AFTACON Opening Plenary: “On How the Arts can Fuel Revolution” by Diane Paulus

Posted by Clayton Lord, Jun 22, 2016 0 comments

We were so pleased to welcome Diane Paulus, artistic director of American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass., as our opening keynote at our 2016 Annual Convention in Boston. Below is an excerpt of her speech pondering the state of our country and celebrating the role of the artist and the arts in this fragile moment. The full text can be downloaded here, and we also recommend that you view the speech and Q&A that followed. The speech is reproduced with the permission of Diane Paulus, and except for small quotations may not be reproduced elsewhere without her permission. Thank you to Diane for such a rousing start to the Annual Convention!

I make theatre because it is a forum to ask questions. To live inside questions. To push boundaries with questions. To provoke with questions. To challenge with questions. I always tell young directors you do not need to have the answers. Your job is to ask the questions. And if the theatre you create is banal, it is most likely because you have not asked a big enough question.

I also make theatre because theatre can take us to places we’ve never been before. To worlds that are not familiar, to perspectives and stories that are not our own. Through the use of narrative and character, we can achieve empathy—which can lead us to identify with a point of view that is not our own. Living in the world at this very moment, I cannot imagine an action more vital to our survival—other than love—than empathy. Empathy—the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. To experience from within another person’s frame of reference—to get inside their skin.

We live in an age of information overload. Within seconds of any event in our world, we have immediate access to images, facts, eyewitness accounts, videos that replay events over and over until they became emblazoned in our memories. And then what happens? All too often, we become numb from this constant barrage of information. We actually turn off, because we do not know how to process all this information, especially when it is bleak and horrifying. Drew Faust, President of Harvard University, in making her “Case for College” said, “College teaches students to slow down, to convert information to insight and knowing to understanding.” When I read these words, I thought to myself, this is exactly what the arts are on the planet to do. We do not just deliver information. The arts are on the planet to catalyze a deeper discussion than what we hear every hour on our news programs; the arts seek to transform our audiences. We do this by making people think and feel in complicated, messy and human ways. When working at our best, we stimulate dialogues that can actually lead to the possibility of change, and to building a sense of community that brings with it the power to heal.

Read the full speech here.

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