“The importance of this is that we are building a tremendous intercultural, diverse field where we can bring our whole selves. That's what's important.”
Linda Parris Bailey, 2018
NIDEC (National Institute for Directing & Ensemble Creation), “arose as a response to the death of professional development and exchange opportunities for directors in the U.S. – particularly directors of color, women and trans-identified directors” (Andrea Assaf, NIDEC Co-founder and Art2Action’s Artistic and Executive Director). As far as mainstream theater was concerned, there was no room nor urgency for change in directorial perspective. Refusing to adhere to such restrictive standards, Art2Action and Pangea World Theater came together to formulate how they were going to combat this issue.
Getting its start in 2010, it would take years of national conferences, collaborative planning, documenting, and communication to get things off the ground. The 2010-12 pilot phase included field-wide dialogues, collaborative planning, documentation, and professional exchange among leading directors and ensemble artists in the field. Key activities included: roundtables at partner convenings nationally (2010-11); a pre-conference to the National Performance Network (NPN) Annual Meeting, hosted by the University of South Florida (USF) School of Theatre and Dance, in Tampa, FL (2011); and a one-week residential Pilot Intensive at Pangea World Theater in Minneapolis, MN (2012), to develop the structure, content and curriculum, prior to the projected public launch of the Institute. This two-year pilot process ignited and deepened field-wide dialogue on the needs of women directors and artists of color. In turn, it informed and shaped the Institute, to create a secure foundation for a successful and replicable program.
“Devised process, especially, requires special skills, sensitivities and non-traditional approaches.”
By the end of its first gathering, it was clear that together the invited artists, along with the founders Meena Natarajan, Dipankar Mukherjee and Andrea Assaf, co-created a strong foundation from which this decolonizing movement could launch. It was versatile, meaning it could take its shape regardless of the location, yet also flexible enough to allow others to share their advice and experiences at the aid of the other attendees.
During gatherings, the institute provides space to exchange artistic knowledge amongst peers, as well as train the next generation of theater artists of color, women and LGBTQ2+ directors. Invited artists come from all walks of life. In addition to the staff at Pangea World Theater and Art2Action, there are an additional eight nationally prominent performing arts networks that participate in the Directing Institute as well — Alternate ROOTS, Consortium of Asian American Theaters & Artists (CAATA), First Peoples Fund, National Association of Latino Arts and Culture (NALAC), National Performance Network (NPN), Network of Ensemble Theaters (NET), New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA), and Theatre Communications Group (TCG). These organizations invite their own artists, ensemble members, and otherwise connected colleagues to participate in these workshops “to keep opening up the doors and the windows in one’s craft” (Diane Roberts 2019).
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the institute had to undergo some sad but necessary changes for the protection of artists, staff, and volunteers. However, the magic of theater knows no true borders; upon the solid foundation of exploration, support and play, Art2Action and Pangea World Theater took the institute online.
“In December of that year, we held the first Virtual Institute Weekend, in partnership with HowlRound Theatre Commons. All past NIDEC participants, including staff and volunteers, were invited to the Virtual Institute. While we were deeply saddened to not be able to connect in-person, our circle transcended physical borders, as we all came together again through the virtual medium. It also allowed cohorts of various years to meet each other, share, and interact” (Andrea Assaf).
These past two years of convening virtually have been important times of reflection and learning. Now, as invited artists embark on a book project — something dreamed of since the very beginning. Last week, in a wintery lakeside space — directors, core Institute faculty, and field leaders convened for a very special 2022 Institute: Writers’ Laboratory & Professional Peer Exchange — a gathering to chart the history of this Institute, document their individual and collective work. Together, they carved space for a future when all theater practitioners will have access to these sacred, vital teachings.
“We must be diligent about our practices and knowledge. We must dig deep into knowledge and history and seek those who came before you “
While the pandemic may not be over quite yet, it is clear that when one’s intentions are true, and turned toward the betterment of the world, there is little that can hold it back. NIDEC will continue to adapt as the world around it changes, united in its cause for a more inclusive future.