From the Executive Director
My Own Baltimore Waltz
By Teresa Eyring
Nearly three months have passed since TCG’s 19th National Conference. However, those days in June—reported on by Jim O’Quinn in this issue—continue to occupy our thoughts daily. In spite of the year’s economic and political turmoil, attendance at the conference was strong. It was multigenerational. It represented a wide range of organizations, individual artists and trustees. The time we spent in Baltimore was infused with a sense of friendship, community, curiosity and debate—as well as laughter, dancing, crazy accounts of unexpected encounters. And Twitter: The hashtag #tcgcon was embraced by many of the assembled, and became a real-time means for conference enthusiasts to track the proceedings from afar.
Meanwhile, beneath the surface of the prescribed agenda, a meditation gradually emerged, a powerful and wide-ranging new reflection on the ways we function as citizens of this theatre community: how we identify the things of value that can be shared with others—such as space, equipment and knowledge. How we devote time and attention to informing policymakers on the importance of our work and of other issues that affect our lives and communities. How we celebrate the vast diversity within our field—an array of aesthetic approaches, attitudes, organizational size and structure, cultural orientation, geographic focus—and recognize that all of these can live together and thrive. How we express our theatre citizenship through interactions across national borders.
That sense of community and civic connection began to emerge even before the conference proper began. TCG grantees—from the New Generations program, Fox Foundation Resident Actor Fellowships, NEA/TCG Career Development Program for Directors and Designers and Young Leaders of Color program, sponsored by the Nathan Cummings and Joyce Foundations—came together for a series of pre-conference professional development sessions in Baltimore. Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., on June 3, nearly 150 people attended pre-conference events focused on advocacy and cultural exchange. A group of theatre practitioners and trustees participated in training on key legislative issues affecting the arts, such as white space utilization, artist visa processing, arts education and funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. Following that session, they trekked to Capitol Hill and visited with their elected representatives.
Simultaneously, another group of theatremakers, diplomats and internationalists met to discuss cultural exchange, the rising interest in cross-border artistic collaboration, and the desire for artists to participate in building a healthier global landscape. These thematic tracks were propelled by a joint morning session with the author Jeanette Winterson, whose articulation of value of the arts is steeped in the concept of a “creative continuum”—the idea that creativity and the arts are an essential impulse connecting human beings across time, borders and social and economic strata.
At the end of the pre-conference day, I was determined to be in Baltimore and in bed by 11 p.m. to be fresh and rested for Thursday’s opening remarks and a welcome reception at the American Visionary Art Museum. But at 8 p.m. Wednesday I was still in Washington, and the next train was at 10:30. Erik Ehn suggested that a cab ride to Baltimore would be quicker and cheaper than the train, so four of us hopped in a taxi. There I was with Erik, our colleagues Polly Carl and Diane Rodriguez, and our East African driver, who introduced himself as Robert. After navigating the foggy, rainswept highway between Washington and Baltimore, we attempted to locate our various lodgings. Robert was a D.C. driver and didn’t know the streets of Baltimore so well. The first stop was an easy shot to the Radisson, where we deposited Diane and Polly. Next we went in search of the Maryland Institute dorms for Erik. After multiple wrong turns, we finally arrived.
At this point, rain was coming down in sheets, and as we pulled away from the curb, someone knocked on the window. As I squinted through the droplets, a voice cried out, “Teresa, Teresa…it’s Rajendra!” It was indeed the young New York–based director Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj, in need of a ride. I turned to Robert, who nodded, a bit resigned at this point, and Rajendra and a few companions piled into the back seat and asked to be taken to the club Hippo. This time Robert reached in the glove compartment and fished out his portable GPS, which I tried to work—unsuccessfully. After a few more wrong turns, we dropped off another round of passengers and headed, thankfully, toward my hotel. It wasn’t yet 11 p.m.—goal almost attained! But as I was boarding the elevator in the lobby, John O’Neal of Junebug Productions was getting off. “Come hang out with us. We’re in the bar,” he said. And my head finally hit the pillow at 2 a.m.
That’s how my 2009 conference began, with play-it-by-ear strategies, chance camaraderie and fortuitous connections. The gathering that followed was effective in its delivery on the official charge, which was to engage multiple generations of theatre practitioners in “defining a new landscape” for the field. But it also awakened, lived and breathed other ideas—one of the most important, for me, being that theatre is, on so many levels, an act of personal citizenship.
Now the question becomes: How do we preserve the momentum from this convening as we move forward together into the future—a future that may be clouded by uncertainty but, in the light of our collective aspirations, seems simultaneously bright and full of possibility?