Afternoon Plenary Session—The 2016 TCG National Conference—Washington, DC—June 24, 2016
Articles,  Blog

Afternoon Plenary Session—The 2016 TCG National Conference—Washington, DC—June 24, 2016


Hi, everyone. Welcome back. Did everyone hydrate? Yes, have some tea, coffee? Yes. Well, we shall settle back. We have a great session in front of us. And I’m going to begin
as people start to settle in. Well, history abounds, and it’s made every moment
we sit here together. Historic elections here and overseas. This will no doubt be a conference
that will go down in the history books as we experience it all
in the nation’s capital. Let it be that our US citizenship
takes a deep, deep breath and truly think about
who they vote for in November and the repercussions
of that vote for all of us. (applause) The world as we see it
is rapidly changing and we need leadership
that changes with it, models that can handle the change
and the thinking it takes to guide. It gives me pause
and makes me look internally to the systems
we in the theatre have in place. Today’s afternoon sessions
celebrate individuals and companies that are taking risks,
speaking out, innovating. Let’s embrace those values
as we navigate the waters that often grow rough. And when we think about
the leadership model we have in place, which was devised in the 20th century, is this the best way for us to lead? I wonder! Is it as inclusive as it needs to be? Again, as the waters grow rough
and history is made around us, do we, like our speakers today,
question and examine our current models? When I hear Tom Rothman, who is the head of Sony Studios
and on the National Council with me, saying that going to the movies
and buying popcorn is going to be as vintage as a horse and buggy
and it is going to be vintage soon, I start to wonder, “Is that true? Are we going to be the only place
where people gather together to have the communal
experience of hearing a story?” The world needs theatre
and we need the world. How do we bring people together
when they’re home watching Amazon Prime? Do we change the architecture
of our theatre? Do we rethink their use? Do we trample borders
to find storytellers to fill our stages consistently
with their stories, too? I’ll answer that one. Yes. Instead of Theatre Nation, will our conference in five years
be called Global Nation? In five years could our theatres be lead
by four people instead of one? Four experts in artistic, managerial,
fund-development and audience connectivity. Four leaders who come in all sizes,
colors, genders. Who face the challenge of the future
in an equitable and thus stronger way. I wonder?! We understand the power
of coming together, of asking the hard questions
of ourselves to be our better selves, and today we hear from folks
who help set our course for the future by recounting our past
in order to plot our future or by turning models upsides down
to find out what’s been hiding inside. I have the honor of introducing
my fellow TCG Board Member and the next Chair of the TCG Board, an individual with a generous spirit
and vitality who will continue to ask the hard questions
and support the TCG staff in their continuous innovation. Ladies and gentlemen,
Kevin Moriarty, Artistic Director of Dallas
Theater Center. (cheers and applause) I am immensely honored
to serve TCG as its Chair, and I’m humbled to follow
Diane Rodriguez in this role. Diane has served
on the TCG Board since 2008, and she’s been our president
for these past three years. Diane embodies
the very best qualities of TCG. I have been inspired
by her passion for the art, her deep commitment to creating a field
that’s equitable and just, her determination to ensure
that each person’s voice is heard, and the depths of her feelings
and the joy of her laugh. On behalf of the TCG Board
and the TCG staff, I thank Diane for her
extraordinary leadership. (cheers and applause) As we look ahead, TCG and our field
face many challenges but even more opportunities. We are committed to inspiring
equity, diversity and inclusion throughout the American theatre
and throughout our country. We are committed to encouraging
innovations in creating theatre that is not just for but also
of and with the people in the communities
in which we create our art. We’re committed to strengthening
the financial security of our theatres. So we’re adequately
capitalized to take risks and provide a meaningful living
for the artist, as well as the administrators alike. (applause) Most importantly, TCG exists as a reflection of
the American theatre itself. That’s you, our members. You are TCG. Your concerns are our concerns. We seek to celebrate your triumphs
and come to your aid when you falter. Though we all make art in many
disparate parts of our country, none of you are alone. We are a theatre nation. Together we are TCG. I invite the TCG Board
to stand at this time. (applause) So, look around at those board members. I encourage you to seek them out
throughout this conference and throughout the coming year
to share your stories, your hopes, your concerns with them, so that TCG can be
ever more responsive to your needs. And I invite you to join me
in thanking them for their service to the field. (applause) At a board meeting a month ago,
I had the privilege of experiencing a very powerful video
that needs to be seen and embraced by our field. To introduce that video,
please join me in welcoming Emilya Cachapero, Nelson Eusebio
and Elena Chang. (cheers and applause) Hey, you all. Hello. Thank you, Kevin. A social movement is a large,
sometimes informal, sometimes rowdy group
of individuals or organizations that carry out, resist, and sometimes,
hopefully often, undo a social issue. TCG has created a movement along with our partners
in the Asian American Arts Alliance the Asian American Actors
Performing Arts Coalition and Inclusion for the Arts, and here in DC the Smithsonian. An initiative that seeks to eradicate
yellow face, brown face and whitewashing that lays the groundwork for the movement moving forward of positive images
of all people of color, the increasing visibility
and opportunity for API, Asian, Pacific, Islander People. We’ve partnered–
we have regional partners in seven cities outside of New York, in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle,
Chicago, Minneapolis, Boston and Philadelphia, and soon others,
I hear, to join on. And we had a forum in New York on May 2nd which focused on changing the picture. It was called Beyond Orientalism:
The Forum. We are going to be having think-tanks. The next one is going to be
alongside the CAATA, Consortium of Asian American Theaters
Conference and Festival at our partner, Oregon Shakespeare Festival in October. And other think-tanks to follow. One component that was developed
for the New York forum was a video that Kevin referenced. And I want to ask Nelson
to just tee it up. (applause) Hi. Thank you, Emilya. I mentioned earlier at the opening plenary that I tweeted last year
that I would try and eradicate yellow face from the American theatre
thanks to [Kenisha Foster]. And there were giggles
and laughs about that. I think because people think
this isn’t actually a thing that happens on our stages anymore. One of the things I wanted to share
in the making of this video is how easy and simple it was
to find the images to create it. I want to thank Siho Ellsmore
and Angel Desai who helped to edit this video with me, as well as TCG for being courageous
and showing this to all of you. It was difficult to make,
easy to find the material. It’s not a new story but as Lloyd Suh said at the Beyond Orientalism Forum, “How long do I let you
keep punching me in the face before I stop you?” So, without further ado,
a little education, a little knowledge for y’all.Beyond Orientalism:
A Guide to Orientalism.
