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Closing Plenary Session—2017 TCG National Conference  Full Circle—Portland, OR—Sat, June 10, 2017

Closing Plenary Session—2017 TCG National Conference Full Circle—Portland, OR—Sat, June 10, 2017

Okay, now people! (crowd cheers) We are almost there! Welcome to our final plenary,
it’s our fourth if you’re counting. Which means our conference
is living up to its title. Which is full circle…
I know I’m feeling really full stuffed from our 3 days together,
and I hope you all are too– full of new ideas to bring back
to your theaters and communities and new relationships to sustain your work
over the uncertain months ahead Now it’s my pleasure to honor some of the very important members
of our circle, without whom we could not do this work. If you’re a member of TCG’S current
or alumni board of directors, please stand or signal as you are able
so that we can thank you. (crowd applauds) If you’re a member of the TCG staff,
you may very well be running on empty rather than full, please stand or signal
so that we can thank you. (crowd cheering) Now, you know, the national conference
is almost our big production of the year. It really involves the entire staff
and many people were deeply involved in the programming but I do want to
mention and give a particular shoutout to the extraordinary Devon Berkshire
who is our director of conferences. (crowd cheers) Finally, this year we relied more
on our volunteers than ever before so many of you who are volunteers
are also vital parts of the Portland theater community. I’d like to ask you to please stand
or signal so that we can thank you. (crowd cheers) It’s really — This has been
such a wonderful community to be in and between our host community
and our volunteers and all the support we received
we’re just feeling thrilled and full. Back to the full circle. In the spirit of generosity,
I am pleased to announce our funder award this year
because the phenomenal growth and development of our theater field
would not be possible without the vision and commitment
of the funding community. To help me honor our regional
funder of the year award please join me in welcoming
Cynthia Rider to the stage. (crowd cheering) Thank you. I’m Cynthia Rider, I’m the executive
director Oregon Shakespeare festival and we’re so happy to have all of you
in Oregon. For those of you who don’t know,
we’re in the southern part of the state 15 miles from the California border
so the other end of our wonderful sister city Portland. So I could not be more honored
to be presenting the regional funder award to the James F and Marion L Miller
Foundation as our regional funder of the year. (crowd cheering) Let me just give you a couple of facts
about the Miller Foundation. They are leader in supporting
the arts ecology of Oregon. They’ve made a commitment to theaters
and the performing arts for organizations large and small
all across the vast geography of our state from Portland to the coast
to Eastern Oregon to the Oregon Shakespeare festival
and our theater community in southern Oregon. So the foundation is really an activist
and an advocate for arts & arts education in Oregon.
Let me give you a few figures. They were established as recently as 2002
and in this short time they’ve had a major impact.
In 15 years they have given away $69,776,853 to 236 organizations. (crowd cheering) While their financial impact is really
extraordinary I want to talk about the thing that is really
making them special. They really listen and respond
to field wide needs in grant making. They make program grants and encourage
theaters and theater companies for change capital request, to navigate
major ships in our programming and our business model. I started in the Oregon Shakespeare
festival about 4 and a half years ago and Martha Richards is the executive
director and Michelle Reynolds their program officer. One of the first funder meeting I sat in
was a meeting where they had given us a grant
and were delving deeply into the complexities of rotating rep,
which still doesn’t make any sense to me on some days. (laughs) I’ll talk to you more about that next year
at the conference. But the idea that a funder would both
let you dream really big about what you most aspire to
while also helping fund experimentation and risk taking in your business model
with a level of deep understanding of how risky and complex and scary
and exciting that is. I have encountered very few philanthropic
partners that are willing to go there. So they see and they act on the needs
for both operating support and program support. Helping us dream and endorsing
the importance of our day to day practical work. So it is my great honor to present
to Martha Richards the executive director on behalf of all of us in the field,
the regional funder to the James F and Marion L Miller
Foundation. (crowd cheering) Thank you. So as is the cause, everyone starts
with their full circle moment. More than 30 years ago as a new lortd
the theater manager in Saint Paul Minesota I aspired to attend a TCG conference
but you know money was tight. I’m sure you don’t understand that. and each time the opportunity
to attend came up I made the decision and sent
the artistic director. I never made it to a TCG conference. So this is a lesson in understanding
when the universe actually responds to your wishes, it responds,
you just never know when. So I am humbled and pleased to attend
my first TCG conference. (crowd cheering) I want to thank you for inviting us
and I want to thank you for honoring the James F.
and Marion L. Miller Foundation. One of our directors is here. Alice McCarter is sitting over here,
and I just want to acknowledge our directors (crowd cheering) So James and Marion Miller
were passionate supporters of education and lovers of the arts
but they did many things and they’re giving rather quietly. The foundation has a philosophy
of giving which is also fairly quiet but best expressed in a simple story
told to one of our first staff members who joined the foundation. Our grantees run the marathon.
