Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Interactive Global Theatrical Community


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week Cathy Bencivenga.

Well, I'll start out by saying hello and introducing myself. Hi there, I'm Cathy, and I'm both very flattered and very excited to be your guest blogger for the week. As my bio succinctly points out, I am, like most of you, a filler of many positions. Mainly, but not exclusively, those of General Manager for TACT/The Actors Company Theatre, an Off Broadway company now in its 18th season of presenting rarely seen plays (www.tactnyc.org), and Managing Director of The Internationalists, a collective of directors from around the world (www.theinternationalists.org). As a representative of these two separate and distinct organizations, I thought I would split up my posts this week and spend some time discussing my thoughts on each.  My goal is to ultimately land on what makes such different working environments actually pretty similar, and how they relate to the OOB landscape.

Thankfully, Amanda's post on World Theatre Day left me with a beautiful segue to discuss The Internationalists. We came together in the summer of 2007, when our members met while participating in the Lincoln Center Directors Lab. It was clear that there was a craving for more opportunities for artists of different countries and cultures to work together, and we set out to create a more, "open, sustainable, and interactive global theatrical community." The challenges to creating an international company were both extensive and immediately apparent - communication first. It's hard enough to communicate when you're across a table, much less across an ocean, but we had time differences, language barriers, and varying technologies all in our way. Then of course there's the legal stuff - visas, unions, and dun dun dun... money.

That said, I think what could be deemed the biggest challenge has ultimately become our driving force: our vastly different points of view regarding how "theatre" is defined. Does it have to be in one place? At one time? Does it have to have an audience? Does it have to be live? Our different theatrical backgrounds and cultures have given us (even those from the same country) a huge span of opinions and perspectives. In my previous experience, no matter how differing our taste or techniques may have been, there was a general consensus of format. There was a script, a stage, audience, set, lights, etc, etc. But with The Internationalists is presumption is not the case. One of the most enlightening moments I've had was when our member Dina Keller from Germany explained to us that she had been trained never to consider the audience when developing a piece of theatre. This was a revelation to me that boiled down what I think is the most basic element of how Dina's style differs from other directors in the collective, and I constantly revisit it when experiencing Dina's work.

Likewise, our heavy reliance on internet to communicate with each other has led us to find ways to incorporate internet technologies in the work we do together. For instance, the last two Novembers, we've presented an event called "Around the World in 24 Hours" in which we initiated and/or curated 24 continuous hours of international programming. With events some occurring live in NY, some streamed in live from other countries, and some prerecorded, the entire 24 hours was then streamed out for mostly online audience. In 2009 we had hundreds of viewers tune in from over 60 countries.

Given these goals and challenges, our creative output, more often than not, doesn't fit into 16 performance run of a showcase. We present mostly mini-festivals and one night events. This year we are forgoing the 24 hour element of the Around the World Festival in order to focus on a direct exchange between New York and Germany (to be presented at Surreal Estate on November 13).

I've rambled for a while, so I'll wrap up, but I can't end this blog without another little plug for World Theatre Day. We've hosted events in NYC for the last three years and were thrilled to join forces with the rest of the coalition last year to help spread the word. As Amanda discussed, WTD is an easy way to acknowledge and celebrate the vastness of the international theatre community.


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