2012 Pilot Institute for Directing & Ensemble Creation*
by Sharon Bridgforth
I was thrilled to receive an invitation to participate in the 2012 pilot intensive of the National Institute for Directing & Ensemble Creation. Due to a prior engagement I wasn’t able to be present for the full week of work so Andrea Assaf, on behalf of Art2Action & Pangea World Theater, asked me to join the pilot Institute for two days of the process. My contribution would be to facilitate a public work-sharing and discussion with an invited audience, and to facilitate a closed debriefing with Institute participants on the final day of the Institute. I am a long time fan of Pangea, and have wanted to work with Andrea for ages. So this was an easy yes for me. The roster of participants revealed an exquisite list of artists. I felt nervous. Excited. Blessed by this invitation. The fact that the group was going to be engaged in an intense process for five full days before my arrival was scary, but I trusted Andrea, Meena and Dipankar’s faith in me. After officially agreeing to join up, my mind swirled in anticipation. How does one find footing in a circle that is already in motion? What can a facilitator do to establish trust, create safety, be most useful in a short period of time? How could I plan work that would be in harmony with the intentions set during a process that I wasn’t a part of? How does one effectively join a group that is already established? I was absolutely intrigued. I knew the challenge would offer me a tasty time of growth. I knew that working with the Institute participants would require I stand tall in my grown people shoes.
Each step closer to entering the room affirmed my experience of knowing that work with the Institute was a Divine Opportunity for me. I could tell that participants were invited, not only because they were brilliant artists, but because they were hard working, respectful, professional, community loving, generous, spirit driven collaborators. The organizers took great care and consideration with each detail along the way. Communication was clear and forthcoming. Upon arrival I found that the lodging was beautiful and convenient. Ground transportation was available. There was wonderful, healthy, delicious food everywhere, all the time. Questions and concerns were welcomed. And I received my check in my hand upon arrival. Great ingredients for making optimal productivity possible, and fun.
The National Institute for Directing & Ensemble Creation was envisioned in response to the dearth of professional opportunities for directors in the U.S., particularly directors of color and women, and to the lack of in-depth ensemble training in various forms for future aesthetics. During the Institute, attention was given not only to the wealth of experience in the room, but to the vast expertise amongst surrounding communities of local and national folk. Institute organizers worked diligently to activate its goal of creating collaboratively generated material. To open and link the circle. To actively share the work with broader communities. Indigenous, and global traditions were not only embodied in the room, they were valued as models, tools, resources to the circle. This was critical as participants worked to re-imagine theater with no separation of aesthetics and social justice. After all, as Audre Lorde said, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.”**
Stepping into the Institute workspace, I immediately felt Lifted. The room was electric. The evidence of deep connection vibrated in the space. Workshop notes layered the walls. There was lots of laughter. Theatre games. Small groups sprawled about deeply engrossed in brainstorming. Some were totally quiet, in contemplation. It was church. Holy, like gumbo. Like Love in action. In this room, filled with heavy hitters, long time artist/leaders/activists. People who have earned national reputations for excellent work. For service. In this room, everyone knew that the work was not about them. That the promise of a greater good was at hand. There was an absence of ego. A kind of generosity and playfulness that felt warm and assuring. Their integrity and soulfulness gave space for me to step in/to step up. For days before my arrival I meditated on a series of questions, ultimately praying to be of use to the greatest good at hand. Standing there breathing in the room, the road map to my quest became clear. Be present. Listen.
Follow their lead.
Circles and circles and circles. Deep breath in. Release. Silence. Open. Connect.
Extend. Honor indigenous voices. Re-imagine our new now. Respect all that Is. Sing
Linda’s song: “What is my work? What do I do? How can I serve, your purpose too?”
Deep breath in.