(applause) ♪ (music playing) ♪ [Inaudible] two weeks ago. You cannot go on
keep ringing my bell. You disturb me.
You must have a key made. ♪ (music playing) ♪ I’m Raj. I’m a Bollywood producer. I’m looking for the most delicious
thing on the planet. ♪ (music playing) ♪ (applause and cheers) So, we’ve seen a lot of real
Asian Americans towards the end of the video
and there are three of us here on stage, but as you know, movements
cannot simply be sustained just within one community. This effort moving forward
needs your support, the support of friends, allies
and the larger communities to ensure that there is better
representation on stage and beyond. So, within the Beyond Orientalism
context, what can we do? What can you do? Here are just a few example of how
we can stand up and speak out. If you teach, include scenes
and monologues by Asian American writers in your classes. (applause) When you receive a phone solicitation
to support a subscription at a theatre, mention that you care about
a diversity of voices being represented in their season. (applause) If you see an instance of yellow face,
brown face, red face and misappropriation, speak up. Bring it to the public’s attention,
especially if you’re not Asian American. Thank you. (cheers and applause) Thank you, so very powerful. Thank you. I met Bill O’Brien when he was the Executive Director
of Deaf West Theatre in Los Angeles and I was running
the Latino Theatre Initiative with Luis Alfaro at the Mark Taper Forum. And Deaf West Theatre
was one of Los Angeles’ small and scrappy theatre companies. And it had produced a show
in their very intimate space calledBig River. Groundbreaking in its esthetic. Gordon Davidson,
who was then Artistic Director, saw it and decided to produce it
on the Taper stage. At that point,
in the Taper’s 38 year history, the Taper had never produced a show
from one of the small theatres in Los Angeles. It was a first in many ways. It then of course went on
to be produced on Braodway and then on to the Tonys. Bill is now at the NEA, Senior Innovation Advisor
to the Chairman. So, I’d like to introduce to you all,
innovator that he is, Bill O’Brien. (applause) Hello. It’s great to be back at TCG. I just have one quick
little technical thing that I need to say. I’m here, really, today
to present an award to Deaf West Theatre,
the Peter Zeisler Award. Before I do, I just have to say
that our ethics office requires me to be clear that to avoid
any kind of appearance of favoritism, I’m not here as a representative
of the National Endowment. But that’s okay because I’m actually here
as one of the million or so people who have experienced a Deaf West show and have found the experience
to be absolutely life-changing and mind blowing. The Peter Zeisler Memorial Award
is to be given out every year to a theatre company
that demonstrates innovation and non-traditional practises,
advances freedom of expression and to honor a theatre
that has not been fully recognized by the field. I think that Deaf West is absolutely
a fantastic recipient for this kind of award. The third item there
on not being fully recognized by the field might sound
a little funny at first because Deaf West
has been on Broadway twice. It’s won a special award for Tonys
for excellence in the theatre, a couple of Tony nominations. It’s just been back on Broadway
in another Tony-nomination this past year. But having had the privilege to serve
as Deaf West Managing Director and Producing Director for six years, I know that that was really
just the tip of the iceberg. As Diane said, “Deaf West was mostly
a small, scrappy theatre in Los Angeles. And I was privileged to be able
to really watch how that– the secret sauce was baked into
the approach that they do. It involves so much commitment,
so much insight. If we think about theatre as being a place
where we come around to share ideas in a communal way, the process
that Deaf West has developed over the years requires
that every actor on stage unpacks every idea that they’re exploring, translates it in a way that allows
everybody to be on the same page, hearing actors, deaf actors
and audience members. And it’s really what attracted me
to Deaf West in the first place. How many people have seen
a Deaf West production? Wow, that’s great! What attracted me to Deaf West, the first time I met Ed Waterstreet, who’s the founding
artistic director there, was how clear it was to me
in my first conversation with him that he was not at all interested
in creating a theatre that would allow people to come in
as some sort of act of altruism or charity to, sort of, do a nice little pat
on the heads to the happy little handicaps who can. If you came into his theatre
with that attitude, he’d rather you’d just take your butt
and put it in somebody else’s seat. For Ed, I think what he wanted to do
was really erase what you thought when you come in the door, whether you’re a deaf young person
like DJ was when he first came in the door or hearing people who were maybe curious
about what they might be encountering, and really immerse yourself in
a kind of deeply-committed, highly-expressive form of theatre, that really, nobody else
I’ve ever seen can do. I was so honored to be able to watch
the work of people like Ed Waterstreet, Linda Bove, Phyllis Frelich,
Troy Kotsur, Deanne Bray, [inaudible], Shoshannah Stern,
the cast of Big River, the cast of Spring Awakening. and to watch that approach
to theatre-making, it’s more deeply felt. It’s more moving. It’s more expressive. It’s the farthest thing
from being handicapped. In fact, this became
painfully aware for me when I attempted to perform
alongside Troy Kotsur in True West. I left that experience
really feeling that they had an unfair
advantage up there. So, Deaf West has experienced
the best of times and the worst of times. I was there for a little bit of both. We went from the small theatre
in North Hollywood, were invited to Mark Taper’s main stage, went to Broadway, and then there were subsequent
two national tours, Japan, etcetera. And right at the height
of all of that success, we also found that
in the middle of the night someone took a little red pen
and put a line across that line item that had been funding
