In Praise of Context - MicroFest: Hawai`i and the Expansiveness of Ensemble Theater
As both a scholar of community-based theater and past ensemble company member, Jan Cohen-Cruz lends perspective on an array of experiences of place-based theater, culture, and art at MicroFest: Honolulu. Being in Hawai`i, where the Native language has been pre-empted by English, heightened participants’ awareness about issues of language related to creative community-based work. Cohen-Cruz underscores that taking responsibility to name ensemble theater practices that expand beyond the core production is an opportunity to claim such community engaged work, not as an adjunct to the important work of making theater, but as an equally significant cultural activity. She brings forward MicroFest’s many forays into how language has the potential to confuse or clarify, include or exclude, and, the “the constant flow of new language to describe not so new practices” a problematic named by Carlton Turner of Alternate ROOTS. Cohen-Cruz captures ambivalences regarding current directions and terms used in place-based arts; namely creative placemaking and cross-sector collaboration. She considers whether tensions have to do with practices or the language identifying such work. The author also observes Network of Ensemble Theaters’ growing influence in the larger theater community, strengthening community engagement as a component of theater both by acknowledging its value among ensemble companies and their immediate communities, and through alliances with other theater organizations. As the field continues to wrestle with terms and practice, the author asks: How can the significant ways that artists interact with others in different spheres of endeavor be embraced, made more visible, and brought to scale so as to integrate such robust creative contributions more fully into social life?