These women used these plays to profess #BlackLivesMatter in the face of unimaginable horror.
Artistic Intern Jerron Herman reflects on the first session of COLLECTIVE CONTEXTS:
It’s a simple idea—read plays—but when a group gets together to read plays that’s when the idea grows more complex. With our historical baggage, discovered freedoms, and future hopes all conditioning our response to culture, there seems never a convenient time to think about storytelling’s influence on those elements. Bred from our mission statement, Collective Contexts hopes to facilitate questions about the human experience through devised talks and discussions surrounding a modern text. Led by Colloquy Collective’s artistic director, Courtney Harge, Collective Contexts had a great first meeting on Sept 10.
It was a day of elections as ten new Collective Contexts members discussed their desire for the program and what interested them. Following the conversation, the group voted on the first theme to embark on. The winner by three votes was “Children and Childhood” which will mine such works as Gruesome Playground Injuries and In the Blood. The theme intends for participants to engage with the past or future of a generation; what are the elements of nostalgia and whether grownup means something different every time.
The meeting had a great reception at the Alliance of Resident Theatres Ft. Greene, Brooklyn studios space and will be in session there throughout the program. The inaugural group included theater professionals, educators, and chairmen—The NBT was in the house as a supporter, giving away five seats in the program. I’m glad to report the group was as heterogeneous as one could hope a first session to be what with age, race, status being represented in a spectrum. I’m personally excited to read and discuss. Theater is more than what’s on stage presently, but should really pervade one’s experience. This often looks like habituation, right? I go to the theatre every month. However, I’d like to think that theatre penetrates a life is through its presence. An occasion is often the key to make theatre a part of your life and that’s why this program will succeed. We’re taking time out of our schedules, making a choice to go “there” with these works. We’re not looking for right answers, just bold thoughts. With the start of this new program, it’s going to be a fun fall.
This statement is not meant to limit you, instead let it motivate you. Not being a blank canvas makes a space for nuance, complexity, and for you to take whatever is written on yours as source material for the story you wish to author.
Our Administrative Intern, Jeanine Donohue, offers her reflections on our mission and work:
What does the Colloquy Collective mission mean to you?
I feel that Colloquy Collectives mission really emphasizes the concept of looking at an idea or piece of art with multiple lenses. The topics that the company aims to touch on are very important to this generation and apply to all people. Although I have only worked behind the scenes of Colloquy Collective, I feel that every decision about programs and theatrical works is made on the relevance of what is going on in society and not items chosen from a list of random topics. A reason why this company is so respected by people is the fact that the founder, Courtney and her Board of Directors really take the time to discover what people of their community want and not just what they think will work.
What do you think seeing art about other people can tell us about ourselves?
Seeing art about other people can create new perspectives on topics that a person may have never even thought about before. Not only is there the chance that a person never thought of these topics before but one might have also thought that such a topic wasn't applicable to them or their lifestyle. Unfortunately, barriers are created without true reasoning and I personally think that two main causes of such barriers are both media and family values. These two sources can push people to think in one particular way and cause them to automatically shut out other peoples views.This is why opening the mind to art or just common conversation with different people is so important. It goes back to the saying, "You don’t know how another person lives until you take a walk in their shoes." People grow and learn through experiences, including other peoples experiences. The more exposure there is to different lifestyles and types of people, the more an individual can figure out their own voice on topics and what they agree or disagree with in the world.
Jeanine Donohue - Administrative Intern
Our Artistic Intern, Jerron Herman, shares with us what Colloquy Collective's mission means to him:
An art critic I met named Daniel Siedell was speaking and brought up a word that I want to incorporate daily-- contextus. As you can probably tell it involves context, but what kind? As a burgeoning writer my only drive, and therefore fear if I don’t accomplish it, is to find a foundational context from which to write and then from which to plead your interest in my work. The reason for that word, Dan pointed out, is it connotes a link, a chain, a cord. (This article by Dan is about Cezanne, but pay attention to his use of Sur le Motif!) How often we forget our link to one another and the world. I forgot, for example, while watching the stellar production of Wine in the Wilderness that the story dealt with me. I believe contextus can work silently, but, as if it were labeled on a perishable, it’s power is best used in conversation. And the conversations I’ve had!
The chattiest trains in New York are the downtown 3 and the downtown A. For some reason those riders are thirsty, or maybe just open, for conversation. Merely based on the fact we had a love of iPod word games--the amazing Word Warp which everyone should play--I met an executive producing partner at the Roundabout Theater Company on my way home on the A. On the 3, when me and two other friends were heading home, a flurry of degrees of separation began and buzzed in our car. The funny thing is the catalyst for all our the connections was a street performer named Geoffrey. The point is contextus is binding, both consciously and unconsciously. Being a part of Colloquy Collective has bound me to my roots in a way I feel is impossibly important. How could I ever consider being an artist without my history? Well, Colloquy saved me from that embarrassment.
The mission of Colloquy Collective means being doubly connected to and doubly strengthened by your surroundings. And what are my surroundings? Though they be varied, musical theater punk, vegetarian barbeque, Christian depravity, Black oreos--oxymorons of my experience--I can rest assured I’ll discuss all the facets of myself with this Collective. Here’s real patronage: investing in something to know yourself better.
Jerron Herman - Artistic Intern
Be more than the audience. Colloquy Collective presents a brand new program: Collective Contexts!
Collective Contexts will be a book club-style forum with plays from our community and beyond. The program strives to transform audiences into informed participants of published work. We want you to read, engage, question, and enjoy a new play with us in a 5-part series starting in September.
So, how will it work?
Well, that’s up to you: As this is a pilot program, your input is invaluable. We’ve included a (very brief) survey with some questions that will inform your experience with the new program. Click here to tell us how this program can serve you.