a large part of that work. And Deaf West overnight
in, kind of, a surprise bit of news lost over half of its funding. I was deeply concerned, very worried,
that that might bring to an end about 30 years of hard work
and dedication. I think that we should be concerned
but we shouldn’t worry too much because I think as we’ve all seen
and as we’ve seen by the demonstration of it becoming,
rising up out of the sand again to be back on Broadway,
that kind of work that Deaf West does
is too good to go away. It must not go away
and it won’t go away because it’s just simply too good. So, it’s my great honor
to present to DJ Kurs, the current artistic director
of Deaf West Theatre, this year’s Peter Zeisler Memorial Award. Come on up. (applause) Thank you, Bill,
and thank you, TCG. Deaf West Theatre is truly honored
to receive this award. As Bill mentioned,
we are a small theatre company from Los Angeles that was founded
25 years ago by deaf actors who didn’t just want to make
sign language theatre but make good theatre, period. As I stand before you,
I speak in my native language, American Sign Language. Our languages are the only thing
that separates you and me. And theatre that is performed in ASL
and spoken English bridges this divide. The audience becomes one
for two hours in the dark. Theatre is a remarkably effective vehicle for illuminating the hidden
margins of our world. Increased inclusion propels our craft
towards new artistic heights. Deaf West’s track record of success
as a theatre company is tied to the new meanings
that sign language, deaf culture, our stagings
and our actors bring to the material. The history of sign language
theatre is young. With any luck it will arc upwards. We have the power as a community
of theatre practitioners to simultaneously advance our art and to bring
our respective worlds together. And we must do this together. Thank you all. (applause) I now have the pleasure of introducing
two outstanding writers. Nikkole Salter is an OBIE award-winning
actress and writer who arrived on the professional scene
with her co-autorship and co-performance of the Pulitzer Prize
nominated play,In the Continuum. Nikkole has written six full-length plays, been produced on three continents,
in five countries, and was most-recently seen
on stage in the West Coast premier ofHead of Passesat Berkeley Rep. She’s also the co-founder
of the Continuum Project, a non-profit organization
that creates innovative, artistic programming for community
empowerment and enrichment. Stephen Karam is the author of
the Tony award winning play,The Humans, for which
he also received the OBIE Award, Drama Critics Circle Award,
Outer Critics Circle Award, Drama League Award and was a 2016 Pulitzer Prize finalist. He’s also writtenSons of the Prophet, which won many distinguished awards, and was a finalist
for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize, andSpeech and Debate, which was the inaugural production
of Roundabout Underground. Please welcome to the TCG stage,
Nikkole Salter and Stephen Karam. (cheers and applause) Hey. – How exciting.
– It is exciting. It’s great to be here. – How are you?
– I’m really happy to be here. I’m glad that we had a chance to meet. I’ve been a fan of yours for a while. – Please, man. Don’t do that.
– It’s true. Don’t even, Mr. Tony winner.
How does it feel? Oh my God! This is– well, I just spilled water
all over myself. We’ll get you something.
Let’s get him something. I need absolutely nothing. No. It feels good. You know, I’m an introvert, so I feel like the whole
wave of award season– I was just saying to Harold that,
you know, it feels like once you get to opening night
and you make something that you’re really proud of, that means something to you
that’s reaching people, that feels like the actual–
that’s the prize. That’s the reward. And so it’s like that’s the high.
That’s the highest high. And so, you know, getting
the stickers of achievement that you get to sort of, you know, that– it is exciting, and overwhelming,
and thrilling because it gives
more life to the play and you feel like the play
has a chance to reach more people. But you never get to know
who your plays are reaching. I just finished working at Yale. There’s a program there calledThe National Student Leadership Conferencethat I teach at, and guess
who’s play they’re using? Yours. There’s doingSpeech and Debate.But you wouldn’t know that. I almost said Amy Herzog’s
because we had– And hers. – But no, they’re doing your play.
– That’s amazing. The ripple effects of your work
that you don’t get to see, do you ever consider that? You know, now I’m considering it. No, You think about it
more and more because I feel like the older I get
the more conscious I am that, you know, I think back to
plays that has meant a lot to me, that have rocked my world, and the ways that my life has been changed by certain works of art. And so, the longer,
the more stuff you make, the more you have a chance to maybe
hear a story like that or meet someone, or in this day and age,
get a Facebook message. A random Facebook message. A random Facebook message– –telling you how to fix your play.
Can you tell us about that? – Yeah, exactly.
– That was great. I was talking to Nikkole yesterday. I had just received a message
from a lovely man who was Harvard educated. And it was basically like, “Dear Stephen, I just came back from your play. I liked it very much. Here are five things
you can do to make it better. (laughter) You’ve got to love Facebook, man. You’ve got to love that. I thought that sums up
a kind of talkback experience. (laughter) That’s great. So, I know that you were a theatre kid. We’re going to delve
a little bit in that direction before we come– Okay. Wait, I kind of want to tag on
to the question of– because your work
has been all over the world, so in terms of, you haven’t always
been a part of how it circulates– meaning you’re discovery of your work
popping up in different places and things. Have you been similarly surprised? Well, I’m surprised today. One of my students from Zimbabwe is here. Gideon, wherever you are. So I walk through the door,
and I’m like, “Gideon?!” And he’s like, “Professor Salter.” I’m like, “No, I’m not.