You run the marathon. And we are standing at one of the water
tables, handing you a cup of water. We never forget that the work
is not about us but about the people whose work
benefit the lives of people all over our state. You rarely find the Miller foundation
center stage, except this moment which is creepy. (crowd laughs) We really prefer to be in the wings
or at best in the audience. So rather than talk about us,
I want to thank the Oregon theater community that creates and produces
excellent work in this beautiful unpredictable and deeply imperfect place. You probably know best about us
because of the Oregon Shakespeare festival in Portland center stage who I’m thankful
actually get our name up above all the other places on the east
and west coast so that you actually know something
is happening in Oregon. But there are lots of companies,
they produce new work but there are lots of companies producing
new work in our, what I would call lively ecosystem and so I want to call out
a couple organisations so that you know what this ecosystem
looks like. I want to thank the companies that work
on really tight ensemble of actors like Third Rail and Imago,
companies that reach out to families and children wherever they are,
the Northwest Children’s Theater and School
and Oregon’s Children’s Theater. We have a number of companies
that actually live to house and serve other artists, if you were
at the late night party last night that was at ART and their hub
is actually a home to 10 companies that include Risk Reward staged
and the Portland Shakespeare project among others and then there’s Coho
which actually gives you any kind of service that you need
and incubates emerging artists not just emerging companies. and then we have a whole slew
of theater companies all over the state that are really building deep roots
in their neighborhoods and communities: Bag & Baggage, Broadway Rose,
Milagro, PassinArt, Portland Playhouse, Oregon Contemporary
Theater, August Wilson Red Door Project who did “Hands Up,” Profile,
Shaking the Tree, Fame and Hand to Mouth. These are all the most wonderful partners
a funder could want to have. I wanna thank you all for providing
arts education in this state when we zeroed it out 20 years ago
and I want to thank you for fighting here in the Portland area to pass the imperfect
arts tax which is actually restored into our schools. I want to thank you for committing
to working for better living wages and affordable housing for artists
and all people in our communities I want to thank you for supporting
emerging voices and emerging artists and giving them a home. Thank you
for your activism, your voice and your unflagging energy. The Oregon theater movement is highly
collaborative, directed, deeply engaged and led by some of the finest artists,
managers, directors and staff members I have had the privilege of knowing. And to all of you, thank you for coming
to Portland and embracing us. Thank you for being among, letting me
be among you and letting me learn and share a breath. Thank you
for your passion, your commitment to equity and social justice
and your totally fabulous super power. The ability to change minds and hearts. There’s never been a more important time
for the work you do. Please continue to bring our audience
this joy and laughter, history perspective and reminder of the humanity
which binds each to the other. Wake us up. Slap us around, and then toss us back
in our seats to reflect upon what we’ve seen and heard, okay?
Thank you. (crowd cheering) We should actually give her the award. (crowd laughs) Thank you Cynthia and thank you Martha
for bringing water to so many theater companies and artists
in Oregon. You know, Martha was my first boss
in my first grad school internship in saint-paul Minesota. Full circle y’all. Now, to help me present the national
funder of the year award I’m thrilled to welcome André De Shields
to the stage. (crowd applauds) Good afternoon. My beautiful, my bold,
my bountiful blessed and beloved brothers and sisters. My name is André De Shields and I am
a recovering artist. (crowd laughs) I am glad that brought
a smile to your faces. What do I mean by referring to myself
as a recovering artist? This is what I mean. I dream in technicolor. I live my life in technicolor. And when on stage I expect
to be encouraged to perform in technicolor. I have been red,
I have been the color orange, I’ve been the colors yellow, green
blue, indigo and violet and when non-traditionally cast
I sometimes am the color white but deep down in my dark feminist soul,
I am the color black. Intermittently, when the political climate
veers towards determined exclusion. the color black is oftentimes mistaken
for the color of invisibility. It is during my journey as a black, gay
elder story teller that I’m too frequently perceived as invisible. Those are the times where
I’m most in need of recovery. A space where I can experience
rehabilitation of my spirit. In order to restore the best self
which is my soul. My seven decades long adventure
towards self actualization has also been a battle against racism,
sexism, ageism, homophobia. All the indicators of invisibility. In 2012 when navigating the most difficult
crossroads in my life, I became the recipient of a Fox Foundation
resident actor fellowship in distinguished achievement. That embrace of recognition by both
the Fox Foundation and theater communications group has to this day
been the most significant moment of recovery in my adult life. It taught me in the words
of the Rabbi Tzvi Freeman that nothing can hold me back. Not my childhood, not the history
of a lifetime not even the very last
moment before now. At any moment I can abandon the past
and once abandoned, I can redefine it. If the past was a ring of futility,
let it become a wheel of yearning to push me forward. If the past was a brick wall,
let it become a dam to unleash my power. I am indebted to the William and Eva Fox
foundation for reminding me of the exquisite challenge voiced
by Ayn Rand, the question is not who will let me.
the question is: who will stop me? The Park’s foundation 10 years commitment
to equity, diversity, inclusion and educational achievement provided me
the opportunity to re-dream in technicolor to reinvent myself in technicolor
and to forever dispel from my existence the color of invisibility. It is my distinct honor to have been asked
to present the national funder award and here to accept this award
is Mr. Robert P. Warren president of the William
and Eva Fox Foundation. (crowd applauds) Thank you so much. Really, thank you. – Thank you.
– I got your back. (crowd laughs) I told Andre before this, I said
if I collapse, just make my mouth move and he can just provide the opal for after but I’d like to really thank Andre
so very much. I didn’t know I was collapsing
that quickly but… (crowd laughs) But I want to really thank Andre
for his really impactful remarks and for taking time out of his hectic
schedule to be here for his introduction. He was this extraordinarily generous…
I want to first off express my deepest appreciation to TCG
for selecting the William and Eva Fox foundation as this year’s recipient
of the National Funder Award. I’m surely surprised and extremely honored
and incredibly humbled when I received the call from Theresa
informing me of this prestigious recognition. For most a quarter of a century
the William and Eva Fox Foundation has steadfastly committed itself
to underwriting the artistic development of theater actors as a wonderful way
and a meaningful way to strengthen non-commercial theater.
