USA Theater Arts Panel for 2011

Philip Kan Gotanda

Playwright and Filmmaker, Berkeley, CA

Steve Scott

Associate Producer, Goodman Theatre, Chicago, IL

Dan Rothenberg

Co-Artistic Director, Pig Iron Theatre Company and USA Knight Fellow, Philadelphia, PA

Terry Hong, Media Arts Consultant

Freelance Writer/Editor, Washington DC

Juliette Carrillo

Theater Director and Filmmaker, Los Angeles, CA

Statement by Juliette Carrillo

It takes a lot of courage to sit in a room for a full day with a group of your peers and talk about art. Why? Because as you discuss the life work of theater professionals around the country—ferociously dynamic and talented ones—you are forced to look at your own life, your own choices, your own work. And as you look around the room, you suspect that your fellow panelists are doing the exactly the same thing:

Are we pushing ourselves enough?

Are we taking risks like That Artist?

Are we making unique discoveries like That Company?

Are we expressing ourselves to the fullest?

Are we speaking to our audiences?

On the surface, it’s a process of comparison and sharpens our competitive edge, perhaps even provoking a bit of jealousy. After all, the work we are looking at is extraordinary. But on a deeper level, it is touching a primal part of us, the part of us that chose to become artists in the first place.

The truth is that the experience elicits a profound sense of responsibility. We are keenly reminded of the stakes involved in committing to our profession. We are conscious of how badly our society needs us and how important the work is. We see that indeed, we have chosen to be artists because we see the potential impact we can have in shifting, changing, reflecting, challenging, investigating and questioning our society. In these artists, we see a reflection of ourselves.

It’s common knowledge that it’s a particularly tough time to be in the theater. The financial crisis plays into a big part of that, but even more disconcerting is the fallout from long-term government cuts to arts funding: As our society places less value on arts education, people expect less from the work. We’ve all been in a theater where audiences give standing ovations to mediocrity. We’ve all read theater reviews that do nothing more than recount the entire plot of a play.

So, the process of sitting in the USA conference room, surrounded by photos, videos, and text, has more than one purpose. On the one hand, we are charged with the joyful responsibility of granting artists the support they badly need. But we are also charged with an accountability of sorts. How do we, as part of this community, keep the magic in the theater? How do we keep the beauty, mystery, wonder alive?

It’s no small task. Our work was never for the faint of heart. Nevertheless, the commitment to keep evolving ourselves/our work/our community is palpable in that room. We envision ourselves, alongside the potential grantee artists, diving even deeper into our art. We are inspired to go back into the rehearsal hall and overturn boxes, conjure the sublime, and plunge into the unknown territories. That’s what keeps us alive. And in turn, keeps our audiences alive. And for this, we are honored to be theater artists.