I’m just Nikkole here. I’m Nikkole here.
What are you talking about?” I guess you never know
who you’re going to impact. Yeah. I’m often stopped on the street
by young women who say that they’ve used my play,
In the Continuumto audition for programs, that they enter the business
with my work. That always floors me, because I remember those monologue books. I remember filtering through
and hoping people like them. I mean, I think I did Madea, you know. Yeah, and part of it
was part of the genesis, because you made it
when you were still in school. When I was a student, yeah. –was to generate material. It made me feel–
it often makes me feel the impact that you don’t get to curate sometimes makes me feel like a fraud, because I guess a bit of me
wants to feel like I’m a hard worker, and I’ve worked
for everything that I have. And so much of that experience
is out of my control and beyond my planning, So I feel like, “How did that happen?” Would you want to curate it though? I don’t know that I would. It just feels like, you know,
when I make a grilled cheese sandwich, I know I made it. I know where I got the cheese
and I know where I got the bread. I own that. It’s mine. It’s good, right? Yeah. But there’s something about writing
and having the legacy of the word on the page, kind of, live
beyond your wildest imagination. Yeah. If Shakespeare knew
that he would make it to South Central Los Angeles– do you know what I mean? Yeah. Totally, yeah. I wonder what his response would be. Yeah. Well, I’m adaptingThe Cherry Orchardnow, and I had done a version
ofThe Seagullfor film, and reading the accounts
of that first production. Chekhov literally, famously,
sort of, a little bit exaggerated, that he ran out of the theatre the night, but it was an enormous failure. So sometimes you actually can’t– it’s hard to know
what the lasting legacy will be. Yeah. But it’s also interesting
that we’re control freaks but we’re completely drawn
to a medium where– Where you have no control. –yes. And it’s all about collaboration. Well, let’s talk about
that lack of control. Clearly, we’re drawn to our work
being reinvented over and over again. Let’s talk about that lack of control because it does start so much– (laughter) Don’t like it. I mean, there’s a lack of control
from the beginning. Some people might think, like,
“Oh, you wrote it.” My husband is often–
he often says to me– I’m trying to figure out
a certain plot point or character arc. And he doesn’t get that
I don’t feel like I’m manipulating it. He’s like, “Well, you’re writing it.
Just make it whatever you want. She ended up on the plane.” I was like, “But how does she get there?” He’s like, “Why does it matter.
You’re writing it. Put her on the plane.” I was like, “No, it doesn’t work that way. I have to earn those moments.” He’s like, “I don’t get it. Are you writing the play
or is the play writing you? Like, I don’t know.” And I can’t explain to him
that lack of control. Like, I did have an idea
and I do have a way of thinking about it, but actually, it’s often
a very scary process. Yeah, and often times
when you have the clearest of ideas as a starting point, by the time
you reach the finish line, I know for me, they sometimes
change so much that sometimes they remain
the spark that got you writing but they recede into the background
so much that suddenly a play that you thought was about
a certain political axe you had to grind you’ve written something completely– completely different. Yeah. The play does, sort of,
take control in some ways once it really gets going,
but I love that. Don’t you love that kind of– I love it when it works. Yeah, that’s true. I guess I don’t always– it’s a process that
makes me laugh sometimes because when you step back from it
after you’ve done it a couple of times, you’re like, “Oh, this is part
where you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing. “Oh, this is the part where nothing works. Oh, this is the part–,” but when you’re going
through it each time, it’s like it’s happening all over again. You’re like, “I’m not a writer. I don’t know if I can do this.” And you always feel like
you’ll never be able to do it again. And then you do it again. And then it happens again somehow. But I do feel very much
every time I start on the page with something new, something in me feels like
I’ve never done it before. It’s like a new–
I was talking to Eric Coble. I was in Cleveland. I was talking to Eric. Yay, Eric! (applause) He had the most wonderful analogy
that I’m stealing right now. He said every time that he writes a play he feels like he’s climbing a mountain. And though he’s climbed a mountain before, he’s never climbed this mountain. And he has to create a path, so that other people
can also climb the mountain. And that’s like the understanding
of the story, right? And you get to a point where
the first, kind of, grips are like, “Do I want to start here? Do I want to go on
the other side of the mountain? How do I want to climb
this mountain?” And then when you get halfway,
you feel like, “Well, I’ve got to finish now.
I’m halfway.” Like, “I’m not going back
down the mountain.” And then you get to the top
and you have a, sort of, victory but you realize that the path
that you cleared isn’t quite clear. So you have to, kind of, go
back down the mountain and climb that path again
and carve that path out. And then after you’ve done that,
you get down and you’re like, “”Oh, look at my mountain.” And you get to the top,
and then you see that there are other mountains. And you’re like, “Grrrr!” (laughter) Right? So you get off of that mountain
and you start to climb another one. And I was like,
“Oh, that’s so daunting, Eric.” That is. That’s incredible. But it was incredible. I was like, “That is the–” I think I feel more like
a tidal wave is approaching me. Yeah. Well, it’s like
you’re always learning to write the play that you’re writing. So, it is like starting over
the first time. Meaning, just because you cracked
one particular story and managed to find
the genre or structure plays are like poems. –or voice. Plays are like poems. That’s what makes them
so powerful, I think. But meaning like, you really are– they’re all of the rules in the world. We were talking about teaching before. And it’s like, you know,
there’s lots of tools to keep in your toolbox, and much that can be taught and shared. But then, it really is like
in the same way that I feel like, like I say to my students,
it’s like the best play that they’re going to be able to write I think is the play
that only they can write. Just kind of a freeing–
as a teacher. It’s also that when
you’re starting from scratch with a new idea, it does feel like
you have to figure out how to write this new– – This play.