Fundamental to that financial support has always been a core belief that actors
are essential artists in our society whose performance helps to exquisitely
define our individual humanity. Simply put, actors are precious resource
that must be nurtured and given an opportunity to stretch,
to grow, to challenge themselves professionally in order to reach an higher
level of artistry. The Fox fellowships are intended
to turn actors highest noble aspirations into personal triumphs. Over the last two decades,
the Fox Foundation has gone through several iterations, each one intended
to build a better more effective, fellowship program. in the beginning the Foundation
looked to recent graduates of McGill the Tisch school, Juilliard,
the national theater school of Canada and the Guildhall School of Drama
in London for their deserving recipients. Several years later the Foundation joined
with the actors center in New York. Working closely with Michael Miller,
universally respected as one of the leader in the acting training movement, Michael
recently told me that the Fox Foundation’s early support was vital to the actor
center growth and current success. The last ten years we have collaborated
with TCG to refine and expand the Fox scholarship program.
My thanks goes out individually to Theresa, Amelia and Jessica Louis
as well as many others in TCG who have worked tirelessly to provide
the Foundation with their expertise and who have helped to facilitate
the growth we could have never had on our own. We have worked together to incorporate
into the grant making process my vision that the Foundations
should serve not only the actor but also his or her respective theater
and its diverse communities. I am committed to the proposition
that these constituency should be considered and factored
into the grant making process. I likewise maintain the strong belief
that those who have benefited from the generosity of others
to give back in some way in order to build and maintain
a vibrant and vital artistic community. As the Foundation reflects back
on its history, it’s easy to recognize the common thread that binds
together Fox fellows. Their commitment to excellence
and their steely determination to improve their craft. Along those same lines,
I hope that the Fox Foundation will be acknowledge as having
an unwavering commitment to and a clear recognition of the importance
of equity, diversity and inclusion in this grant making process. Finally, I would be remiss
if I didn’t acknowledge the funder of the William and Eva Fox Foundation,
Belle Fox, who so generously gave to establish this Foundation
in honor of her parents William and Eva Fox who themselves
were early pioneers in the film industry. Today, I accept TCG’s national funder
award on behalf of the Fox family and specifically Joan Fox, Wayne Garden
and Susan Fox Rosellini. We are indeed grateful for the Fox family
extraordinary philanthropy and for the lasting legacy they have given
to future generations of actors. Thank you very much. (crowd applauds) Okay, I get another moment
of deliciousness. The theme of this year’s conference
is full circle. Those who attend the conference know
the full circle’s exists infinitely limitlessly, eternally, every year
we come together and TCG provides this platform
for us to realize our dreams and give us the wherewithal to go back
into the world and do what we do best. Tell those stories that transform
individual lives. That alter governments and that ultimately
change the world. Even in the not for profit universe
capital is required to do those services. Why this moment is delicious for me
is that I was chosen to be the mascot for this year’s fundraising. (crowd applauds and laughs) When you picked up your orientation
packets, this card was inside. On one side, the side that I’m showing you
is my presidential look. (crowd applauds and laughs) This is my imitation of Barack Obama. (more laughing) Is that up — Oh yes. on the flip side is an example
of when on stage I want to be encouraged On the flip side… to perform in technicolor. But here’s the example of full circle. On Friday morning, the board chair
who is Kevin Moriarity who is the artistic director of the Dallas
theater center delivered the first appeal for funds
for TCG. On Sunday, tomorrow evening. Kevin Will
accept the Tony award for outstanding regional theater. Right? (crowd applauds) This is myself in the role of Prospero
in the Tempest. Directed by Kevin Moriarity. The producer of that public works
production is in the audience Daron Miles. (crowd cheering) That’s what I call full circle
and that is why I make this appeal to you. That whenever you can, however you can
and as much as you can give back to mother TCG.
She needs your help so that she can then help you again. There are four ways to make
your contribution here’s a sidebar: I believe as I’m sure
many of you do. The universe is made for our pleasure,
now how do we keep that going? By feeding the universe
its appropriate fuel. What constitutes the fuel
of the universe? I believe it’s generosity and gratitude. TCG is the example of generosity,
us giving back is the example of gratitude and whatever you can give,
and I don’t say this facetiousiouly whatever you can give is generous
and here are the four ways you can give : You can text your gift to the following
number 3477088809 but it’s on the card. You can donate online
at You can donate by mail, which I did,
before coming here. (crowd laughs) By mail, you do that by using the TCG
mailing card. Or you can do it in person, now is this
still possible to do it in person at the registration table?
Are they still up? Okay, so it’s no longer possible
at the registration table but if I were to pass a hat… (crowd laughing) You could donate in person. Thank you very much for allowing me
to spend this time with you. For the moment I am totally, completely
recovered. Thank you. (crowd cheering) Wow. Oh my goodness gracious.
