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Your Dreams and Mine: Imagining ATHE’s Many Futures

Posted By Kelly Howe, Friday, June 20, 2014
Among other questions in this year’s call for proposals, the 2014 conference committee asked, “How do we confront the fact that one group’s certain vision for a better world (a better production, a better curriculum, a better theatre, a better society) may loom like a nightmare for others?”

I’m excited to ask and re-ask this question together at the conference.

It’s the question that stood out most provocatively for me as the committee convened in Scottsdale for our January planning session, facilitated by Sonja Kuftinec. It’s also one of the questions fueling our plan to use a portion of the annual ATHE membership meeting for dynamic “table talks,” group discussions on our dreams for the future(s) of our organization and our field.

In some respects, to invite everyone to dream together about the future can almost feel like a cream-puff of a prompt. Yet, as John Fletcher acknowledged in his May post on the conference blog, daily life tends to construct dreaming as luxury, not necessity. After all, we have “real,” “concrete” things to do. Can you grade a dream? Will dreams tenure you or get you the gig? Will a dream pay for your hotel room or even your lunch? Can you (shiver) assess your dreams?

Dreams themselves don’t always trade neatly within logics of measurement and markets of exchange.

Sallie Mae won’t take dreams.

Well. Scratch that.

Dreams are material. Our hypotheticals and subjunctives grow from (and reveal) their roots in our everyday exigencies. For some, it’s a privilege to have time or space to dream. For others, dreaming is synonymous with survival. Put another way, it can be a privilege to have a life sufficiently livable that you don’t have to dream All The Time.

Our dreams, like any other expressions of desire, are political. In theatre and elsewhere, we often don’t (can’t?) act without them.

Like other conference committee members, I’m hoping our table talks will host and illuminate not only shared dreams for ATHE and the field but also our divergent dreams and nightmares. We explicitly welcome complexity and contradiction. Some elements of your desires for ATHE’s future might not match up so easily with mine. Let’s talk about that.

And then let’s keep talking about all the other things that need to happen besides talking.

Maybe greeting these complexities will enable us to confront the assumptions (and in many cases privilege) shaping our own dreams for ATHE and the field.

Maybe our encounters will enhance our personal dreams, giving our own yearnings new shades and dimensions.

Maybe witnessing the longings of our colleagues will help us find more radically sensitive ways to be together in community. To do so can be especially challenging when jobs and resources are scarce and competition feels/is inevitable.

Maybe more time to talk about our dreams and nightmares will help us think/feel through solidarity in theory and practice. I find myself thinking a lot about the question of solidarity as it relates to conference planning. What does it mean to think of ATHE as a space of/for solidarity? What other questions about ally-ship follow for those who consider ATHE responsible for acting in solidarity with those most vulnerable in our field? Or even in solidarity with those most vulnerable in the world at large?

All our choices are political.

While we can speak of trends in our field(s), the common elements of our dreams and nightmares only get us so far. When should solidarity even be a goal? What does it mean to envision (and enact) ATHE as an ally space in many senses of that word? With whom will ATHE align itself as we hurtle towards 30?

Of course, some table talks at our membership meeting likely won’t even get close to covering all of this. The table talks will travel where you take them. The membership meeting will just constitute one of many spaces for these and other exciting conversations.

What’s more, these are just some of my dreams about what we might get to discuss. The rest of the conference committee and I are looking forward to asking you about your dreams.

And, yes, your nightmares, too.

Maybe we’ll even revise our dreams together. Justice sometimes demands that we do.

Dreams can be unruly and difficult to reconcile, within ourselves and with others. As chair of our 30th anniversary gathering in Chicago in 2016, I’ll be hoping to hold and honor the complexity of our perspectives as much as possible as I collaborate with others to facilitate our time together.

Ultimately, at Scottsdale 2014 and all the way through Chicago 2016 and beyond, I’ll be dreaming of spaces where our ability to witness each other is made possible not by a stifling “civility” that shaves off the jagged edges of our dreams, but by a lively, messy, radically careful attention to our shared and separate longings.

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