- A Note from the Editor
Over the last few weeks I have been thinking about the proverbial claim of academia as an “ivory tower”—supposedly free from the turbulence of the outside world. To a certain extent there are economic, social, and political buffers between academia and other milieus, at least in the United States. And certainly some universities are more buttressed from the economic realities of this moment than others. But what my editing of this current issue reminded me of is how we academics, and particularly those who deal with theatre and performance, are intertwined with and have certain responsibilities to our local communities. Indeed, as art-makers and as theorists of our art form, we not only interact with and comment on that which goes on around us, but are also engaged with the creation, and re-creation, of our cultural moment.
Scholarship that moves gracefully between theory and practice must also move ethically and intelligently among the communities that create the ideas and the work. I have come to think of Theatre Topics as a place to support strategies and create insights on such movement. Put into disciplinary terms, I see this through our commitment to pedagogy, devising, and dramaturgy, but also in our engagement with applied and community-based theatre. The definition and purview of such terms are complex. I invoke one recently offered in Theatre for Change by Robert Landy and David Montgomery: “Applied Theatre is a simple idea—this is a theatre for change that exists to question and challenge the given order” (130). Perhaps we can then say that what TT as a whole does is to ask what changes for whom, and why. As theatre artists and scholars (including those who identify as both, and those who look toward the other half of this duality for inspiration and support), theatre can become a bridge among higher education, the professional performance world, and the many other worlds that surround us. In this issue of TT such exchanges take place within communities as specific as one prison or one farm, or in more widespread communities based around a racial or ethnic identity in a certain geographic region. Thus it is with considerable pride that I offer the following essays and notes from the field, almost all of which question how theatre creates ethical change within specific communities.
This issue begins with a timely look back at the way that theatre has engaged with the overwhelmingly theatrical event that was and is 9/11. Facing the fifteenth anniversary of this tragedy, authors Elliot Leffler and Michael Mellas ask how theatre can be a place for maintaining complex and divergent views. Their reflection offers a hopeful engagement on how theatre can spatially, compositionally, and politically allow for a “dramaturgy of divergence,” while maintaining a culture of respect for those present in the theatre. With the hindsight that we now have regarding 9/11 and the subsequent turn in the mediation of news and its reception, the multiplicity of such theatrical experiences seems relevant and timely.
Catherine Ming T’ien Duffly continues the issue with “Farms and Fables: Cultivating Difference in Community-based Theatre.” Taking an applied theatre project in which members of the Open Waters Theater Company worked with various farmers in Maine, she points out the difficulties of bringing community-based theatre to those who may or may not be willing or able to participate. Such honest challenges for theatre professionals working with divergent communities is revisited in three brief, but powerful notes later in this volume: Monica Prendergast’s description of her project with the William Head on Stage company in British Columbia; Paul Maunder’s far-reaching experiences as a “journeyman writer” in New Zealand/Aotearoa; and Fadi Fayad Skeiker’s interview [End Page ix] with Alexander Schroeder as he seeks to bring therapeutic theatre experiences to the Syrian refugee populations who are, as we go to press, still fleeing a devastating civil war in their home country.
Other fascinating convergences arise with our next essay, Lisa Jackson-Schebetta’s “Worlds of More Than One,” and the final peer-reviewed essay in the print version of this issue, Lisa Quoresimo...