Giving Thanks for My Arts Communities

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When it comes to the giving thanks part of Thanksgiving, it’s hard for me to verbalize gratitude. Not that I don’t feel — it because I do — but I prefer to communicate in actions rather than words (odd for a playwright, I know). When it comes to things that matter, I’d rather show it than tell it.

But there are people who have been instrumental to a lot of the good things that happened to me this year. Mom and Dad go without saying. But there are other folks who’ve been bringing good things to my life whom I haven’t thanked nearly enough. Why not do it now before I slip into a food coma after stuffing my face with a bunch of things I had no business eating?

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The Cast and Crew of Encanta (with a special thanks to Manhattan Repertory Theatre)

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Without a doubt, getting Encanta to the stage has been the highlight of my year. When I’d written it, I had pretty much accepted that people would enjoy reading it, but seeing it on stage was unlikely to happen.

Imagine my surprise when Ken Wolf of Manhattan Repertory Theatre sent me an e-mail telling me that Encanta had been selected for the Premiere Play Development Program. Not for a reading, not even for a staged reading, but an actual production. (And Ken was so helpful: friendly and generous with advice for anything I had questions about.)

A production is often only as good as its cast and crew, and the cast for Encanta was amazing. We did rehearsals around people’s day jobs, which meant that they worked 8- or 10-hour days then came to rehearsal right after, and all for a couple of hundred bucks and gratitude. The actors didn’t just learn their lines and blocking then go home. Everyone brought energy and ideas, and they put their own stamp on the roles and the play itself.

Many of my friends had come to see Encanta brought to life after hearing about it on Facebook and Tumblr. A couple of my really good friends came all the way from California and Canada to see it and hang out.

It was amazing to see that the opening night premiered to a sold out performance, and I had to stand behind the back row because there were no other seats. I had expected maybe ten people to show up, and on a Wednesday night, there was standing room only! And they didn’t just show up! They laughed, smiled, clapped and were an amazing audience — the kind of audience I know I want to write for.

The only thing that would’ve made it better is if Lana Parrilla showed up.

Arts Politics GrowThe Clyde Fitch Report

Prior to starting “Crossroads & Intersections” on The Clyde Fitch Report, I’d not been blogging regularly for a while. With most of my theatre folks migrating to Facebook, blogging went on the back burner. So when I got an e-mail asking me to start my own column on The Clyde Fitch Report, I was surprised. All that time, I thought I was basically that person on the train talking to themselves, but it turns out that someone was listening after all.

Working with The CFR has been a learning experience and a half. Since starting last year, I’ve written more and better about diversity, equity, and representation than I’ve ever written before. It’s a topic that I’m deeply passionate about and committed to, and I am so grateful to have a platform to share that with others who have similar passions and commitments.

I’ve also gotten to meet some great people who really know their stuff. I learn something every time I talk to Leonard Jacobs or Devra Thomas. Writing this column and restarting The Marbury Project has taught me as much in a few hours a month as I would have learned from an unpaid journalism internship. I enjoy being surrounded by people I can learn from, where an exchange of knowledge and ideas is an important part of how things work. For those of you who have had crappy retail jobs, you know how valuable that is.

Naturally, I was happy to do what I could, as little as it was, for the Help Grow The CFR Kickstarter, and I was thrilled when it succeeded. When I finally get that steady job thing going, I plan to give a good chunk to The Clyde Fitch Report.

My Theatrosphere Buddies

theatre masksSince I’m not in New York anymore, the theatrosphere has been the way I keep tabs on what’s happening in the theatre world. In the absence of any imminent projects of my own, it’s easy to drift away from what’s going on in the world outside my head.

Staying present and engaged is a challenge at times, especially when finances and geography prevent me from being as involved as I’d like to be.

Sharing articles and blog posts, starting conversations (and arguments) about various issues relevant to theatre, spreading the word about what plays are coming up and great stuff to catch when you’re in town — all of it has been pivotal to remaining part of the theatre community. Staying connected, nurturing relationships and being part of something bigger than myself has been key to keeping me sane while I am “exiled” from the big city. I appreciate it more than I can say.

What about you? Who and what are you thankful for in your artistic community?

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Shawn C. Harris is a playwright who has written, developed, and produced plays on New York City's indie theatre scene. Her works consistently feature strong roles for women, people of color, and LGBTQ people. Since 2008, she has been writing essays and sharing resources about theatre, social justice, and diversity on her blog, Love's Labors Lost. In 2010, Shawn founded Crossroads Theatre Project to develop plays that re-imagine the form and content of African diaspora theatre.