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On Becoming Ourselves

Now we are five.

Every parent will remember this age. There’s a moment around this time, and it generally takes you by total surprise, when you catch sight of your child out of the corner of your eye preoccupied by their own thoughts and unaware of being watched, and for just a flash of an instant you see the person they will become. A friend of mine once said, of that moment with her own daughter, “I suddenly realized that she was the person I’d been waiting to meet all my life.” This is that moment for ArtsEmerson. In this relative private of the moment right before our first performances begin this season, while we are deeply preoccupied with our preparations for your arrival but not yet self-conscious in your presence, you can see us and what we will become. Look closely. Let it in. We hope you see in us a glimpse of a cultural partner you’ve been waiting to meet.

The other day we were all in our Page One meeting with the artists from Culture Clash. A Page One meeting is something we do early in the year for every show. We spend an hour or so, generally over Skype, with each of the artists we will be welcoming into our world this season discussing, together, what success will look like in their time with us. Our staff is trying to understand, fully, what the artists are up to with this piece. The artists are trying to understand, fully, who we are and what their experience will be like. These conversations are generally inspiring, optimistic, often lots of fun, and very productive—packed with artistic insight, marketing ideas, and thoughts about shared values and preferred avenues of engagement with the students and audience in Boston.

So I was leading this Page One with Culture Clash, and I’ve known the three men of this ensemble for very nearly thirty years at this point. We knew each other when we were just starting out, in San Francisco, and our work intersected, infrequently but repeatedly, as we all evolved. They moved to Los Angeles, started touring nationally. I opened a theater development studio. They developed their San Francisco show in our rehearsal space. I founded a commercial production company, Culture Clash was the first company we presented. I moved to Washington to work at Arena Stage. Richard Montoya joined the conversations of the American Voices New Play Institute we started there. I came to Emerson along with HowlRound, and Richard attended the first gathering of the Latino Theater Commons we held here. These guys and I have done some miles. They know me.

In the middle of explaining to them what was happening at ArtsEmerson, I suddenly broke frame and left my official role as “Director of Artistic Programs” talking to “Artists We Will Be Presenting”. And in front of the whole audience of assembled staff, students, and general audience (these Page Ones are open to the public, you see, if you like this sort of thing) I blurted in total earnestness, “Hey, guys? You know what? I’m home.”All of the things I was telling them about what we do here at ArtsEmerson and why we do it and how we hope to do it with and for Culture Clash were the things I’d been working my whole life to be able to say to artists about what could be attempted at a place I worked. And they knew what I was saying, because they know the road I’ve traveled to say it, and we were private in public with each other for that instant while it sunk in. I suddenly caught a glimpse of ArtsEmerson through their eyes and it was the place I’d been waiting to meet my whole life.

Rob Orchard says, of his decision to retire to the position of Founder and Creative Consultant at the end of December, that we can now see the organization ArtsEmerson will become. As you probably already know, he has also said he is entrusting me to lead us there. I’m honored by his faith in me, moved by his generosity, and grateful for this home he’s made.

Now we are five. We become.

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