The Artist as Citizen Panel Discussion Highlights

The Artist as Citizen Panel Discussion Highlights


I’m curious what us as — not — not as actors, what’s something that we can do to
engage, to help encourage the artist as citzen? We are equal partners as we come
together and collide. You have a key responsibility to that
when you’re occupying that seat, just as these actors and writers have a
key responsibility to you. So it’s the active engagement I think of,
to be up and forward in your seat, to be present, to acknowledge that you have a
role in it too — that is vital. That’s vital. It’s not just coming at you, you’re going
to it. And it’s the marriage of those two things coming together that are
essential. And then go out and talk about it. You all live in communities, large and
small. You all have relationships with your community schools or your gathering
places. You should be advocates for making sure that the arts are in the K through 12
environment. This is a situation that has suffered
horribly since the 1970s, not only in New York City, but around the
United States, and the arts programs in terms of their intensity and excellence
are — are spotty at very best, and I think many of us, I know, sure, here, but
you know, around the United States, believe that the arts are an important
and essential part of a k-12 curriculum. That they allow children to grow
creatively, that they allow these young children to — to explore areas that they
could not explore in other ways, and it is the voice of parents and citizens within communities that make the difference, because everything
in education in the United States is local. It is very hard to quantify, you know, the
effect of — of theater, because you just have all these individuals, you know,
gathered in this space, and then they are all dispersed and they go off into, you
know, their — their little boxes in the sky. They live in New York or they, you know,
they — they fly away, go to another space. And so you just — you’re just not very
sure if your art is making the impact that
you want it to. And so if there’s one person who’s affected then maybe that’s
enough. Uh, maybe, yeah, but you hope that you
know the people who have scattered and went into their little boxes into the
sky are having little breakdowns in their mind that will allow them to go
into their lives and look at people differently. We live in this culture of the silent
veteran. I know this firsthand, being a veteran and an artist myself. Well, a veteran, but I’m also an artist and an activist, and one of my
primary missions in my life is to bring the arts and bring my love of the arts
to my community, to the veteran, so that I can hear their voices, and I can hear
what they have to say, because that’s the truth when it comes to the veteran. So the question is how do we face that
challenge of not only reaching to the audience, but including the
audience, and hearing their stories, pulling them into the conversation, into
the discourse, and you never know, they could be artists in waiting themselves. Exposure was a key thing for me. One thing that we try to do is attack it
indirectly and actually not focus so much on on picking military-themed
material, but presenting characters that show the human struggles that
aren’t specifically military or civilian, and focusing a project on that, and not
have civilians tell a military audience what it’s like to be in the military. But
having said that, that’s not to say that if you’re not in
the community of people that you can’t understand someone else’s, or have empathy for someone else’s circumstances, and write something or perform something that — that they
resonate with even though they have no history with it. But for me exposure was
a big thing, and that inspired me to do something with it. Having a shared experience with them always has led to conversation and it’s
not just at ATAF events. Like, I’ve gone to Exit 12 Dance Company, let’s say, a dance company started by a marine that, sort of, their mission is sort of to bring the military
experience to civilians and just — just showing up. I guess that’s what Jim said. And then by
going out and seeing what they’re doing and being really supportive of that has
been, I mean, that’s how we built our audience in New York City. In 2007 I brought a theater program to northern Uganda to work with former abducted
child soldiers there and really the focus of our program was the 14
teenagers that we were working with to support them in sharing their voice with
their community but what I also found interesting was
when we performed, which we did, in their internally displaced persons camp, over
1000 people showed up from their community to see these young people
perform, and certainly the young people who are performing — you could see that
they stood a little taller, they spoke a little louder, you could see
the pride they had when their voices were landing on on their community. But what interested me was also the
reaction of the community and watching other children watch their peers up on
stage, and you could almost feel that, “I could be that — that’s something i could
do some day.” Much of the response that I got was,
“they’re starving to death and you’re going to do theater with them — don’t they need
food?” and certainly I think it’s what you said about, you know, the value of it when you see it. After we came back with the film people knew that
value, but how would you recommend, or and I don’t know if you get these sort
of comments or challenges in getting support for what you’re doing, especially
when there are so many budget cuts in the schools, fighting for the arts and
how do you address that and answer that? I think it goes back to what I was
saying just a little bit earlier that the young artists that we have at Juilliard, and any dedicated artist, is absolutely and totally committed to his or her work. And I think through
that commitment, through that determination, through that energy, what they’re doing is communicating
ideas and values that that will break those barriers that you saw in Africa, and that would not necessarily be the situations that
one would expect. I mean, as I said in my convocation speech, we can’t provide food, we can’t provide
sanitation facilities, we can’t provide medical care — what do artists provide? Well, actually, they provide our humanity.
And I think in our world too often, not just through tragedies and disasters, geopolitical disasters, but through the media, which is so quick, so
intense, so superficial, to be quite honest, that we lose some of the
very basic values that make us human beings. So all I think we can do is for those
of us who are involved in educating artists, or those of you who are artists,
and those of you who consume art, is to make it an important part of of what
we are as a society and not let it pass by. Because look, I say that the the last
president that really supported the arts was Thomas Jefferson, and — and I’m not
kidding too much. There is no politician that has taken any position,
plus or minus, on the arts, because it’s a it’s a political hot potato. How do we incentivize our politicians to
to say something positive about the arts, is what our effort is. I don’t think it’s quixotic. I think it just takes time and determination. The thing you said about those kids communing, in essence, with that broader
community and empowering each other in that moment, I think, really ultimately
speaks to how anything moves within the arts. That’s a profound a moment and I think when we’re lucky enough to share in one of those, and I think more
often than not we do. Although I would say probably nine times
out of ten theater events I go to I’m really suffering to get through it,
you know, but I keep going. I keep going, because at one time out of
10, something magical happens and the value that comes back to me and the
sense of purpose, of home, of relevance as one individual, is profound and it’s just
understood. It’s shared. And I think that’s the
ultimate goal, that you can make the difference. You actually can and I think that’s
where the arts ultimately is optimistic, and believes that, uh, that believes in
the humanity and the message that we have, in the potential we have, in
sharing something together profound. You know, there’s all kinds of reasons why we can’t do it, you know, and why we can’t move the ball forward, but you know, i’m
looking at our first-year students here, who have come from all over the place
and against all odds are sitting in these chairs, and each of them has a
story to tell about how they got there and they’re gonna have a lot of stories to tell,
from this point on, too. Each of us in the room could speak to a moment where one
individual — that teacher, that person who you collided with — that has profoundly
changed your life, and I think that’s what Katori’s going after, I think that
that’s what Adam and Joanne and Joseph and myself and everyone who’s involved
in the arts is really trying to attack, is to believe in the possibility of
something profound being shared and then ultimately giving us a sense of why the
hell we matter. It’s like the huge Greek questions: what
are we here to do, you know, that to me the only place I have found some sense
of connection to that which is, you know, like trying to wrangle a cloud, you know, is in the arts. I mean that’s the only thing that’s kept me to keep doing it, like, when I feel frustrated, you know, is getting the feedback from the audience.
Those little testimonials of — I was reading through some this morning
actually, just reminded me, and these are a few — that’s why I was like, “okay, this is
why we do this.” This was — I don’t remember what show it
was from but just an email we received where somebody said, “I suffered a brain
injury from my three tours in Iraq and I thought the comedy set was very funny
and wish the best of luck in all future sets. Stay funny, stay alive. The set has given me a renewed vigor to continue to get better and heal.” So that, I was like, “oh yeah, okay. I can keep doing this.”

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