Ultimately, there will be five sessions from September through November. Twice every month, a group of you and some facilitators from Colloquy Collective will meet to discuss a play with drinks and light refreshments. We’ll talk about the themes, pitfalls, and praises - the discussion is yours to control!
So, please take a few minutes and complete our survey. Your insight will help us determine program costs and online features, as well as many other aspects of the program. After all, we at Colloquy Collective want you to create your own contexts and challenge your perspective. E-mail info [at] colloquy-collective [dot] org. if you're interested in participating!
Thank you for your time and we’ll see you in September!
HowlRound has published a list of Black theaters in America. It's too great a resource not to share.
Are there any theaters that should be added?
I just want to thank everyone for an amazing opening night. Wine in the Wilderness happened only because people like you believed in Colloquy Collective's mission and vision.
Thank you for your support and get your tickets! We're running through March 17.
Photo courtesy of Patrick J. Mitchell of ImagesbyPatrik.
I participated in a panel as part of The Fire This Time Festival this past Monday, and I can’t say enough about how amazing it was. Entitled "Submitting, Self-Producing and Survival Skills for the Day to Day," this panel featured several artists and producers who have created their own opportunities. Libby Emmons, of Sticky (a short play festival) said something that stuck with me:
Get your friends together and make the work. It almost doesn’t matter whether it’s good.
That statement is at all times true, poignant, and loaded. I loved it.
When presenting work that purports to tell the experience of any people, particularly marginalized people, it has to be “good.” One forever feels the pressure to tell the best stories of our people. But who defines what is good? Who defines what is best? And why don’t we feel empowered to make that choice for ourselves?
Keith Josef Adkins (The New Black Fest and THE ABANDON), at this same panel, said he was tired of handing his power over to others: agents, producers, directors, nameless valorizing institutions, etc. That prompted him to both create an alternate path for himself and examine the work he was making. I am asking us as performers of color to also examine our collective paths: by fighting to create a “good” yet monolithic tale of our experience, whom are we serving? By self-censoring, are we just reallocating the same power without correcting the inherent imbalance?
I challenge all artists thusly: go see work that you don’t like, then both challenge and support it. Examine what you find wrong and how you’d make it better. Talk to the makers of that work about their process. Expand the field in both breadth and depth by recognizing that making work happen is in itself a victory, and that work that doesn’t speak for OR to you doesn’t have to.
The ability to take risks with our image* is a sign of freedom. It allows us to make work that only speaks for some, which may mean it reaches fewer, but also means that more of us can tell an honest story about ourselves.
*By taking risks with our image, I don’t mean make crap that is offensive and calling it risky. If you don’t know the difference, please refrain from taking the risk.
...and then we read this. It is everything we were thinking and then some.
1. It’s insulting to presume you cannot or should not represent difference in your creative work. This suggests that people who are different from you, people who are the Other, are SO different—so exotic, so mysterious, so unknowable, so beyond the norm—you cannot possibly conceive of their existence. Consider the implications of that belief. Consider the limits of your imagination if you cannot conceive of someone different than you.
6. So how do we represent difference? The simple answer is, “I don’t know,” and the complicated answer is, “I don’t know.” When writing characters who are different from me (and this would be every character I’m writing as it’s called fiction for a reason), I start with the experiences and emotions people have in common. I tend to believe we are more alike than we are different. We get so stuck on this question of difference as if we’re from different planets. Don’t believe the hype. We all love and lust and want and know joy and darkness. We are all imperfect.
Alternate Reading of August: Osage County
In in powerful speech entitled The Ground on Which I Stand, Mr. Wilson spoke this truth to an entire industry: “...often where there are aesthetic criteria of excellence, there are also sociological criteria that have traditionally excluded blacks.” The entire speech is powerful, but that sentence simply and eloquently states the problem: the artistic vacuum doesn’t exist. Where there is social inequality there is artistic inequality. How can anyone accept the art of someone whose humanity they don’t accept?
I’ve been asking myself this question for most of my life. I’ve been learning the art of theater since I was twelve years old and I’ve always wondered why being “ethnic” was either the only thing anyone talked about or the only thing characters didn’t talk about. Being Black seemed to be only acceptable if it was convenient to either highlight oppression or illustrate the benevolence of a White person. Black characters frequently had to relate solely on the subject of their Blackness or ignore that their experience was in any way different because of it.
So then I wrote this. Tilling The Ground on Which I Stand is my attempt to wrestle with this question. Where does racism affect theater? What happens when we stop pretending that the sociological biases don’t exist in our art? Where do we as Black arts makers own our part of constructing these silos? How do we call out inequity and then work to correct it?
This is the discussion at the center of Colloquy Collective. I want to create work that struggles with these questions. I want to disrupt popular narratives and rewrite the American canon to be more inclusive, more informative, and more flexible.
My name is Courtney, and I'm building a dream.
There are, and have always been, two driving forces in my life: identity and theater. Everything I've ever done has been about discovering not only who I am, but also, how the world sees me.
Theater is the medium I've used to make those discoveries. It's amazing what a play can tell someone about themselves; it's even more amazing what a play can tell us about others. Theatrical experience can take us from our comfortable space and place us in moments that highlight our best and illuminate our worst. By playing as other people, the performer (and audience) can find themselves.
Colloquy Collective is, at its center, a theater company. However, I want it to explore the implications of the work it puts up: whom is it speaking to? What is it saying? Why? Whose experience is reflected on stage? Who is in the audience?
This is simply the beginning.
I want to create conversations. I want to ask hard questions. I want to make us all, myself included, a little uncomfortable. I want to make great theater. And mostly, I want to redefine who theater talks to.
Thank you for your time. There is certainly more to come.
Courtney - Artistic Director