Curating the Alcyone Festival
As some of you may know, we’re in the process of gearing up for our annual Alcyone Festival. I say gearing up, because the pieces are about to start becoming more public. In truth, it takes between eighteen months to two years of planning to curate and produce the festival each year.
Curation is a fairly malleable word for arts organizations. Depending on the context, it could mean a ton of different things. The short version is picking the shows that you see for each year’s festival.
That’s what most people ask me when the subject comes up, “how do you pick the shows?”
In truth I don’t pick them. I do, but I don’t.
Each year the festival has a different theme. That’s where my curation is probably felt the strongest. I usually pick the final theme. Because of the lead time, I’m working on nine possibilities for future fests right now.
Once the theme is set, the next step is finding all the plays that could possibly fit the theme, reading them and narrowing down those into the top twelve possibilities. I usually read between 300-500 plays a year, so I’ve got a pretty good working knowledge of what’s out there, but I also keep finding amazing plays by women, so I also ask writers, critics, literary managers, actors, godparents, anyone who has ideas for any women I don’t know about.
It’s a pretty incredible process when I can take a second to step back. I’ve been sent scripts for the festival from six continents. Most often, it’s accompanied by a simple note: “she’s amazing. I love her work. You should know about her.”
Once I’ve narrowed down the pool, I start talking with directors. I try to bring both young and more experienced directors to the table. Because it’s the biggest thing we do, it’s the best opportunity for us to give newer directors a chance to work with a great play. But we also try to work with directors who I can just set loose and watch them create something I can’t wait to watch.
As there are few things more painful than watching a show directed by someone who didn’t like the script, I don’t pick the plays first, but usually give the directors the pool of plays to look at and see what they’re passionate about. If the find something they love, great. If not, or if rights are tough to track down, I’ll send some more, until we find one that fits with the theme and the director wants to take on.
Because the fest is about celebrating the depth and breadth of women writing for the stage, the final slate usually reflects that. It also makes the curation different than some festivals with a more narrow focus.
For this year’s festival we are focusing on plays by Mexican women. I was intrigued by what I had heard about the Lark’s US-Mexico playwright exchange, but hadn’t read many of the scripts. Then at the last Latino Festival at the Goodman, I was able to catch some of the readings.
Trying to get the word out about the program, Henry Godinez matched several of Chicago’s Latino theatres with plays from the Larks program. I loved a lot of what I saw and the idea of doing some of them for the Alcyone fest has been in the back of my head since.
Initially the idea for this year’s festival was going to be new plays about women who shaped Chicago’s history, but after last year’s festival, I decided we didn’t yet have the infrastructure as an organization to do two festivals of all new works back to back. When I made that realization, I happened to run into Henry at a show and I immediately knew what the new theme would be, and one of the directors I would try to bring onboard.