Thank you André. André has been…
Talk about generosity has spent so much time with us
just really involving himself in this effort. So we really appreciate it and also,
thank you to those who donated yesterday after Kevin’s pitch. Again,
just deeply appreciate it. We’re gonna move on now
into our final plenary and I should just say it shouldn’t be
a surprise to anyone who knows them that incoming weather might delay
but never ever would deter universes from taking the stage. (crowd cheering) Because since their founding
in the Bronx in 1995 universes has redefined,
not only the stories we tell on our stages but how they are told. This national
ensemble theater company of multi-discipline writers and performers
fused theater, poetry, dance, jazz hip-hop, politics, downhill blues
and spanish balleros to create such groundbreaking works
as “Ameriville,” “Party People” and “Unison.” Now playing at Oregon Shakespeare festival
to engage in a conversation about their work, we’re also blessed
to have with us Chay Yew artistic director of… Yeah,
bring it for Chay. Artistic director of Victory Gardens
theater. They’re gonna be up in a minute but first
we’re going to see a brief video about their work. (Universes practicing a song) Universes got started
In the open mic scenes of New York city, we were individual artists working with open mics and we kind of
got bored with the format of poet get up and poet get down,
poet get up and poet get down so we started getting into groups. Most of our work is political,
I guess in nature because we’re from the neighborhood
and the neighborhood talk about everything from politics to religion. (spanish singing) (Universes doing poetry on stage) All of our stuff is kind of founded
in what the conversations in the community are and since our musical background
comes from hip-hop and jazz and boleros and other such types of musics
when we go up and each of us delivers a palm, the acappela
accompaniment that the rest of us are creating
is from that base from jazz or hip-hop or boleros
and that’s how we accompany storytelling. So we take all of those different
generations of like latinos and african american in the art city
in particular and just bring all of that onto stage with us. Ladies and gentleman, Universes! (crowd applauds) So how did Universes start? (music plays) What’s happening? I love that.
How did Universes start? – Universes started a looong–
– Steven and I met in 1988, in college. – I think that’s when Universals started.
– Okay. – That is true.
– You know? Of course, you know, you can’t claim
all of that but 1988, Steven and I met, in 1993
many of you guys know we started a place called the point
community development corporation and live from the theater
in the south Bronx of New York. In the point is where Universes started. We had this building
that we had kinda brought together created this great art space for everyone
to come and think and play and do whatever the heck
they wanted to do. – Which was an abandoned Bagel factory.
– Before we got it. In the south Bronx. It had petrified
bagels on the roof. You know how we do in the Bronx. Anyways, Universes would–
we would close the building down at the end of the night to kinda separate
charge from state. We were like, alright now we get to play
so we would close down the building and just hang out in the atrium and we would start kinda doing poetry
to each other or we would sing song to each other
or we would eat, talk about a lot of stuff and that’s how it was born and we started
going to the poetry scene in New York city We had a van that we’d drive around
and it was called Chikaka. We would drive Chikaka around…
(crowd laughs) – You guys are getting the real.
– Getting the real deal. To the poetry, the new week Ecapolis cafe
in New York and we would pull up maybe an half hour
before we’re supposed to go on and we would sit in the car
and kinda do this and start singing.
It had the best accoustics so we would just kinda sit there
and start doing poetry… I don’t know why you guys have theaters,
you should have vans. So we would create, we had a great opening
two minutes and great closing two minutes. So we would go up there and do
the two minutes and after the two minutes ended
you didn’t know what was gonna happen. So one of us would start singing a song
or would start a poem and the rest would just kinda follow
and we’d do it until it started to suck then we would call something out
and go to the closing 10 minutes and like– Then we’d walk off and go back in the van
and be like “So what are you thinking?” – “Are we gonna do this?”
– We’d do the critical response. With ourselves. We just didn’t know
that’s what we were doing. Then let’s say a day later
or two days later we’d go back out with the same piece again
and change the top, do this over here and that’s how we sort of found
what it is we do now. Where it’s really just about listening
and if you’re in a club especially a poetry club,
people are walking by somebody is smoking, the microphone
goes out, somebody is heckling you… We’ve had all those experiences,
so when someone says to me “How is it like performing in front
of a white theater audience?” I’m like “Please… Get up on a hip hop
stage after some hip hop group and then we show up… Do that
and then talk to me.” So from all of that, your time
in the poetry scene what was the transition like
and how do you get into the theater? What was that first project,
what was the process? At our building in south Bronx,
we’d produce a theater festival. – I called Mark Russell–
– The RockeFeller Foundation. – Ah. Well, yeah.
– John Sugar Kawar – Yes.
– Gave us the grant to support that. That was our very first grant
to create theater. It was incredible, she just said:
“Here, do this.” and we invited people. and we just said “let’s put on a show
for these people that we’ve invited.” So we call Mark… I call Mark Russell
on the phone — He was running PS1-22 in New York
at the time and Mark actually picked up the phone. So I kind of half talked him into coming
and he actually showed up. But he came and he saw us,
literally we walked off the stage and I closed the dressing room door,
I close it and like (knocking noise) And I open it and mark is standing
going “Oh my god. Oh my god.” How do 200 people pay 15 and 20 dollars
for a group I’ve never heard of – In the Bronx.
– In the Bronx. – He said: “You have to come to PS1-22.”
– He was looking at ticket prices. That’s the bottom line and how do I get
these people to get to my theater. Smart man, smart man. We’ve learned
everything from him. We went down to PS1-22 and we did…
I think we did two nights or something – for like a 1000$ between the 5 of us–
– Did we get that much? Definitely that much. But what he did was he called Joe Barnes
who’s a director and he said “Joe, you need to check out
this group, I don’t even know what it is they’re doing but I think
you should see it.” and so Joe came and it’s funny,
we were performing in a space at the time. We did something at PS1-22
and there was somewhere else and there was maybe 8 people
in the audience. Nobody there. But we only know how to perform one way,
either on or off. (laughs) So we were up there, giving it our all
and Joe was there. So we walked off the stage
and she came backstage and was like “That was really interesting.
