This is the proposal for the Whatifesto that Yinzerspielen will present at the TCG National Conference in June. It was culled from/inspired by the questions and answers posed in this document, co-created by 18 participants all over the world in March. Comments/suggestions welcome!
What if theatre were a product not just of the artistic prowess of a small creative team, but of the efforts of a community-at-large, triggering a universal sense of ownership over the piece?
On March 13, 2011 a group of 18 participants writing from NYC, Berlin, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Munich and India simultaneously created a 15,000-word Google Document. Building from a handful of seed questions, they engaged in a 3-hour event — part debate, part brainstorming session. The result, our Whatifesto: the importance of developing a sense of personal investment in theatre within the community-at-large.
Recognizing that communal participation at a high level develops a sense of ownership, our vision of the theatre invites the community to participate in its administrative and creative processes. Our theatre replaces the role of season subscriber with “shareholder.” Using Community Supported Agriculture as a model, our theatre’s shareholders would invest through participation that moved beyond purchasing a subscription or volunteer ushering. They would be invited to build and strike sets, help make decisions through shareholder meetings, especially when choosing the next production, and would always understand the theatre’s reasons for a decision. Giving people a stake in the process gives them a stake in the product — it becomes their show and their theatre. Ultimately, it would produce their stories.
For our theatre, traditional theatre spaces must change. They must transform into communal hubs.Those spaces must invite participation by supporting non-theatrical events.They must actively collaborate by hosting events involving other community organizations: from schools to mental hospitals, prisons, and shelters. In essence, the space belongs to the community-at-large, and theatre is just one of the many activities that takes place there.
For our theatre, the creative process must change; it must allow for constant evolution. Shareholders will be theatre makers and theatre makers, shareholders. Productions will consciously grow and change from day to day. Each morning, theatre makers will gather ideas. In the afternoon, they will rehearse. By that evening, they will have incorporated those ideas into their piece. The shareholders see it, provide feedback, and the piece grows. We relinquish a measure of control and gain immediacy, relevancy and community voices in return.
Our Whatifesto’s writing methodology is a testament to our vision. A community that feels ownership of its theatre will regularly engage in debates, similar to our writing process. Consequently, theatre makers will need to be less controlling and more transparent in their theatrical practices. Our Whatifesto co-creation project was an experiment that allowed organizers little control, but opened up the playing field, sparking new debate and ideas.
Our “What if?” is achievable through transparency and diversity in the ways that audience and community members interact with the theatre.