– Yeah. This story. The old rules don’t always apply. Not always. I mean, you take Aristotle
with you and all of that, but you know what I’m talking about. Even sometimes, he has to die. It is a mountain. Yeah. You’ve got to just throw
him away sometimes. I’m a little gorilla. I’m like, “If it works, it works. I don’t care how it works
or what rule it was.” Exactly. Like, “That works.” Speaking of teachers, how did you
come to learn what you know? That’s a good question. I feel in this day and age
I guess it’s not so strange, but for me if feels strange
because a lot of my contemporaries have gotten their MFAs in Playwriting. I didn’t grow up
with any artists in the family, and a big family, too. So, to me it didn’t really feel like
something that was feasible, a career in the arts. So, I was a very scared undergraduate,
hiding in the English Department, but doing theatre constantly. Constantly. And taking so many theatre classes
that I ended up double majoring in Theatre and English. So basically, I took the strange route
of even when I graduated I didn’t think I had any plays
that were good enough to submit to writing programs. I didn’t realize that
when you’re 22, 23, 24, 25, people are looking for promise. – No one has a good play.
– No one’s written a great American play, or maybe a few people have. But I was very, very timid, very shy. I was saying I’m even the type of person
that was, sort of like, not taking advantage of office hours
or making those connections. But I kept writing plays. I never stopped ever. And so I was hiding out,
working at a law firm for years while I kept creating work. And in some ways,
it was kind of an eduction all to its own to be– my last two plays are dripping
with money anxieties, and I think the existential fear
of poverty is all over them. I think a lot of that
comes from– well, it comes from
a lot of different places, but it also comes from
being really scared about student debt. In some ways it was a gift
to have a 30-hour a week job because it really focused me. And it gave me incredible life experience. I mean, so to cut to the chase, I feel like a lot of my education
in my graduate school has been both teaching
for the last four years and also the generosity of other writers,
my contemporaries, writers who I never dreamed
I would get to know and meet, who have– Do you have a mentor? No. And that’s interesting
because I feel like I do have 10 people who probably don’t know
but they are my mentors. Yeah. And they’re people like you
who I end up meeting through stuff like this. No, but I mean– Stop it, please. Meaning you end up
having conversations and it’s– you know what I’m talking about
though, right? Those people become your mentors. And you’re having breakfast with them
and they don’t know that they are. They think you might have
had a very clear– in college this person took me
and said, “You are a writer.” Yes, come with– yeah. I think it’s a result of my own–
the ways in which I was too introverted and shy to know that it was okay
to maybe reach out at a younger age. But, you know, James Lapine
has been really– we started having breakfast regularly. He doesn’t know that
he is like a mentor to me. I thought that way about Theresa Rebeck. I go to her house
and I eat her food. And she doesn’t know I’m milking her. (laughter) That’s amazing. I get together with
Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and Amy Hertzog and these people
who you end up– so, I feel like I’ve been lucky enough
to build a community as a result of– strangely, having a career is how I’ve,
sort of, built that education and that community of mentorship. How about you? Because you were in
graduate school for acting. Yeah, I went, kind of, straight up. Always been a closeted writer. You said when you were younger,
you were always, kind of, writing but you didn’t have– Always, and I was a theatre dork.
You’re right. Yeah. I always wrote
but never shared anything. I avoid sharing. I have a laptop from 1997
that looks like a brick. Yeah. And in it there are, like,
four plays that I started that I never finished. I was inclined and really,
In the Continuumwas the first time. Danai actually aided me
to see something through. And that was the victory. That’s why everything
that came after that I was like, “My God! People like it?
You want to hear it?” I just wanted to finish it. I just wanted to know that I accomplished
seeing the end of something. What was it like to write
the first thing, though, without Danai, or did you
lean on other people, not as co-writers
but as, “What am I doing?” I was a little naive. Part of why I wrote was because people
kept asking me what I’m writing next. Like, I had no inclination
to write anything next, but they’re like, “So, what’s next?” I’m like, “What do you want next?” Yeah. That’s what’s going to be next. But it was like they determined
you were writing. Yeah, they stamped me, and I wasn’t quite ready to be stamped. Even when I decided
that I wanted to write, I would go for emerging writers programs. And they’re like, “Oh,
but you’ve been on Broadway.” And I’m like, “But I’m emerging.” “I need some help.” Yeah. And they’re like, “No help here.”
You know. That’s funny. That was with my start
with Roundabout Underground, they created with incredible–
Harold’s here somewhere. Where is he? There he is. Yay, Harold. But there is a very funny thing
that happens then when here I’d been working
in the law firm for ten years. I had Roundabout create
this incredible program and launch my play. And that was in the process where
I just felt like I was ready to start. “Okay, now I’m going to start
applying to grad school.” And the kind of response I got back
from a lot of those emerging, you know, was that maybe you were too–
you know, you go from being, “I’ll never have a career in the arts,
and maybe I’m going to go–” To, “Now we can’t.” Now you should produce your own–
Go to Broadway, kid” It’s a very fast thing,
and it’s an incredible problem, but I feel like
I’m, sort of, sensitive to that. I know writers who–
as if everything falls into place after your first. Yeah. As if afterIn the Continuum— It was very scary. As if everything just clicked for you. It didn’t. It was very scary. And I didn’t know what I wanted to say. (mobile phone ringing) Who is that? (laughter) I’m teasing. I think that once I, kind of,
got a handle on my own voice and what I wanted to say,
at least it became a decision that I made, you know? I don’t think it made it any easier but I was like, “Oh, I am doing this.” Were you patient waiting
for the next idea or did you– No, I thought it was going to happen
just likeIn The Continuum. I’m like, “Where are you people?” Don’t you see I’ve written something new? (laughter) They were like,”Who are you?
