It’s been almost two weeks since I said goodbye to Ithaca and my time at the Hangar. As I think back on my summer, it fills me with such joy and inspiration for the future when I think about all the amazingly talented people I was fortunate to work with!
Our lab company (which was comprised of actors, writers, directors and dramaturgs) was truly remarkable – they inspired me daily to become a stronger, more evolved, director/leader for them. In working with them, and directing for the Kidd Stuff series, I realized the importance of an expansive theatre education/experience. While my core values as an artist are geared towards evolving the theatrical form, I realized part of what I need to factor into my future work is time devoted to helping to develop young artists. Introducing lab company members to new methodologies of working, theories and writings of past theatrical giants (such as Gordon Craig, Adolphe Appia, Erwin Piscator and Tadeusz Kantor), and being able to talk to them about art was probably the most rewarding aspect of my time at the Hangar. While I hope I imparted some useful knowledge upon them, they taught me. They reminded me why I make art.
When you teach or lead, you have to ask yourself first – what is it that they need to hear or experience? For me, it was making sure they knew that in art there is no absolute truth or right/wrong – everything is a matter of taste, perception and context. We are repeatedly told there are “rules” about how things are done. While rules are good guidelines to follow, slaving to them stifles creativity and foresight. Being an artist (and leader) is about constantly breaking and redefining the rules; and making up new ones as you go along. Why follow a recipe every time when you have a kitchen full of delicious ingredients to experiment with?! It is through the risk of veering off the established path that we find greatness. Having to articulate this to myself sharpened both my own approaches to making art and my approach to leadership.
I’ve come to defined Leadership as the ability to have foresight into the future; and being able to clearly articulate (as best as possible) what that vision is. Then, and arguably more importantly, it is being able to tap into your collaborator’s collective power and inspire them to work beyond their peak performance and thrust them into greatness. Only by harmonizing everyone’s unique power can we robustly carry out a thriving vision. In my directing work, I’ve really come to understand what the role of director is. To me, to direct is to liberate – the text, the actors, the designers. Directing is being able to tap into the soul of the text, and of your collaborators, and foster the freedom for them to excavate the greatness that lays inside undiscovered. It is about listening to what is happening in the room and being able to mold what is being authentically offered. Always say yes. True confidence is the ability to not know – as scary as that is. A key thing I’ve realized - it’s never about you. You are the seed that grows the mighty oak, not the might oak itself.
Being a leader is to go head to head with one’s own personal demons, doubts and fears. It is being prepared to stand alone with your vision, and core values. Leading is being able to use whatever our deepest fears or insecurities might be and transforming them into the fire that will power you forward. This was something I thought about a lot this summer – how do we transform whatever is alive in us that is holding us back and/or blocking us from realizing our maximum potential? For me, I am discovering, it is about living in the gratitude and not getting lost on the problem. While this may sound simple and obvious, it is much more challenging on a daily basis - especially with a thousand and one things that need your attention!
This experience has awoken something deep within me that is beginning to shift. To quote Sondheim, “Something is stirring, shifting ground, its just begun.” (I couldn't resist!) It has helped me to further define who I am, what I believe in and why. It has fueled me with the courage and confidence to move forward in my work; and helped to open me up to receive others.
I am so profoundly grateful for this experience and for all the talented, inspiring, caring and joyous artists I was able to collaborate with all summer.
- Michael Alvarez -
Photo Credit: Emma Ettington. From my Kidd Stuff show, The Adventures of Lewis and Clark and other Tales from the Way Out West - only reimagined through the lens of an Alien Bubble World! We got weird.