I don’t know what it is, but why don’t you come to my office
just kind of read me stuff.” So for a year, we would go to Joe’s office
maybe three-four times a week and just sit there and read poetry to her,
talk, crack jokes and she’d just sit there and listen to us
for like, hours and then go: “Alright, that sounds
like a piece.” or “Maybe you guys should
do something with that.” Then Eric Bagosi, her husband,
if you don’t know Eric. And I love Eric. He didn’t come out at first
and then the door cracked maybe two weeks into, then the door opened
and Eric finally came out. – Eric was in the room.
– And he was talking to us but that was sort of… And Joe
kept saying to us like we’re just hanging out, it’s no big deal. It’s just work, and then New York Theater
Workshop wanted to work with Joe and she said “Well, I would love to work
at New York Theater Workshop but I’m working with this group,
maybe you should bring them to your summer retreat.”
So we go to the summer retreat. It is the first time we have really been
anywhere to do our work – and so —
– To do a theater retreats. That was a big deal, I want to tell you
something and I’m not looking at him. It’s about 2 o’clock in the morning,
we’re in darkness, sitting in the dorm. (crowd laughs) We’re sitting in the dorm
and we’re working, we’re working hard. The door opens and Chay walks in
and he’s like “Oh no.” (crowd laughs) Full circle y’all, he still does that. This is how we met him he’s like “Oh no. You let that woman
slave y’all?” – “She got you here working?!”
– and we’re like “No, no, we’re excited.” So he’s like “Oh, y’all like doing this?
I better go back, I better do some work.” – You’re gonna make me look bad.
– And that’s how we met Chay. – That’s how we met this guy right here.
– All of you who have stories, line up. – I’m sure yours are worse.
– So long story short. New York Theater liked what we did
that summer and invited us to come and gave us a slot in this season
and that was a big deal for us. It’s like “Wow, it’s on Broadway. Wow.” – and that play was called Slanguage. (crowd applauds) – Thank you.
– Thank you. The funny thing was, it was like…
I didn’t notice a lot of american theater till now. So the room is about 3/4 full
and people were excited and there was some people walking out cause we were cursing, on stage. I remember we did something, I turned
around, turned back and the whole second row was gone. (laugh) I was like “Damn.” but the New York Times came
and the New York Times reviews the show and the New York Times said
“This exciting theater group, blablabla.” And then, let’s say that was a saturday
by that tuesday, the rest of the room was sold out. I was like… Wow. And that was the first time
we got called a theater ensemble or a theater company. So we were like “I guess we’re a theater
company now.” And that’s how we transitioned to theater. Let’s talk some hardened process,
how do you do this thing. Does the subject matter come first,
does the form come first does the music come first,
does someone that said something…? Is there an example of this that you can demonstrate
at some point to us? There probably are. We showed an 8 minute video,
well, I know. They wanna know how it’s done. – We talk about it first.
– Give an example. We don’t have a definite way
that things happen. we basically have — The important thing
is we have to be kind of sequestered. – Yes.
– You know about this. So because there’s so many universes,
we’re not the only two universes in case you guys don’t know,
we have Gamal, we have Ninja… Ninja would’ve been here but he’s at the Oregon Shakespeare
Festival performing in the Odyssey tonight So that’s why he’s not here with us.
Gamal is in San Francisco… We’re all over the place, anyways,
we have many members Asia Mark is in “Unison,” you see her there,
she’s the young woman who’s leading our show there
and Chris Mansa is in San Francisco. Xangun Jiqam is in New York,
so we’re all over the place but, you can see why we have to be able
to come together and be able to be sequestered,
because we’re just, spread too thin. And once we are in a room together
like when we went to Play Makers. They’ll give us a house at Victory Gardens
and we’ll just kind of live together and then suddenly you wake up
in the morning, you listen to music and you’re like humming a tune
and suddenly someone’s like “Ahh!” You start doing a little bit of that too,
you start flipping the tune somebody says or you see something
on the news, that really inspires you like oh we gotta go away for 5 minutes,
I’ll see you in 5 and everybody comes back with something
in response to this thing. There are no rules to how we create it
we just have to be in communion if that makes any sense. We have
to really be in that most vulnerable place and it’s always been the truth for us like the first time we started doing this
we turned off all the lights at the point and we just said
“Listen to each other breathe.” We started to learn how each other breathe
we started to learn how each other moves the difference like, if you’re here
I’m gonna go down there. Nobody says okay, you take a high
you take a low, you do this key… No. It’s just really organic and it’s about
just finding what it is that this community
of people, this cluster of people has to say at that moment in time and we dump that in a lot of our workshop,
we’ll tell people “we believe everyone can sing, we believe
everyone can write we believe everyone can dance, express.”
It’s gonna be different for everyone and if you take a different kind
of configuration of people you’ll have a different result
but with the same cue. So for example, we could do something
with you guys. You saw the little thing that we did
on the video there with people. So here’s what we should try to do. We’re going to try to involve y’all. Because all of you can sing
and all of you can be Universes and everybody is a universe
in their own right. so, what we believe–
You have to though… Listen. Don’t go crazy and don’t think
that this is now my solo moment and I’m gonna be discovered. We’re gonna give you two pieces
that are already kind of structured and you’re going to find your way in.
and it’s really about Jazz. Everybody knows Jazz? You have to know how to feel your way
into something you have to understand when it’s necessary
for a sound to just creep in and then exult. Know your place and know how to get out. You exit and you entrance. Steve is gonna do a poem
and you probably have heard this before but we’ll do it and then you find
your place in it find your place in the Universe. – You’ll start where? Dudududu?
