When Jenn and I talked at the foundation of halcyon and throughout the strategic planning process five years later, there were several companies that we repeatedly referenced as inspirations: Theatre du Soleil, Cornerstone, Ten-Thousand Things, El Teatro Campesino, Intar’s playwrights lab under Fornés, and Schoolhouse Arts Center in Maine.
There are commonalities across the group. They are non-traditional, overtly political, move out of bricks and mortar as an exclusive means of presenting work, work with specific communities/areas, and/or work together to develop artists and work in a family atmosphere.
These are the key tenants of Jenn’s and my vision, followed by creating an environment for people to create in that is safe, welcoming, encouraging and honest. Clarity, transparency and engagement should be our guides. Dismissiveness and negativity are our bane.
As I mentioned yesterday, over the course of the past year, we started to veer off course and shifted back into the well worn groove of the dominant model of play production. However, the model is broken and trying to be just like everyone else is an organizational death sentence. Dismissiveness and negativity for the sake of negativity are counterproductive and lead to entropy and disillusionment--a slower, but no less potent, gallows.
After Family Devotions, we will move to a new (for us at least) model of working. Developing works as an ensemble and exploring and exploding existing works over months, opposed to weeks, as an ensemble. These ensembles may not be the company you see today.
As Minita has said, we need to take longer with our shows. We will do fewer, stronger works.
As Ed has said, we need an ensemble that wants to work together. Ideally every show we do will have around 70% halcyon members and 30% guest artists
We, Jenn and I, are working to strengthen our relationship with the church in our neighborhood where we have been lucky to rehearse at, as a home base for exploration: incubating works with playwrights, exploring and exploding extant works, and devising new works.
Our goal is aspirational, and we can’t reach it from within a silo. Our mission is only as powerful as our vision. Our impact is the only way to truly measure our success. Filling the dominant model is the farthest from our goal I can imagine. It is a trap that we must avoid as we begin anew.
“What is our impact” and “what is the value” need to be a factor in every choice we make. And we must remember, value is more than finances. The growth of our artists and our artistic work are more valuable than box-office receipts.
Drawing from the traditions of Lorca, Grotowski, Boal, Mnouchkine and Fornés; we must strive to reject the emotional realism and naturalistic style that pervades Chicago stages, just as Stanislavski himself rejected it a century ago.
We must constantly question the hegemony of the euro-centric male perspective, and the ignorant notion that no other writer reached the heights of Shakespeare. Clearly Kālidāsa wrote stronger works than All’s Well that Ends Well. Lope de Vega’s hundreds of existing works can go toe-to-toe with Shakespeare's three dozen. Wole Soyinka can give Chekhov a run for his money and Cixous’ vision of the world is galaxies beyond that of Mamet. Most don’t know much about them though, so we blindly accept the chains of the eurocentric-male canon and close ourselves off to the true possibilities of the theatrical form.
It is in this spirit we will begin the next leg of our journey. Two big additions we are undertaking is a performance exploration/workshop and a playwrighting lab.
Even though we rarely work in naturalistic modes, I’ve found it extraordinarily difficult to get some artists to work outside of it, and it has hampered some of our work. The only way we can fully inhabit other modes, I think, is to create an environment to unlearn the decades of deadly performance modes that have accumulated. So we’re starting a lab, calling it the compass lab. It’ll be up and running by the end of the month.
We will also do more work incubating new plays. Building off what we have already done, we’re going to start a playwrighting lab, called the nest, that will function as a hybrid between Fornes’ lab at INTAR while it was still running and what the LARK does in New York. The two overarching philosophies I have are that work on new plays must be about helping the artists amplify their own voice free from an organizational aesthetic being imposed upon them, and it has to involve works going up on their feet so writers can see their works coming to life. The readings culture that is rampant in the field is as deadly to new plays as “premiereitis” is.
We will work to continue helping artists develop as well as continuing to hone our own aesthetics. Hip-hop, dubstep, and the globally influenced styles of artists like Manu Chao, are the soundtracks we begin with. New style, Balinese puppetry and Sanskrit dance among others are physical starting points, as we borrow from the special forces techniques of force multiplication--adapting them for non-violent purposes--alongside a rasquache-infused sense of purpose. (more on that tomorrow)
A theatre grappling with our universe, one that is not afraid to wound, nor too timid to help heal. A theatre that provokes and inspires, that fills audiences with the rage and fury deserved of an unjust world. A theatre that entertains and teaches. Overtly political, presentational, human and tearing down the walls that confine us while developing artists and works.
Inspired by the use of art in the struggle for social justice of Jane Addams and Cesar Chavez, among others, we must strive to make our art an agent for change. “Non-traditional” methods, but here I pause, for in truth, it reaches back to the oldest traditions.
The myth of the Halcyon, where we draw our name is one of connection, transformation and ascendancy. It is a story of love and impact. It calls back across time to our oldest traditions and leads to a time of just serenity.
What we have done since the beginning is advocacy through performance. It took me six years to realize that was what to call it, but it has been there from the start. As we shift gears we’ll continue to hone and sharpen that. We'll continue to build and strenghten the Alcyone Festival, which in less than five years has gained national and international attention. Which is a crazy thing for me to hear coming out of my mouth. Even sounded crazy when I said last weekend a national conference I was invited to speak at because of the festival.
In business terms, impact drives revenue. In artistic terms, impact is what fuels our mission. Impact is the thrust of Halcyon’s vision for the future. Though we started to get a bit off track and we shifted from building towards the vision into trying to fill the existing model.
Part of that is on me for not laying out the vision in full, more clearly, more often. This is a turning point. As I told the company, anyone who does not wish to go in the direction of the vision is free to step back at any point. In fact, I encouraged anyone to do so now if they were having second thoughts.
Christine has used an example from the world of running. If you are going to move from a ten minute mile to a 6 minute mile, you have be be okay with leaving your friends behind while running. We need to be okay with leaving people behind in order to move forward as a company. Halcyon will be moving to a different place.
As everyone came by choice, everyone can continue by choice. However, anyone who does not wish to follow our new course will need to be left behind. Obviously, I hope that’s not the case. We’re really lucky to be able to work with so many great artists from across the city, and I hope that we can continue to work with as broad of a group as we have.
The path to our future lies in: incubating new works, devising new works, exploring and exploding existing works and performance styles as an ensemble over as much time as is necessary and outside of existing walls as necessary. It will cause a radical restructuring of how projects are selected, and we will move away from a season to season model to only producing a work when it is ready.
The current model of production, of play selection, of revenue, in short the model we shifted towards filling, is inherently broken. It doesn’t produce great work, it doesn’t sustain itself financially, it doesn’t bring joy to most artists, audiences or administrators. So I cast it off and set my main goal to be guiding the company as we work to build towards the vision.
To be honest, the past year has been pretty rough going in many ways, but I'm more excited now than I think I have ever been. Sometimes it just takes a while to realize what is not important, before you can see what is.