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Company: Keynote Speech from the Thirty-second Mid-America Theatre Conference

From: Theatre History Studies
Volume 32, 2012
pp. 1-15 | 10.1353/ths.2012.0026

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

I'm a company man.

I grew up in a very hospitable family. When I was a child, a lovely and quite crazy woman who went to our church came to stay for a few days and ended up living with our family for a good six months. That was more typical than unusual. My family moved a lot when I was growing up, on average once every two years. My father was a company man in a solid corporate mold, his career confirming the truth in the joke that IBM actually stands for "I've Been Moved." Wherever his work took us, though, my parents opened their home to new acquaintances that quickly became friends.

In my early twenties, when my peers and I started our own theatre, we would gather at my parents' house. Everyone would fly into the local airport, and as many as fifteen of us would crash in sleeping bags in the basement. The next morning, we'd take turns showering and making breakfast before piling into our big blue van and hitting the road for our next residency in some far-flung corner of the United States.

I now live with my husband and our two sons in southern Oregon, and the example that my parents set is alive and well in my life. This is our first home with a spare bedroom. Because Ashland is a great place to visit, our guest room is filled nonstop from late May through early October every year. Sometimes we have so many guests at once that they spread out onto the couch or the floors of other rooms as well. I especially love flipping pancakes in the morning or grilling burgers on a summer night to feed a house full of people I love.

What can I say? I'm a company man.

In the summer before my senior year of college, I had my first experience as an audience member at a Wooster Group show. My heart started to pound much faster than it ever had before in a theatre. My artistic life was forever changed. My encounter with one of our nation's leading experimental troupes did not make me rededicate myself to pursuing radical aesthetic forms. The lesson that I took away from my Wooster Group encounter was that exceptional work of any kind comes out of company. In response, I devoted the last semester of my senior year of college to launching the Kronauer Group, a twenty-person ensemble that would work together on multiple projects. No one auditioned; I just invited fellow student actors who I respected to come play. We performed in the basement of my dorm, as well as multiple corners of our campus, and did dozens of projects, some for a day and others for several weeks at a time.

Most of the founding members of Cornerstone Theater Company were part of that senior-year experiment in company. After graduation, I had worked as a word processor at a tombstone company (that's the subject of another talk) and then at the Kennedy Center as an assistant director to the stage and opera director Peter Sellars. When I told my father about my desire to cofound a community-based theatre company, he was concerned, if not outraged, that I'd leave a good job at a major cultural palace, the Kennedy Center, to "run around the country with my friends from school."

How could he not understand? I'm a company man.

Twenty years later, I finally reached a period in my career when I was a full-time freelance artist. I was excited to spread my wings, to focus exclusively on working as a director without the burden of institutional responsibility. From my last day as Cornerstone's artistic director until the day I was appointed artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF), there were a total of four months. Four months is the sum total of my life as an exclusively independent artist.

I should have known better. I'm a company man.

I promise to move on from this endless refrain with its unfortunate emphasis on my gender, but I do really want to...



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