

the jitterbug; and American tap dance concept back to the United States two
brought by visiting minstrel groups of years later, establishing Step Afrika! as
the nineteenth century and popularized a Washington based dance company
through the Hollywood extravaganzas dedicated to promoting Stepping which
of the mid-twentieth century. Oft’ times the company describes on its website
the pattern of the steps and rhythms as blending “percussive dance styles
communicate messages of protest to practiced by historically African American
those in the know. fraternities and sororities, African traditional
dance and influences from a variety of
Like the African American Stepping other dance and art forms” so as to
tradition, Gumboot dancing is highly “integrate songs, storytelling, humor, and
competitive with performance judged audience participation.”
by precision. Individual dance groups
mesh together a variety of styles--such Williams performed, lectured and taught
as the stamping of feet in traditional around the United States as well as in
Zulu dance, the enthusiasm of minstrel Europe, the Americas, Asia, Africa, the
show performers, and the intricacies of Middle East, and the Caribbean. The
Hollywood routines--to make personal and company established itself as a significant
collective statements. Dancers mimic their force on the Washington cultural scene
workplace relationship to an authoritarian with deep ties into area schools and
“boss boy,” who determines what each universities as well as residency programs
dancer does. for elementary, middle- and high school
students. In addition, they developed
Gumboot dancing thus emerged as Summer Steps with Step Afrika!, a popular
a cherished expression by migrants one-week program that teaches stepping
desperately trying to claim a corner of and concepts of teamwork, discipline and
an alien environment as their own. The commitment to students from across the
association with African American cultural country.
forms felt by Williams was immediate and
obvious. Step Afrika! became ever more ambitious
artistically, performing longer works and
Williams began reaching out to South taking stages in some at the country’s
African partners, eager to demonstrate leading universities and art centers, and
the traditions he had shared back at eventually at the White House for the
Howard. He eventually met with the Obamas. Williams and his company
Soweto Dance Theater and they formed developed a performance style which
an alliance. By 1994, Williams and his lures their audiences into the spirit of their
Soweto partners had organized the first show. They encourage audience members
Step Afrika! International Cultural Festival to break traditional theatre rules, luring
in Johannesburg. Williams brought the
l 65 l PERFORMING COMMUNITY 3

everyone to a shared cultural experience Victory Theater. These performances were
similar to the communal spirit Williams greeted by wildly enthusiastic audiences
enjoyed watching South African Gumboot as they captured the spirit of Lawrence’s
dancers. Their shows frequently begin work.
with the cast singing the song “Calling All
Brothers and Calling All Sisters,” thereby In 1937 or 1938, future Nobel Peace
letting everyone present understand Prize winner and Howard University
that there are no boundaries between political science professor Ralph Bunche
performance and audience. visited the Witwatersrand Native Labor
Association’s workers’ club where,
Williams’ most ambitious work according to his field notes, he witnessed
unambiguously brought the Stepping competing choirs singing Zulu songs
tradition into mainstream American accompanied by dancing with “weird and
performance dance. In 2011 in close shuffling steps.” Like Williams more than a
cooperation with The Phillips Collection, half-century later, Bunche was fascinated
the company mounted a full-length piece by music and dance traditions which were
responding to Jacob Lawrence’s iconic strangely familiar and alien at the same
Migration Series (1940-41). Their work time. Embracing a physical statement
became a cornerstone of celebrating of presence, Zulu migrant workers used
the 2016 centenary of Lawrence’s dance and song to claim their humanity
monumental series of 60 images tracing in the most inhumane of circumstances.
the experience of the Great Migration of Bunche and Williams were nurtured by this
African Americans from the rural south spirit, bringing it back to the United States
to the industrial north. That year, the in different ways. For Williams, it has
Washington Performing Arts, the Meany animated a life dedicated to establishing
Center for the Arts and several other the Stepping tradition of his college years
major performing arts center helped to as a significant American art form. In doing
remount the work and launch a national so, he has incorporated those who feel
tour that continued this season with Step alienated from many aspects of American
Afrika!’s New York debut at the New culture onto its main stage.
Conclusion
l 67 l PERFORMING COMMUNITY 3

