USA Theater Arts Panel for 2010

Roberta Levitow (Chair)

Associate Artist, Sundance Institute East Africa, and Co-Founder, Theatre Without Borders, Santa Monica, CA

Ismâïl ibn Conner

Artistic Associate, 7 Stages Theatre, Atlanta, GA

Philip Kan Gotanda

Playwright, Berkeley, CA

John O’Neal

Founder/Artistic Director, Junebug Productions, and USA Prudential Fellow, New Orleans, LA

Diane Rodriguez

Associate Producer/Director of New Play Production, Center Theatre Group, Los Angeles, CA

Statement by Roberta Levitow

Theater in the United States just ain’t what it used to be—and that merits celebration!  Not only are we beginning to see the world through multiple lenses, but increasingly U.S. theater artists are leading us bravely into that new world with a polyphony of voices that speak in unique theatrical languages.

Live performance displayed its full array of styles, content, and methodologies before the enthusiastic eyes of our panel. We considered 33 applications representing performance art in public spaces; community-based productions; collective creations; site-specific installations; Broadway and regional theater; hip-hop theater and spoken word; storytelling; authored play scripts; and the aesthetics of the avant-garde.  

Instead of debating apples versus oranges, our panel welcomed the challenge to evaluate each artist according to his or her context, intent, and expression. How best to judge both an apple and an orange? To each its own essential nature and criteria of flavor, color, shape, and substance!

All of the artists recognized with this year’s USA Fellowships have very personal visions to share. They come from different backgrounds, and they work in very different ways. Yet as a group they illuminate something about who we are today in these United States.

Relative to the inter-community strife in many parts of today’s world, we live in remarkably harmonious coexistence: young and old; personally and ethnically diverse; alone and in the center of communities; exploring our inner truths or the lives of those around us; living in cities or small towns; working in the spotlight of national attention or in the unsung background; connecting globally or committing locally; reaching towards the lessons of the past, the realities of the present or the possibilities of the future.

Still, while many experience peaceful coexistence, many also feel the underlying tensions and divisions that threaten a unified society. Suppressed fears, frustrations, and longings collide in daily blogs, television news programs, print journalism, and popular culture. Theater artists offer us a rare safe space for the embodiment and imagined transformation of those tensions. As storytellers, they illuminate the meaning and reality of the human experience as they see it/hear it/touch it/feel it. Through their skills as writers, designers, poets, performers, and directors, theater artists provide us the sacred place and time to reflect upon the issues that most concern us.

Our panel was composed of its own diverse range of age, background, and experience. In stimulating, challenging, and enthusiastic conversation, it was our honor to consider so many deserving artists of impressive talent and accomplishment. The theater artists recognized this year, along with theater artists unrecognized, reveal a field transformed and transforming itself into the voices of the twenty-first century.