What are you doing?” It didn’t happen that way. But I mean, the idea for your second play. Were you searching, were you like–
do you finish plays and sometimes have periods
where there’s a draught or do you feel like– There’s never a draught. –you’re one to one to one. I feel plagued by ideas. I’m like, “Okay.
This is the last one. I promise. Oh, God. This is the last one. Okay. Then that one
and then that’s it. I’m putting down the pen.” How do you determine
what takes the– does it just sort of happen? It just overtakes me. Yeah. Like, it needs to happen. It just needs to be finished. I don’t know how else
to describe that kind of urge. I mean, at a certain point
you have commissions and their people are calling you. So it needs to be finished. That’s helpful, too. Yeah, they push you forward. It is very helpful. Forward and beyond. But I think the initial impulse
is usually just the desire to have– to contribute to the [canon]
and to have voices that I recognize, be a part of the options
that are available to people. Yeah. I guess it’s an overarching motivation. But I’m also very issue driven. There’s usually something
that makes me mad or very sad that I want to write about. That’s interesting because I feel like
I sometimes arrive at issues or very political places
via the personal, by starting from a place
that’s slightly mysterious. But I feel like– I don’t know. Tony Kushner talked about this once
in an interview and I couldn’t sleep for three weeks
because I was like– he just changed the way that I thought
about certain American plays that I never thought of as political
as still being political because he was making
the point how, essentially, if any of us are writing
about the human condition, we’re asking the questions
about how do we live now? – Where do we live?
– How do we govern? Where do we come from? Where do we want to go? So, suddenly plays
likeLong Day’s Journey— Become political. And seem obviously political. In ways that I just hadn’t– for a while, I thought in myself,
if I wasn’t starting from an issue, then the play doesn’t, you know– and I feel like withThe Humans,it strangely ended up being a play that,
sort of, tapped into a kind of– a lot of the issues
at the heart of this election cycle but also knowing
from what a personal place the play cam from,
it’s very interesting to see headlines saying, like,
that the play’s very clearly about the disappearance
of the middle class. When you’re starting– There are a lot of plays about that now. Yeah, because it’s– I’m thinking about
Lynn Nottage’s new play. –Sweat.
Sweat.And Dominique Morisseau’s play,
Skeleton Crew. Absolutely, and Lynn’s play
takes place in Pennsylvania, too. I mean, I’m from Scranton,
and these are places– (audience member cheers) Who’s from Scranton? Who was that person? That’s amazing. But it’s amazing how this–
these places where– when you grow up in a city
that’s built upon an industry that no longer exists,
you do realize what strange things seep into
your consciousness and your bones, meaning, I really did think
that everybody lived in places where you just passed the coal silt. Like, these giant mountains of coal. No, we don’t. Like, excrement,
or whatever you would call it. And I remember trying to explain it
to a friend in college. I was like, “It’s like
one of those big coal–” – They’re like, “The reference to the what?”
– They were like, “What?” I’m like, “You know,
the mountains that you just–” And of course,
those don’t exist everywhere. No, I grew up in California
with the oil wells at Kenneth Hahn Park. And I was like, “You guys don’t– They’re not digging for oil? Oh, well, where I am
they’re digging for oil all the time.” Yeah. It becomes part of your–
have you written about that? No, but maybe I will. (laughter) – Don’t add to my list of things.
– I’m adding to your list. Okay. So, I wanted to also segue because this conference is
very much about Theatre Nation and considering ourselves
as citizens of that nation. And we’re clearly in a very political time when I think we all should be considering
what it means to be a citizen in this nation and of the world. So, starting small
and moving to the more grand, just as a theatre practitioner,
how do you see yourself as a citizen of this nation? Help me out here. How do you see yourself
as a citizen of this nation? Well, when you think of citizenship
as responsibilities and duties and rights and, you know, privileges, what do you think
your responsibilities and duties are, and what do you think your– As a theatre artist? Yeah, as a theatre artist. And then, what do you think
your rights and privileges are? I mean, first and foremost,
thinking about the personal and the political,
I think it’s every artists job. I think it’s my job to try
and tell the truth, in terms of exploring
the human condition. So, it’s like that’s always
a starting point for me. So, I think part of what that means– That’s your responsibility. It’s my responsibility. And it doesn’t mean–
it’s hard to tell the truth. And so, it’s a huge responsibility,
and part of that means being connected to those around me. It means being aware of– it’s hard because it’s both
connected to– reading the newspaper yesterday. The unbelievable despondency that set in. The Tonys were exciting
and came on the wave of– especially as a gay man
who’s been to many night clubs, like Pulse, to have Orlando
and then the Immigration Reform, sort of– At the same time. At the same time fall apart, and the sit-in as inspiring as it was, and I wish I was here yesterday, to also see Paul Ryan at the podium
and feel so– just a despondency can set it. I also feel like, I don’t know if this
is exactly what you’re talking about but part of me, when I hear
the word “citizen”, I do feel like it’s not just
my responsibility to tell the truth but to cling to a very real kind of hope. And I feel like in telling stories,
even if I’m not exactly sure what the origin is, because a lot of my work ends up being,
not to be too depressing, but, fear-based, like, things that are really
keeping me up at night. I love that. Well, it’s totally connected
to politics, too. I honestly feel like the reason
whyThe Humanshas been the subject of
a lot of political think pieces, is because politicians are obsessed with
what’s keeping people up at night. They tap into it, sometimes
in a very dangerous way, to try and win votes
because they have to win. But art just has to tell the truth. And I think that’s
a privileged position to be in. So, I don’t know. What’s keeping you up at night now? Oh God! Just everything I read
in the paper yesterday. I mean, how are you guys sleeping? (laughter) I mean, these are scary times
but they’re also times that, again, we live in this time
where the response post-Orlando. You see the way people
have organized and stuck together and the way you and I think
a lot of you guys were probably sitting in yesterday, right? I came in this morning. We went to the Hill, yeah. You went to the hill. Yeah. I feel like– yeah, I mean,
how are you doing, Nikkole? I don’t know. It feels almost like a play. I think I said to someone earlier today, if I wrote this, no one would produce it. They’d be like, “What?