– Um… Yeah. If you wanna pick that up,
you can pick it up too. Something that’s in here,
you can own it. I was ready for somebody like Reggie
to come out and be like (sings) – You’re right, you’re right.
– Well, just a little bit. Just to show how organically
the work comes how we trust… You gotta know and trust
the people in the room with you. That we’ve come in to kick ass
and I’m being very honest when we come to the stage. There’s no place bigger than the other. So we are here, this is the equivalent
of performing in a community center in the Bronx. This is the equivalent of being
on the stage of 800 people in Soudan It’s the same thing as performing
in Sing sing prison It’s the same audience, it’s the same vibe
you come the same way. So we don’t have to talk to each other
like “Oh, we’re about to do this now.” No, it’s the same thing. That connection to community
is just as important as the connection to this theater community. To be that present with people.
We’re project kids. We’re from the project of the south Bronx. Even coming here, I used
to get the American Theater magazine in college and sit here like
“Oh, this is really that cool.” I’ve said this before and I’ll say it
just because I can say it now. We used to sneak to the TCG conference
back in the day. You shouldn’t say that. We had no money so– I’m keeping it real,
we would drive, we would find where it was so we could get to it, we would drive
to it and then we would park the car we would get a room and then everyone
just hung out in the lobby so we would always kinda hang out
in the lobby we didn’t have no tag we’d just hang out
in the lobby. and we would just talk to people
and then when the crowd would go we’d just kinda slide in with the guy. Thank you TCG. We just wanted to be around,
I wanted to see what the field was I wanted to see what was going on
in these rooms and that was the way, at that time
that we could get in the room. That’s what we brought back
to our communities. We’d tell them like, look,
there’s a field of people doing art. There’s a field of people.
That was a big deal. Like “Wow, we’re part of a “Field.”” So what inspires you?
What inspires you to take on a subject into work, into a project
that you are proud of and make reality? I think it has to come from that community I think our lives inspire us.
The people that we have interacted with the people that raised us, the community
that raised us. It was hard, I always say–
There’s time growing up… I never knew I was poor.
We always talk about that. We never knew we were poor.
There was one time I was talking to my dad “Yeah, we were poor…”
and he was like “No we wer– No, he was like “We were poor.”
and I was like “No we weren’t poor.” He was like “Yes we were poor,
I had three jobs.” He would tell me things and I was like “I didn’t feel
we were poor.” and he was like “but we always had
chicken in the house.” Right? and I was like “wha- Did we always
have chicken?” and he was like “You sometimes
had rice and beans with a fried egg on top of it and that was rice and chicken.” (crowd laughs) and I was like “That’s right.” but you kinda look back at things
you know. We’ve always just been able to
stay connected to where we’re from. No matter where we go in the country,
like we’ve been touring for many years and now we’re even residing in Ashland,
Oregon. It’s craziness. It’s crazy.
But no matter where we go all those stories come with us,
all those people come with us. They are us, they are…
When we walk down the street we’re no different no matter
where you drop us. Ghetto will go with ghetto.
It will happen, it’s in my blood. That inspires us, those conversations
that with “Party People,” with “Ameriville,”
“Ameriville” in particular we’re definitely trying to stay
connected to the news try to see what the heck is happening
in this country. – We need lots of therapy —
– Why don’t you describe what “Ameriville”– “Ameriville” was a play which Chay directed
and developed with us. It’s call– It looked at America
through the lens of hurricane Katrina. and this was after 9/11,
just a few years after 9/11 the country is devastated again
but this time it had a different– There was something… We were eating
ourselves from the inside out. We’d be saying
“Oh these people over there.” or “Oh, they should have left.”
or “They were refugees.” and when we started seeing
all this crazy talk we were like “What is going on?”
Those are our people. We’re the same people.
This is america. Aren’t we a unit? So it’s always about the unit with us.
like aren’t we a unit? Aren’t we supposed fight for each other? We decided to create this play
called “Ameriville.” Which we knew was gonna be complicated
because we’re not from New Orleans. We’re from the Bronx
and from the Lewis side and it was just like “But we have to do it
because we’re the same people.” We never felt like we needed permission
to do it; we felt like we have to do it. Everybody should be doing it,
because this is our country and these are our friends and family
and people we love and adore. So we set out to do it
and we started just to go to New Orleans. and we stopped a family there
and just started to learn you know, our similarities. We are more alike than we are different. We started to put these stories
onto the stage. You could really actually take that play
and change the event and it’s the way that we live and breathe. Is how I see “Ameriville.” and then the same thing with Party People. I have to tell a quick story
for you people. We were at the Humana festival in ’09
and we were doing “Ameriville.” After the show was over, I’m in the lobby,
and I’m talking to people. In the lobby as things happen
and somebody grabs my hand really tight so I’m like, I’m talking and I’m like
“Who the hell?” I look and she goes “Hi, my name
is Allison Carry I’m from the Oregon Shakespeare festival” (audience laughs) and she goes “I think you guys are great, and I would love to commission you guys
to do something, is that alright?” and I’m like “Yeah, alright… Okay.” And then she goes “I’m gonna call
Bill Ross right now, is that okay?” and I’m like “Yeah, okay.”
and she runs away! (crowd laughs) So I’m like “Okay, that was weird. Okay.” It wasn’t that bad! That is what I saw!
