Mastering Uncertainty

posted by Carey Perloff, A.C.T. Artistic Director

The season planning process is always a wild roller coaster. The hardest thing I’ve found about doing it at this particular moment in time is to trust that ANY of the instincts I have built up over decades of theatermaking have validity in a climate in which everything is so volatile and strange. We know we can not assume that the economy will support “business as usual,” but we have no idea what will encourage an audience to come out of its cocoon and go to the theater; we are trying to examine the marvelous template we have built for producing the highest-quality theater imaginable and to see what it would look like to do everything differently. In the midst of trying to responsibly contain expenses, cut costs, and ditch everything that is nonessential, we’re fighting to keep our eyes on the bigger picture—what is it about what we do that really matters, and how do we get the word out about it?

At this moment in time, it seems to me that whatever we choose to work on should be indisputably masterful. Just as when you have no money for clothes, it makes sense to buy one beautiful item and wear it every day, I wanted to invest this season in gorgeous plays that have huge literary richness, guided by real masters. There is something about the scope and vision and astonishing poetry of Racine and Brecht that is like a bracing tonic in a climate of tabloids and banality—they are simply the best there is. Likewise there is something about a conversation with director John Doyle that makes you breathe differently—you KNOW that you are in the company of a master, a deeply thoughtful and imaginative man who will bring all his artistry and experience to bear upon the work. I feel the same way when I walk into the studio to work on The Tosca Project and am confronted by the most astonishing collection of exquisite dancers and actors all committed to making up something entirely new but from the depths of their experience. Or when I talk to two of my heroes in the field, Marco Barricelli and Olympia Dukakis, about Morris Panych’s revelatory play Vigil. Or when I watch the transformational instincts of our resident company of actors and know that they will travel from Mamet to Ayckbourn on the turn of a dime because their theatrical muscles and imaginations are so well honed. Their vision is like ballast in uncertain seas . . . my own wavering instincts are bolstered by the sheer quality and depth of these artists’ experience, passion, and vision.

As we all wrestle with the choices we need to make to keep A.C.T. flourishing and moving forward, I keep looking for the nuggets that are UNIQUELY A.C.T. Like the fact that we are so multigenerational—that a senior artist like Giles Havergal is in the building directing M.F.A. students who are, at the same time, teaching acting to eight-year-olds in our Young Conservatory. Where else? Like the fact that we’re obsessed with the power and complexity of language and have spent months and months searching for a new speech teacher and text coach because we are passionate about plays with rich language and want to train and nurture actors equipped to handle them. Like the fact that we are an international theater in an international city and that next season contains a Canadian play, a French play, a German play, a whole British experimental theater company, and a dance/theater piece populated by, among others, a Cuban, a Frenchman, a Filipina, and an Australian. I love this!

I think the year ahead is going to be amazing, and impossible, and unpredictable. I feel incredibly excited about the work we’ve chosen to invest in and the artists who are creating it. And I feel like we’re going to keep asking ourselves the really hard questions, so that nothing is taken for granted as we ride the waves coming our way.

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