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April 26, 2012


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Kelly Donnelly

You seem to want to fit this conversation easily into a conservative vs. progressive paradigm in order to digest it and it won't fit. Joe Dowling is not a conservative. His plays and seasons are filled with any thing but conservative topic, messages and lessons. And the arch of his career at building the Guthrie has opened it up to diversity more significantly than anyone could have imagined in the 1970s and 80s when the Guthrie steadfastly resisted producing August Wilson's plays. Dowling has been a driving force in bringing precisely the theater groups, playwrights, and companies you want to depict him as being in opposition to onto the Guthrie's stages like Penumbra, Pillsbury House, Frank Theater, Carlyle Brown, and James Baldwin. And Dowling is neither opposed to change nor diversity. His actions demonstrate that wholeheartedly. If these facts don't serve your dogma, they won't go away simply if you choose to ignore them. And yes, I too am wiry and tired of self-righteous indignation and pointing fingers of blame. If anything, the so-called aging audience has gone though considerable change but this perspective doesn't serve a flawed thesis.


I don't mean politically conservative/progressive dynamics, precisely. Joe Dowling's political leanings aren't the issue. His commitment to diversity is and his action are. Having done "something," even something "more significant" than past leaders is good, but clearly, given the depth, breadth and intensity of response, it's not enough for the community he's in. It's not about "being in opposition" to any particular group or theatre. No one is accusing Joe of outright racism or sexism or misogyny. But his response to this reaction *has* been small c-conservative, not to mention dismissive, insulting and condescending. But this post is about more than one A.D. and more than one theatre. It's about how we will make change, about how we talk to each other.


Here's a pretty fair-minded take on the very issue you two are debating. The TL:DR version is that Joe Dowling deserves some credit for diversifying the institution, but his position w/r/t the current season is basically indefensible:


Jeni Mahoney

It is fascinating that no one really wants to stand up and openly defend - or at least stake a claim to - the non-solutions that somehow seem to continue be put forth as if no one is really in control of these things. And it's too bad because I think that really limits our ability to deal with these issues in a constructive way.

Part of the problem is that I don't think we're all in agreement about what it means to find a solution. If you've got a multi-million dollar theater to support then immediate needs trump the kind of long term solutions that are of interest to be people like.... for example, me. Can both of our solutions happen together, perhaps even fuel each other? Perhaps. But – at least in my experience - there are very few on either side with the right combination of honesty, passion, practicality and willingness to (kindly) embrace the fact that we’re not all talking about the same stuff. We just wish we were.

For myeslf, I think walking away from the whole cycle makes sense – but not in a hopeless way. It just offers more time and energy to spend focusing on supporting, exploring and modeling solutions that I do believe in (even if they are small and don't offer a big immediate impact). Because let’s be honest: we’ve done a great job of driving people away from the theater, they’re not going to come back over night. But perhaps most importantly I don't think any of us truly believe that they’re going to come back based on any choice that is made at any major institutional theater.

Scott Walters

Back and December, I wrote about an idea that everyone will hate in regard to another issue: the relationship between Broadway and the NFP world. (http://theatreideas.blogspot.com/2011/12/idea-that-everyone-will-hate.html) It is easily adapted to this issue. It starts with the NEA, which must replace the code word "quality" with the much more concrete "diversity." The emphasis, once the doors of the peer review panels are closed, must be on diversity first and foremost. Then perhaps other foundations will follow suit. There needs to be a financial stick.

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