That is what I saw! I finish talking to the people
and as I’m talking to them I’m looking past them and I’m like
“That crazy woman is standing there waiting!” She was like waiting
behind everybody. I’m like “She’s still standing there.” “I’m gonna have to really talk to her.” So I go over to her, she’s like
“Okay, I talked to Bill and Bill says he really want to commission
you guys” and I’m like “Okay, great.”
she’s like “Okay, great!” all happy and like skipped away
and I go to the group and I’m like “I just met somebody from Oregon
Shakespeare festival who I think want to commission
us to write a piece?” and it was very happy about it. – Yeah, and I still am!
– Yes. (crowd applauds and laughs) I say that story because —
I tell it cause it was very organic – And I love — Alison is family to us.
– It was a life changing moment. Because she said it was about the american
revolution, right about a moment in american history
and we thought about it and we went “You know, we’re gonna be real
with ourselves.” “Are we gonna be truthful
to who we are as people?” “When is the moment of change for us?” and for us was the Black Panthers
and the young lords in the communities. We wanted to be truthful to that
so we said to them “Well, I don’t know if you guys
will let us do this” but we went to talk to the Black Panthers
and the Young Lords. They were like “Great! Go ahead!” – And then–
– Shotguns? Sure! That process of going
to talk to Revolutionaries for those of you who know them you know they are very serious individuals
and you ain’t coming sideways to them. Now we knew some of them from New York
so that was easy, we got started there. The thing that actually sent us
around the country was the New England Foundation
for the arts, gave us a theater award. That allowed us to go across the country
and interview people. Allowed us to bring, actually bring
Panthers and Lords to different venues with us
and have conversations with the community so that people could meet them. It was the thing that we had never done
before, we had interviews before with “Ameriville” but it was in New Orleans
so it was kind of… a location, but this was nationwide. So Neefa in the house
and we are so grateful. And to really sit there and think about
for real for real. What does this piece mean
and what are we doing? You know, we’re not playing
if you bring in these stories to an American stage, it’s like
“We’re not playing with you. You can’t come half.” So we had to come for real and invite them
to come see it, not just do it, – invite them to come see it.
– We actually never gave them a script. Never let them see what the content–
we interviewed so many Black Panthers and Young Lords and they were so gracious
and giving us kind of that open space and just so available. We were like, this is what everybody
needs to know how available these people are
and they’re just like us they’re just walking…
They’re just at the grocery store standing right next to you
and ordering a sandwich. They’ve told us things
and I said this before they’ve told us things that made it
in the show and they’ve told us things
we’ll never repeat out of our mouth, ever. To be at war in this country,
what they went through. Even in the moment we’re sitting in now
it’s a very real event. We used to all talk about
government agencies and all that It’s real. It’s not fake. So all of this you had to be very present
for and prepared for. When you’re gonna do work.
How do you take — You know, we sat with Bobby Seal
for three day and 15 hours. How do you take that and make that
into a piece of art? – and how do you sculpt and shape that?
– So how did you? (crowd laughs) It was hard as hell. Names would change to protect the innocent
and the guilty. I think that we decided to…
Just tell the story of humanity and to talk about… I mean
it was so perfect, this country look where it is right now. You can play “Party People,” “Ameriville”
“Slanguage,” nothing has changed. It’s irrelevant… We took people’s
stories and we started to as we do kinda blend them all together,
cut and paste and we worked with Lethal Tommy on “Party People”
and she helped develop that piece as well. So Chay did “Ameriville,” Lisa did
“Party People,” whoever comes near us becomes part of our ensemble.
That’s just what we say. Stand close, stand close. So let’s talk about “Unison,”
your newest project at OSF What is it and when is it live? At “Unison,” we worked with Robert O’Hara
on “Unison.” “Unison” is inspired by and includes
the unpublished poetry of August Wilson. It’s August Wilson with us,
sort of meshed together in 1995, I was in Pittsburgh at a writing
conference and I was this young poet just happy to be in the room,
I don’t even know how I got in the room to be honest with you. All these theater companies
are doing excerpts of August’s plays and August WIlson sitting up there and I’m sitting going “August Wilson
is actually sitting up there!” I found myself just staring at him
the entire time. Like wow. They were doing the excerpts and they called
him up to speak and everyone rose to their feet
like “Yeaaaah!” He reaches his hand in his pocket
and pull out a piece of paper and he goes “I don’t want to read this.”
he reaches in his other pocket and pulls out some paper and go
“I want to read some poetry to y’all.” and he starts reading this poetry
I’m sitting here going “Wait a minute.” Like, I’m a poet I’m like
“He’s a poet.” It wasn’t somebody who kinda doodles
on the side I’m like “Nah, August got skills.
August is a poet.” So I never forgot that.
I’ve been trying to find out where that is Years and years go by, I could
never find it, google it, nothing. I saw in an interview, he said something
about a box somewhere but that’s all I heard. Then one of the actors in “Party People”
Jival Thomas knew Costanza Wilson, August’s widow and in the dressing room,
it was just me & him in the dressing room and I said “Jival, is there any August
Wilson poetry somewhere?” and he goes “How do you know?” and I’m like “Oh! It exists?!”
and he’s like “Yeah, how do you know?” So I tell him the whole story. I say “Do you think maybe
we could see it?” He goes “Ooh, you gotta Costanza that one
I ain’t got nothing to do with that one” so long story short, we got access
to Costanza and she invited us out to the house and she let us look
at this treasure trove of poetry by August Wilson. Handwritten on the back of napkins,
on the back of menus, play settings. Typed but his E was messed up
so the E was always off. But we sat with it for those couple days
just kinda listening to another fellow artist speak.
