AT25: An Eye on the Future

Raymond Bobgan, executive artistic director, Cleveland Public Theatre, Ohio

I don't like long-term planning.

For me, devising a new play is like going on an uncharted adventure. At the beginning, I have an idea of where we are in the process, and I have dreams about what we may find. I have some experience of past journeys and an evolving set of working principles. Typically, I know what our next step might be, and I have a sense of the direction—it is as if I am being pulled by something, drawn toward the play that wants to be made.
When thinking about the future of theatre, I am not sure about the next 25 years. I have no charted course, but I am drawn in a certain direction. I am interested in the future of theatre that is pulled by two forces—practicality and spirituality.

Practicality drives us to issues of craft. It forces us to live within our means, organizationally and artistically. Practicality insists on relevance. How do we respond to political events, societal movements, or new technology? How can theatre truly make a difference in our community? Practicality compels us to move beyond the conventional role of theatre, to use our specialized skills to engage and empower disenfranchised people. Practicality keeps us honest and grounded.

Spirituality keeps the spark of life at the center of our work and reminds us that theatre is deeply personal. Spirituality places high value on truth, even if that truth cannot be easily packaged or explained. Spirituality trusts the audience and invites them to play with us. It reminds us that if we are to transform others, we first must seek our own transformation. Spirituality asks that as we reach out to others we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and open to change. Spirituality demands that, no matter how uncool it may be, we cannot shy away from the deepest questions and the search for meaning in life.

If we make well-crafted plays that express the essence of what it is to be human, then theatre will have a future, because this kind of theatre can result in a singular, extraordinary transmission that cannot be sent through the Internet, conveyed by text message, experienced remotely or projected on a screen. It is a deeply personal moment where true magic exists.

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