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Conscious Language

"Between the Tigris and the Euphrates" at Poetic Theatre Productions (Photo by Bjorn Bolinder)

Since this is my first article here, I am going to go ahead and answer a question that I have become quite familiar with: what is the connection between theater and public service?

Speaking generally, art and the public sphere often intersect in outlets such as museums, music and performance in public settings, and of course within educational settings.

What barriers keep people from including art and creativity into their everyday lives? Time, of course, I think is a key one, but beyond that we have economic barriers and physical barriers.

None of these are exactly what I am doing, but I think people working in this field ask some important questions. The ones I concern myself with most are those relating to access. What barriers keep people from including art and creativity into their everyday lives? Time, of course, I think is a key one, but beyond that we have economic barriers and physical barriers. Where is the work being produced and enjoyed? Is it easy to get to? And there are social barriers. Does the work speak thematically to a diversity of people?

It’s impossible to ‘fix’ these problems without addressing socio-economic inequality on a larger scale, after all these barriers are not only present in the art world, but manage to transcend all areas of social life. However, I think that artistic and creative spaces are often some of the most vibrant and malleable, so I have quite a bit of hope for what sorts of change can occur within and beyond the theater.

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Poetic Theater Productions (PTP) does a lot of different work. Their work is poetic, theatrical, and relevant. The relevancy, for me, is where social justice plays a large part.

Within 12 hours of my initial arrival in NYC, I was in the thick of a 4-day-long event series PTP puts on called Conscious Language. The event coincided with a 5-day-long workshop for poets who wish to try out their hands in playwriting. So during the day there were playwriting workshops and guest speakers, and then at night there were performances and panel discussions. The central questions to the event were what does it mean to be a conscious artist? What does this practice look like? and how can we promote and support each other in the creation of conscious art? The initial submersion had me hit the ground running—as I quickly met all of the artists and collaborators with whom I will spend the next 10 months working.

Since the initial jump right into the deep end, I’ve gotten to start what is going to be my main project—forming a PTP Artist Collective. Today I held my first planning meeting for the project, and there’s a lot of interest and enthusiasm. I’m feeling really excited to take what I have been able to learn from artists and to start coming up with a functional model of how the PTP Artist Collective is going to run. Today I spoke with my mentor, Jeremy Karafin, about what my role will be in this space—that I am functioning as a producer and facilitator now, but he is also very encouraging of me developing myself as an artist, and such a collective space really provides me with the opportunity to wear all of the hats I want—playwright, actor, director, and work with a bunch of other artists who want to build social justice art. It’s the beginning of a beautiful community!

Also since being in NYC, I’ve had amazing opportunities to go to events as a part of my work and also explore the vast amount of free public programing available in different settings. I’ve been so lucky to see so many play readings and performances from theater and dance companies from around the world. Today I actually registered for a free conference at the Library of Performing Arts, and on Thursday Jeremy and I are going to an 'Artist as Citizen' event at Juilliard! New York has a lot to offer in the arts, but especially in cross disciplinary arts, which to me is really exciting.

So far I feel great about the work that I’m getting to be a part of, the people that I’m meeting, and the extra opportunities that I’m seeking out—and I haven’t even been here a month! My fellowship is off to an excellent start!

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Danielle Puretz
John Gardner Fellowship Program