You know what I mean? and we decided that if we could figure
this out, this is something that we would love to be able to do. I can honestly say that 5 years ago
we wouldn’t have been ready for that. We had to go through “Slanguage”
to get to “Ameriville.” We had to go through “Ameriville”
to get to “Party People.” Through “Party People” to get to “Unison.” So “Unison” is a perfect blend, I think,
of August’s words with what we do. It was really just–
He is the fourth writer in the room and when we would get stuck
like I don’t even know Mildred would go “August, speak to me.” – I had a direct line.
– He would… He would. and we worked with Robert O’Harris.
It’s been a beautiful, crazy ride. Because a lot comes with August
and you know that. but we also know that there’s a lot
to come with us. Not as big as August but a lot
to come with us. So can we bring our true selves
and our real selves to this work. One of the things about doing this work
with August Wilson’s poetry was that we didn’t want it to look
like an August Wilson play. We didn’t want it to feel like it
we didn’t want it to become a pivot piece. Actually when we talked to Constanza
we were like “We want to bring it to a new generation,
we are a new generation but we want to even bring it to
younger generation than our own.” So how do we have that conversation
like three different generation of conversation in “Unison.” It was about just changing the way
you see August Wilson and that’s why, just doing what we do
and then kind of using August’s poetry as its chakras, you know —
Like there’s a pulse here. There’s something here,
now how do we bring that back to life? Wake it up in a different way It’s a really beautiful piece
and I’m very proud of it. I don’t know, you’re right,
it brought us from the point. The full circle. We thought it was
really interesting that your theme was full circle
because we started out as poets, right? We slowly became poet play rights
got through this whole journey interviewing people, understanding
our entire country and now we’re back to being poet
play rights using the poetry of an american master. It’s a privilege to just be here
and we don’t know where the next loop around the circle is gonna take us
but this have been a pretty awesome loop from poetry to poetry all over again. What I think is wonderful too is american
theatre is all the richer for it. Ladies and gentleman, this one last video
in Universe is gonna close us out with a performance. Wait, before we show this next
video clip, this is full circle to us. When we show the clip, it’s us
at university of Utah. and the lead singer is our 16 year old
son, Quest. Now, I say full circle because
when we first thought of coming to the TCG conference, it was a baby.
It was always like “Where’s the baby?” and he has literally been around you guys
since he was little. – All his life.
– So, forgive me if I cry. But it’s like for him to know what we do
and understand what we do and to see it, and to feel it
and experience it. That’s all I can give him. So we got to this performance
to actually see him on stage not just as my son but as an artist
who’s been soaking all of this in – and it almost broke me.
– It’s really important for us as american theater to not dismiss
our children when they’re sitting among us ( applauds) To not close the door to them.
I feel as a mother who had to travel you know, through america all these years,
it’s been hard. You know, usually the woman
will have to stay home. Somebody gotta stay home and feed the kid
but the kid came with us. With MPN, with the network of ensemble
theaters with the national performance network
with the TCG. Everybody knew if Universes was showing up
so was Quest. So we want to thank you all for helping us
raise him. He’s gonna be a senior in high school and we just wanted to kinda give you
a little bit– Quest has never performed with us before
and have never performed with us since. (crowd laughs) He’s starting his own group. You can play it. (Quest singing “Feeling good”
by Michael Bublé) Universes! Thank you! (applause) Thank you. Wow. You know, I was just thinking
I was at that 2009 Humana festival and I kinda remember Alison skipping away
from you guys and I didn’t know. Anyways I’m glad that you all–
I am so happy that you crushed all these TCG conferences back in the day
and that you are here today and so generous with your stories
and with your performance and seeing Quest. What an amazing thing.
So thank you, anyway. Before we grab our drums and head out
to join the rose parade I wanted to say a few words about the days
we’ve just experienced together. A cycle of days that manifested
so many big, beautiful circles. Full circles of theater people
holding hearts to show solidarity with those devastated by violence. Circles of learning and awareness
about injustices within our theater system and how to disrupt them. Circles of giving and receiving mentor
ship, connecting with old friends. Sometimes around the full circle
that was the lobby bar. We tore down walls and built up skills
we dined at the wee hours and hatched new plans, we explored
the illusion of fear with virtual reality petting zoo and the realities
of fear for the most vulnerable in our communities. And we had art! From the immigration story
of Teatro Línea de Sombra and their Amarillo to hands up,
to building the wall, to refugees state and of course, the ultimate artist,
the bagpipe playing uni-cyclist at the opening night party. Our path forward may involve
a much more rigorous analysis of what brought us to where we are
as a theater community and as a country. It will explore the difference
between having empathy and acting upon it. A commitment to what it means
for theater to play a role in reconciliation and bring us together
to truly see each other. And on that note, please pull out
your calendars and set down June 14th to 16th
because we will meet you in Saint Louis for the 28th TCG national conference. The host community there is fired up
so I hope you’ll come with us from the city of bridges
to the gateway arch. Thank you. The conference is ended.
Let’s go drink. (crowd cheers)

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