USA Theater Arts Panel for 2008

Susan Booth (Chair)

Artistic Director, Alliance Theatre, Atlanta, GA

Sheldon Epps

Artistic Director, Pasadena Playhouse, Pasadena, CA

James C. Nicola

Artistic Director, New York Theatre Workshop, New York, NY

Anthony Garcia

Artistic Director, El Centro Su Teatro and USA Rockefeller Fellow 2006, Denver, CO

Martha Lavey

Artistic Director, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Chicago, IL

Statement by Martha Lavey

What struck me, reading the applicants’ statements of purpose, was the enormous range of the work being undertaken across our country in the service of live performance. Theater arts means: actors with 30-year careers, performing roles from the extant canon of dramatic literature; actors as co-creators in ensemble-generated work; directors dedicated to the lucid explication of great dramatic texts; directors as revisionists of those texts; director-writers generating a new language for live performance; writers and directors integrating new technologies into the live performance experience; designers of light and sound committed to articulating the dramaturgy of their elusive media; writer-directors orchestrating communities into a deeper experience of citizenship through the performance of historical and/or documentary texts; musician-singers exploring the interplay of text and musical virtuosity; director-writers weaving the ancient art of puppetry into filmic landscapes; the performer as shaman, engaged in ritualistic healing; the creators of companies in communities, giving voice to the diversity that is our America. And we’re talking three generations of artists: young folks on fire with a vision and the unbridled ambition to fulfill it; steady practitioners deepening their work; our seasoned, wise leadership, looking for an interval of contemplation to write about their work and mentor a new generation of artists.

My felt experience, reading about these artists, was of a very fertile and rich ecology of work. Being given the privilege to participate in the selection process for United States Artists was humbling and enormously inspiring. As the committee discussed the artists, it was clear that no one particular aesthetic could dominate our consideration process. No single measure of “excellence” could serve as our guide. And yet coming to consensus on which artists we identified as meeting the description outlined by United States Artists was remarkably fluid. What was obvious in each of the five artists selected was a rigorous mastery of craft and an animating passion, an unabashed love for storytelling for an audience.

The thing that stays with me, reviewing the process, is the generational spread represented by our candidates. I loved reading the urgent, impatient statements of young artists, artists committed to remaking the form, artists eager to revise the contours of our ancient art. I loved the steady-eyed persistence of our mid-career artists, artists burrowing in to discover the subtle nuances of their life’s work. I loved receiving the calm confidence of our masters, artists whose vigorous careers have alerted them to their evolution as teachers, oscillating between praxis and pedagogy.

There is enormous generosity in our field, a real sense of our collective mission, however differently expressed and pursued. I always describe theater as an art form sustained by a guild society—we pass our learning on, hand to hand. These are artists with whom I want to be in the rehearsal room, sit at the tech table, talk over dinner, and finally these are artists whose work I want to witness. I want to sit in the dark and have that darkness illuminated by the bright flame of their passion.