Jacob G. Padrón’s Whatifesto

Theatre Communications Group
National Conference – Los Angeles, June 2011

New Years Day is typically a bittersweet a holiday for me, but not this year because of an unlikely friend: Facebook! Soon after midnight, I logged onto my account to see how my friends and family had rung in 2011. I quickly came across the status update of playwright Luis Alfaro – his update said this: “2011: The year of transformation.” Stirred and moved by these simple words, I suddenly felt inspired to reflect deeply on my own new year and to wonder “What if we, we who make up the theater field sought transformation?”

I love the word transformation. It makes me believe that no obstacle is too big and that dreams of the future sustain the passionate sparkle in the eyes of artists everywhere. The fundamental transformation in my own life – going from a young Latino too afraid to embrace who I was, to a producer feeling touched by the heavens to have a life in the theatre – has left me really grateful. It feels incredibly special to be sharing this moment with all of you in the breathtaking Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, just across the way from the Mark Taper Forum where in August of 1978 the LA theater community experienced the world premiere of Luis Valdez’ ZOOT SUIT. For Chicano artists everywhere, new pathways emerged – his El Teatro Campesino was born out of a kind of transformation that started on the picket lines in Delano, California. Completely self-guided, this was transformation in spirit and art.

The fearless leader David Hawkanson, of Steppenwolf, once said – “we can be institutions without being institutionalized” and I think he’s really onto something. Perhaps before we can tackle some of the scariest challenges facing our field, we have to first look inward and go back to the basics – we must change how we communicate, how make room for ALL voices, and how we honor each other as true collaborators in service of the stories we want to tell. The technological revolution has arrived, so now more than ever we need deeper and more meaningful connection! We can and we must transform the culture of our organizations and we are the architects of that change.

First, we need to change how we communicate in our theaters. We need to have conversations with and for each other. Email has taken over work spaces but now is the time to look our co-workers in the eye and say: WHAT YOU DO MATTERS. We’re in the communication business and yet we fail all the time; let’s break down all of the walls, both the real ones and metaphorical ones and find a new language for how we make work together. We can’t rest on our laurels on this. COMMUNICATION IS THE THING!

The topic of transformation also leads me to reflect on the lasting gifts of generosity. For me, embracing generosity is about how we treat each other, how we find connection, and how we summon the bravery to ask: How can the field survive if our artists cannot?  Let us spend more energy celebrating ALL of our people, every day, who, whether an artist and or administrator, contribute deeply to our work on stage. Let us build a culture of affirmation so that everyone feels like they too are heroes in the success of our companies. What if generosity became the core value that guided our collaborations? What if generosity of spirit became the ultimate catalyst for innovation in our field?

Generosity can also transform the artistic process. Instead of asking the artists who come into our theaters to work within our systems – what if we asked: how do YOU like to work? How can our theater be nimble so that together we can create the most exciting work on our stage?

And finally, when I think about transformation, I think about the importance of mentorship in our theaters. Sometimes there are no words to describe how incredibly blessed I feel to be at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Every day I have the great gift to work alongside Bill Rauch and Christopher Acebo – two of the most brilliant, and generous, men working in the American theatre. They are my teachers, they are my compass, they are my friends. We ALL need good mentors; people who will teach us how to shape, invigorate, and galvanize our theaters and communities.

This transformation I speak of (which I too fail to live up to all the time) is what has me inspired to create something like this at OSF:

Bill Rauch, March 29, 2011:

We go to the theater to be changed. You can be soothed, even unconsciously, by the non-threatening illusion that everyone sitting around you watching this story is the same as you. But how about a theater where you can trust that you will often be on uncertain and unfamiliar terrain and grow through that, that you won’t be numbed by a comfort of sameness but that you will enter a kind of crucible of our true sameness despite our wildly apparent differences? That’s the theater that we are building here together.

I think Bill is right – it’s about a theater of connection – that’s where we’re heading. Tu eres mi otro yo – you are my other self – which for me really translates to – we are ONE community. We’re on the path, dear friends, entering a kind of renaissance, and as we look to the next 50 years in the American Theatre I am filled with hope and wonder. Our journey onstage can only be as strong, our possibilities only as boundless, as the work and transformation we commit to INSIDE our institutions.  So, let us support each other! … Let’s champion each other! … Let us be generous with each other!

Thank you all, and TCG, so much.

Jacob G. Padrón is originally from Gilroy, California. In 2007 he was appointed an Associate Producer of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival under Artistic Director, Bill Rauch – a post that Jacob still holds today. As a member of Rauch’s leadership team, Jacob is instrumental in producing the 12 shows performed in repertory each season for the $29 million dollar operation. He also oversees actor contracting, produces production tours, is involved in the casting process, and spearheads the commissioning and development of new musicals for the theatre.

Jacob was formerly the Managing Director of Yale Cabaret in New Haven, Connecticut and produced over 20 new works as a part of the theatre’s 40th anniversary season. In the fall of 2006 he co-produced Suzan-Lori Parks’ 365 DAYS/365 PLAYS for Center Theatre Group. His directing credits include Luis Valdez’ LOS VENDIDOS (The Sellouts), LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, and SEE WHAT I WANNA SEE (workshop). Jacob has worked with Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Yale Repertory Theatre, Baltimore CENTERSTAGE, and El Teatro Campesino.

A graduate of Loyola Marymount University and Yale School of Drama, Jacob is also the proud co-founder of Tilted Field Productions – an ensemble based company committed to producing story driven projects in theatre, film, TV, and new media. www.tiltedfield.com.