Making Cities Work as Holistic Communities
of Promise
May 16, 2017

Shortly after the completion of the Empire climate change by 2030. Among the
State Building, the novelist F. Scott Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),
Fitzgerald was shattered by a visit to its is an “urban” goal, “SDG Number 11”
observation deck. “Full of vaunting pride,” calling on the international community
he wrote, “the New Yorker had climbed to make cities “inclusive, safe, resilient
here, and seen with dismay what he had and sustainable.” A few months later,
never suspected. That the city was not the in October 2016, the United Nations’
endless succession of canyons that he had HABITAT III conference--an international
supposed, but that it had limits, fading out gathering convened every twenty years--
into the country on all sides into an expanse adopted the “New Urban Agenda” which
of green and blue. That alone was limitless. would further align domestic policies and
And with the awful realization that New York international cooperation across the globe
was a city after all and not a universe, the with the objectives of SDG11.
whole shining edifice that he had reared in
his mind came crashing down.” These United Nations declarations
emerged from the concerted efforts
The present is a moment when we view of urban thinkers and practitioners
cities from even further away than the top around the world to place cities on the
of the Empire State Building. The central international agenda. Their hard work
image of our age has become the bright gained traction following recognition of
necklace of electrical lights revealed an historic demographic shift sometime
in nighttime photographs of the earth during the last decade when, for the first
taken from the cosmos. This new reality time in history, a majority of humans live in
transforms every aspect of life, replacing urban settlements. Further, it is expected
the city as Fitzgerald knew it by a flowing that by the year 2050, 70 percent of the
global urban system. Cities have become world population will be urban. Humankind
limitless once again; and they have is now an urban species; cities themselves
become our collective home. The world is have changed as traditional urban
now urban. settlements have grown into sprawling,
urbanized regions. These unprecedented
Present-day recognition of the importance
circumstances require a reorientation of
of cities in the global agenda for
how we collectively think about the world.
inclusive and sustainable development is
unprecedented. In September 2015, U.N. Proclamation is laudable; action is
member states agreed on 17 global goals essential (and considerably more elusive).
to end poverty, fight inequality and tackle
SHORT ESSAYS ON COMMUNITY, DIVERSITY, INCLUSION, AND THE PERFORMING ARTS l 68 l

Cities are the largest and arguably most for delineating a helpful view might be to
complex product of human enterprise. consider whether or not mothers would
As cities are made by humans, they want their children to grow up in a given
necessarily are imperfect. As cities are community. Meeting that standard depends
complex, humans invariably struggle to on gaining grounds for opportunity and
bring the totality of urban reality into a security. Recalibrating our ultimate goal--
single vision. We tend to isolate those shifting from a view of cities as centers of
aspects of urban life which give us pause, efficient economic growth or as home to
approaching with singular solutions and especially creative innovators to holistic
agendas intended to “fix” a particular places of promise--empowers us to
urban condition. This piecemeal approach reconsider the city as our primary habitat.
tends to distract us from the larger
Unidimensional approaches to urban life
objective of nurturing cities as holistic
drive us towards conventional hierarchies
places of promise.
of smart technologies and innovations in
Unlike a decade or so ago, the challenge governance, which, while laudable, are
is no longer that cities are being ignored. insufficient. As almost 180,000 people
Notions of creative classes, triumphant are added to the urban population each
cities, and winner-take-all urbanism day, we need to plan for cities which do
abound. Political opponents of current not yet exist. As ubiquitous proponents of
national policies are looking to cities to new urban lifestyles fall into the fallacies
right the ship of state with sanctuary of winner-take-all mentalities, we need to
cities, green cities and charitable cities. expand policy goals beyond favoring any
Urbanites and suburbanites struggle to particular group no matter how creative it
define and redefine political institutions may be.
in an era when both have become co-
As we gather more and more information
dependently metropolitan. Some ask what
about cities we must remember that they
the world would be like if it were ruled by
are homes to millions and not merely data
mayors instead of by presidents; others
laboratories. As poverty spreads to the
are convinced that our salvation is to be
urban periphery, we need to embrace a
found in making cities smart.
vision of the city that extends well beyond
Each perspective has value intellectually fixed boundaries. As urban complexity
and operationally; all somehow come abounds, we need to accept that no
up short when engaging our new urban particular policy offers a cookie-cutter
condition. In thinking about the goal of approach that will prove successful
promoting inclusive, safe, resilient and everywhere.
sustainable cities, perhaps we must ponder
Philosophical reflection and debate on
more meaningful criteria. The simplest test
the nature of public purpose and public
l 69 l PERFORMING COMMUNITY 3

virtue is as pressing today as it has been
across centuries. Today’s cities remain as
rooted in time, place and culture as cities
always have been. Even so, today’s urban
challenge is universal. In trying to blend the
universal and the particular, we need more
humility. We must begin by recognizing
that success in terms of making the city
desirable requires dexterity, flexibility and
pragmatism.

Now that we have become urban, humans
must embrace a more fulsome vision of
the city. Not so long ago, we came to
think of cities as places with limits--if not
natural at least political and administrative-
-which faded into the green and blue of
the countryside. Once we bound the city
within ever tight definitions, urban life came
to be viewed as somehow abnormal. The
now ubiquitous view from outer space at
night erases all such boundaries. Today,
our concepts and policies must follow.
Performing
l 71 l PERFORMING COMMUNITY 3

Community 1:
Short Essays on Community, Diversity,
Inclusion, and the Performing Arts

By Blair Ruble
l 72 l PERFORMING COMMUNITY 3

CONTENTS
Chapter 1- Performing Community Engagement

The Sound of Music Is The Sound of Community Resilience
Making Community Work: the Importance of the Performing Arts
The View from the Bus: Rethinking Cities through Performance
Dancing towards Revolution in Kyiv
Theater and the Heart of a City: Moscow’s Teatr.doc’s Confrontation with Authority
Porgy & Bess at 80: Rethinking Russian Influence on American Culture
Performance and Power from Kabuki to Go Go
Acting Out Gentrification: Theater as Community Engagement
“Beauty and the Beast:” A Tale of Entrepreneurship and Community