This is ridiculous. You need to be more grounded.” Can we talk about England, too? Because what’s so sad is that it feels– That just scares me. Well, because it goes back to fear again. Yes, hooray? Yeah. Oh, talking about it. I just feel like it’s so–
I think what’s interesting is I feel like I started my last play
because I was obsessing about not just the things
that were keeping me up at night but how these universal fears
that we all have to go back to us as a community, how differently we cope with them. But what are those universal,
those big existential fears? Our fear of poverty,
our fear of death– Failure. – Failure, ill health, all these things.
– Irrelevance. – Irrelevance, but how–
– I can go on. It’s the same fear as–
in terms of understanding, let’s say, something I don’t understand which is people who are voting for Trump, people who are voting– but there’s a very real kind of fear that we can connect to
that a lot of people in England, especially the lower working classes,
blue-collar workers, I think there is a kind of fear
that we do have to work to understand even if
we don’t think that the corner that they’ve run to
to cope with that fear seems insane to me personally, I think right now
I’m trying to navigate those waters and make sense of it because– I think there’s a lot of fear
of loss of identity, too. Fear of loss of identity
but the fact that the fear of the changes that are happening to see these set-backs
especially in terms of immigration. I mean, my grandfather
was born in Lebanon as where my oldest aunts and uncles, so to see this fear of the other in 2016
work so successfully and for us to just maybe
start to feel good about Trump being more of a joke,
which I never really thought was– You didn’t? No, because I grew up
in Pennsylvania swing– I thought Ashton Kutcher
was going to go, “You’re punked.” But did you grow up in a swing state? I didn’t. I grew up in California,
very blue. So, when you grow up in a swing state–
where’s Scranton at? You’re Scranton Girl. What’s interesting, and I think maybe
this is reflected in the people who populate my place,
or the different kinds of people, is that you’re just very close to people who very easily go one way of the other. And that’s been a fascinating thing. That’s something I reflect on
only now talking to you. I live in Jersey now,
and my mechanic– it’s often interesting to hear him talk because he talks politically
and we don’t. We just say, “Hey, Larry.
How are you doing?” And he always is telling us about–
that climate change doesn’t exist, and if it does, so what. It’s survival of the fittest.
The cream will rise to the top. He stopped my husband once–
just recently he stopped my husband and said to him he was upset
because someone had called him racist and he thought that
that was such a cop out. And my husband’s, like,
he’s a big, very black man. And he’s like, “You’re my friend.
Nikkole’s my friend. How can I be racist?” Wait, why do you keep getting
your car fixed by this guy? You’ve got to go somewhere else. (laughter) He’s terrible. Trust me, he’s really good. He’s really, really good,
and really nearby. (laughter) – It’s like the Starbucks thing.
– Yeah. None of us what to go there– But it’s there. –sometimes it’s right there. What are you going to do? And that’s kind of like the institution– there’s, like, these institutional
connection to this issue. This, kind of, responsibility
to them or not. We can’t just– I don’t mind
going to Quality Auto, you know, but Larry’s a part of Quality Auto. So, we’re in this conundrum. Yeah, and those discussions are important. Meaning, like, even though it seems like
he’s not leaving a lot of room for your point of view,
or maybe not hearing you completely. But severing those ties is not
the answer either. Like, for instance, we found out earlier,
my TCG friends and I, that Cameron quit. He quit, right? He’s resigned. He’s resigned, yeah. And I guess I have several
reactions to that. I think that’s maybe my empathetic brain. I can see various points of entry
into that decision, but, like, I said to someone, “When you leave a marriage
you don’t just resign.” You’re like, “So, what’s happening
with the kids, and the house and the–,
you can’t just leave.” Yeah, yeah. So, what happens to our union? Yes, but it’s happening
over several weeks. But I guess maybe there’s
this understanding that the change that now has to happen can’t really happen or would be foolish for him
to be putting into place. It’s like the Balkanization of everything. And it’s the simultaneous,
what I consider, celebration of diversity, of the ability to stand in your own
and in your truth, and to celebrate your culture,
and your way of expressing, and your way of showing up to the world, and insisting that people
take you like that. Like, people take me with my locks. Like, take me.
