Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Big 2-5!

The Big 2-5!
Producing Artistic Director Seth Rozin reflects on 25 years of InterAct

As we get set to kick off our 25th Anniversary season here at InterAct, a lot of people have been asking me what I am proudest of.   And while quite a lot of things have vied for my consideration, the accomplishment for which I am proudest is having served our community with a distinct and unwavering mission, despite tremendous pressure to cut corners and/or compromise over the years. 

The truth is that when I co-founded InterAct in 1988 I hadn’t yet developed a clear theatrical aesthetic or a coherent vision for the kind of plays I wanted to produce.  Our original mission was to use theatre to foster international cultural exchange.  In fact, it wasn’t until our fifth season (1992-93), when we produced the world premiere of resident playwright Thomas Gibbons’ 6221, that I understood, at a deep level, the kind of theatre experience I wanted InterAct to offer.   

6221 was an epic, three-act, 15-actor docu-drama chronicling the MOVE tragedy in Philadelphia.  Gibbons’ script was based on court transcripts, newspaper articles, police reports and a host of meetings with many of the people who played key roles in the real-life drama (including MOVE members, police officers, former Mayor W. Wilson Goode, journalists, West Philadelphia residents and others).  The incredible two-year process of developing 6221 culminated in a riveting 2 hour, 45 minute production that garnered tremendous critical acclaim and had audiences on the edge of their seats.  Most performances were followed by electric talk-backs featuring some of the real-life players (the MOVE organization made it a point of participating in nearly every discussion!).   

 [On October 1st, we’ll be kicking off our season with a 25th Anniversary Story Slam, including a few stories about 6221]         

The experience of commissioning, developing and producing 6221 crystallized, for me, the three pillars of our mission:  (1) To engage diverse local audiences in a dialogue about the stories, issues and ideas that matter most (Tom Gibbons used to say “I’m not interested in telling you what I think; I’m interested in asking you what you think”); (2) To champion new plays by living writers (the “chroniclers our times” as I’ve often called them); and (3) To maintain a substantive, dynamic relationship with our community.   
And it’s a good thing I was still young and na├»ve when I gained this clarity of purpose, because had I been a bit wiser and more cautious I probably would have opted for an easier road to travel!  At the time I had no idea how challenging it would be to raise money, garner favorable media attention and generate audiences for the mission I had so passionately embraced.

Indeed, we have weathered many a storm over the past 25 years:  Extraordinary financial challenges due to dramatic swings in the economic climate; Increasingly fierce competition for funding, media coverage and audiences; and, at times even, crises of faith. 

I believe that we have endured, and thrived, because time after time, in spite of all the pressures to change, we have trusted in the currency of our mission, and in our ability to carry out that mission at the highest level.
There are dozens of professional theatres across the country dedicated to producing mostly, if not entirely new plays.  And there are a handful of theatres dedicated to producing plays of social relevance.  InterAct may be the only theatre in America that is explicitly and exclusively dedicated to both. 

So that is what I’m proud of most.  Here’s to another 25 years!  

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