Misty Copeland to Dance Swan Lake at DC’s Kennedy Center

Chapter 2- Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Building

The Devil is a Local Call Away: Cities, the Arts, and Misunderstanding “Decay”
As Urbanization Accelerates, Policymakers Face Integration Hurdles
After Baltimore, we must see community as a process
Fight not Flight: Lessons from Detroit
Odessa: Ukrainian port that inspired big dreams

How Cities Can Foster Tolerance and Acceptance

Chapter 3- Planning for Inclusion and Creating Community

Rethinking Engagement in Cities: Ending the Professional vs. Citizen Divide
Innovation through Inclusion: Lessons from Medellín and Barcelona
Detroit: Planning for a City of the Future

Diversity by Design
Discovering the Power of Community in Unexpected Places

Available at: https://www.wilsoncenter.org/publication/performing-community
Performing Community 2 :
l 73 l PERFORMING COMMUNITY 3

Short Essays on Community, Diversity,
Inclusion, and the Performing Arts
By Blair Ruble
CONTENTS
Chapter 1- Communities and Change

Living Diversity: Documenting Arlington, Virginia’s Inclusive, Safe, Resilient, and
Sustainable Communities
Washington’s Rose Park and the Lessons of Welcoming Public Space
Feasts for Eyes Too Blind to See: Destroying Communities in the
Name of Ideology
Washington’s Changing Neighborhoods: Looking East
From Collards to Kale: Redefining Washington’s West End
Small is Beautiful: A Washington Tale of Little Red Rockers and Ducks
Washington, D.C. The Anxious City

10 Steps to a More Genuine D.C. Experience

Chapter 2- Mobility, Community, and Equality

A Public Management Train Wreck: The Lessons of Unaccountability and the Washington
Metro
CARPETing the City with Transit: Essential Elements for Promoting Mobility and Equity
with Sustainable Development
Returning to Plato’s Cave: How the Light of Smart Technology Brings Us Back to Old
Debates

Summer of Washington’s Capital Discontent: Lessons from the Past

Chapter 3- The Arts and Community Making

Feel that Funky Beat. The Sound of Converting Dreams of Community
into Reality
Hometown D.C.: America’s Secret Music City
Down By the Riverside: Jazz Over the Volga

How Naples Became Europe’s Great Musical Machine
Building Community Through Theater; Lessons from the Setagaya Theater
The Cirque Comes to Town. Learning about Culture and Cities from Montreal
Bringing New York to the Broadway Stage

Available at: https://www.wilsoncenter.org/publication/performing-communi-
ty-2-short-essays-community-diversity-inclusion-and-the-performing
ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Blair A. Ruble is currently a Distinguished century: Leningrad. Shaping a Soviet
Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson City (1990); Money Sings! The Changing
International Center for Scholars. He Politics of Urban Space in Post-Soviet
previously served as the Center’s Vice Yaroslavl (1995); and, Second Metropolis:
President for Programs and Director of the Pragmatic Pluralism in Gilded Age
Center’s Urban Policy Laboratory (2014- Chicago, Silver Age Moscow, and Meiji
2017). Osaka (2001). Second Metropolis has
been published in Russian (2004) and
Prior to becoming Vice President for Ukrainian (2010) translation. In addition
Programs Dr. Ruble was the Director of Dr. Ruble authored Creating Diversity
the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Capital (2005) examining the changes in
Studies (1989-2012) as well as of the such cities as Montreal, Washington, D.C.,
Center’s Comparative Urban Studies and Kyiv brought about by the arrival of
Program (1992-2014), and was Director transnational communities. This work has
of the its Program on Global Sustainability appeared in Ukrainian translation (2007).
and Resilience (2012-2014).
Dr. Ruble’s more than twenty edited
Dr. Ruble’s The Muse of Urban Delirium works with several partners include: Jazz
appeared in early 2017. This work in Washington (2014), Urban Diversity
examines how new forms of performing (2010); Cities after the Fall of Communism
arts emerge at moments of uncertain (2009); Composing Urban History and
social identity in cities undergoing rapid the Constitution of Civic Identities (2003);
transformation. Dr. Ruble’s most recent Urban Governance around the World
previous book,Washington’s U Street: A (2001); Preparing for the Urban Future
Biography (2010), explored the tentative (1996), and Russian Housing in the
mixing of classes and in one of the Nation Modern Age (1993).
Capital’s most important neighborhoods.
This volume was reissued in paperback Dr. Ruble received his MA and PhD
(2012) and in a Russian language edition degrees in Political Science from the
(2012). University of Toronto (1973, 1977), and an
AB degree with Highest Honors in Political
His other book-length works include Science from the University of North
a trilogy examining the fate of Russian Carolina at Chapel Hill (1971).
provincial cities during the twentieth
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
One Woodrow Wilson Plaza
1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20004-3027

www.wilsoncenter.org