by Eve Bernfeld
I sat around a table in a meeting room of the Teton County Library and, with four other bright, ambitious artists, created a theatre company. We selected our first play and director, we chose a name, we studied the paperwork for our very own 501-C3, we split the list of practical tasks that needed immediate attention, we spoke about our purposes and our hopes for this new company. When we got kicked out at closing time, we were flushed and excited by our accomplishment, this new entity we had midwifed, the possibilities now at hand.
I’ve been telling everyone I know about our grandiose scheme, our fledgling company. Some of the reactions I’ve gotten have startled me: “Why?” “Aren’t there enough theatre groups in this town?” “Are you trying to start a war here?” It is to answer such questions that I write this manifesto.
As humans we tell stories to learn about ourselves, to make sense of our world. This is the life of the theatre. Stoking the fire on a bleak, overcast but not yet snowing morning in Wilson, WY, I don’t have access to the smorgasbord of theatrical options available in a city, but the need for stories–entertaining, thought-provoking, edgy, hilarious or tragic, is no less pressing. If these stories, and thus the theatre, are necessary to civilization, culture, society, to life, then is it not equally important to have a thriving, vital theatre community in Wyoming as it is in, say, New York City?
We hope to create a space for artists in this community; a community for artists in this space. We realize that at the outset, we will be competing for limited funds, limited space, limited audience, limited actors. But we don’t want to win any competition, we hope to create more of these resources for everyone. We envision living in a community where the performing arts are abuzz on the lips of the locals. Where people will read the paper hungrily each Wednesday in order to plan what shows to check out that weekend. We want theatre to be more than just a novelty.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned about theatre and about continuing my career in theatre is “If you want to work, create work.” This is a given in most cities, where artists are creating new companies and collectives daily. Some persevere, others are a brief flash, quickly swallowed by the bright lights surrounding it. As young theatre professionals, we feel entitled to create our own work. We’ve seen and participated in plenty of exciting work in this community, but, as artists for whom the theatre is more than a hobby, we have been unable to find an artistic home for ourselves. And as we have each individually come to the conclusion that one shouldn’t have to sacrifice quality of life for quality of art, we’ve decided to set up shop for ourselves.
We hope to be a theatre of community consciousness and artistic accountability. We are a fluid collective of artists who have much to share and much to learn. We want to tell stories: classical and contemporary, traditional and avant-garde. We want to support new work and the work of new artists. We seek to provide a place for artists to explore collaboratively, to make their own artistic decisions, take risks, start a riot.