I’m not going to straighten my hair. And at the same time,
there’s this whole other movement of, “Well, that means I have to be only with–
I have to find my locked up crew. And we can only be together.” Like, “I can’t cross that divide.” It’s this simultaneous pull and freedom. I don’t know. I think it’s an interesting moment
in our country. Yeah, because in my mind, honestly, I’m half here and half thinking
about Brexit and Trump at the same time because it just makes you realize
even though we’re experiencing it right now, I still feel–
I don’t know if you feel this way but it’s like, it is a shocking reminder
of how many people feel just completely disenfranchised and how many people feel so unheard. Yes, I do think that there’s
this weird kind of nativism that’s caused people in England
to maybe respond to that call but I also think it’s the timing of– it’s a wave of frustration
that it just feels like a message being sent. It feels like I’m giving up, and it feels like, “Maybe this’ll–” “Maybe this’ll work.” “Maybe now you’ll pay attention.” And it’s less about
the consequences of that and more about you’ve got to– it’s almost like a kid
who’s parents don’t– it’s like acting out, meaning,
I don’t know if that’s very real. And so I feel both like,
we’re dramatists so we know that people are complicated. And we know that nothing’s as– but it feels like in terms of trying
to understand the psychology behind it, it feels both upsetting
but also important to, sort of, understand it
in that context. I don’t know. Do you feel like we as an industry
or you as an individual, you as your peers,
that you’re responding fast enough? No, not at all. I mean, honestly, no. No. I feel like there’s always more I can do and should be doing. I think maybe it’s in moments like this
that cause people to organize and to find new ways to mobiize,
or speak out. Art comes out of
situations like this, too. I mean, my last play came out of trying
to make sense of a kind of frustration and anxiety I was feeling post 911,
post financial crisis. Being at an M&A law firm
while Lehman Brothers was collapsing, and trying to understand, trying to make sense of where
that goes once everybody thinks that there’s been a recovery. Right. Part of me understands this
as a big, “F” you, in terms of the people
who really didn’t get a recovery, and the people who actually
were stuck in stagnation. And I feel like there’s a kind of banality and a humiliating aspect to being poor in this country right now,
that I don’t think– Right now? Hasn’t there always been? There’s always been but meaning
there tends to be in terms of the people in power
talking about job creation and this and that, I think there’s what we’re hearing
and then there’s a kind of reality of people who feel like
they are trapped and unable to escape. And when you feel like
there isn’t even something to reach for, and things can’t possibly get better, I do think the instinct
to pull the rug out from under the entire system
feels like a– I understand that impulse. This is depressing, Stephen. This is when this conversation
was scheduled to happen. We didn’t now all this was going to–
we didn’t know the week’s events. But it also feels crazy
if we didn’t talk about it. I’m sorry we’re not talking about
playwriting more. No. We have to wrap up
but I want to some last thoughts. When you think about your work
as a playwright, or the work of this generation even,
beyond yourself, what do you hope that our legacy
as citizens will be? When you think about
the greatest generation, or the Baby Boomers, their contributions to
the evolution of America and the world, when people look at this chunk
of what we’re contributing now, what do you hope they say? What do you hope they quote
as the beginning of their plays? I hope that we remain
a group of truth-tellers. So, I guess that’s different
than maybe doing something that no other generation has done before, but I think something that this year,
which was astonishing, is that the four of us
who were nominated for best play at the Tonys were all under 40. (applause) Which isn’t an accomplishment. Yeah. It’s somewhere there. Because one day, I’m going to be over 40.
I mean, what are you clapping for? Exactly, I’m almost there.
We just made it. I think Danai and I are both very close. The point I was trying to make
is that I think younger generations are always good at
being the rabble-rousers or telling a kind of truth
that is specific to a point of view that only they would have. So, I think that’s kind of–
I know that’s not a– It’s fine, Stephen.
It’s beautiful. Alright. What about you? I hope that we unapologetically make a contribution
that is both truth-telling but also, kind of, immediate, that we find a way to make it immediate. That’s what I hope. That’s a good note to end on. This was wonderful, my man. This was wonderful.
Thank you very much. Thank you so much. I’ll remember you forever. Thank you very much. Are you going off this way? I guess so. (applause) Thank you so much,
Stephen and Nikkole. You are our truth-tellers
and we really appreciate that you gave us that time
to reflect on all of the things that have been happening in
our world in these last few days. And also, just really allowing us
to get to know you a little better. That was really, really wonderful. I also want to thank Emilya,
and Nelson and Elena for sharing Beyond Orientalism with us. (applause) I got that title wrong. I apologize. And also a big congratulations
to Deaf West. (applause) I wanted to also– we’ve had a really big day today. I know that there have been
so many sessions and I’ve been hearing from people
about just how much they’re enjoying what they’re learning and what they’re hearing
here in the plenary sessions. Now we have more. This is a busy evening. We have Professional Affinity Groups. I want to remind you
that the majority of the dine-arounds are rallying at
the registration table at 6:15. Space is still available
in a few of those dine-arounds. You can check out the options
in Conference 2.0. But to give you a really quick taste, Arena Stage is hosting dinner at Station 4 before the radio play of the Originalist. Studio Theatre is hosting
dinner and conversation about producing intimate
but provocative plays at The Hamilton in downtown, DC. And host committee member, Pete Miller,
will escort a group to District Taco and then to see We Happy Few’sChalk
in Eastern Market. There are two performances
that are just for TCG attendees,The Trump CardandDownrange:
Voices from the Homefront
You can learn more about that also
on Conference 2.0 in your booklet. And finally, for those who still
have some party left in them, Woolly Mammmoth is hosting
The Late Night Party to showcase the DC theatre community
from 9:30 pm until 12:30 am. You can arrive any time
after your shows and we’ll be there. Woolly, just so you know,
is roughly a 10 to 15 minute walk from the hotel. Bring your I.D. and your
conference badge to be let in. And, the host committee is found
to support [underwrite] one free drink ticket to attend,
so really, how can you miss this? (laughter) That’s it. Have a great night,
and we’ll see you tomorrow. (applause) ♪ (music playing) ♪

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