BY: LEIGH FONDAKOWSKI
DIRECTED BY: CAITLIN KANE
CORNELL UNIVERSITY, FLEX THEATRE
APRIL 26 - MAY 4, 2019
As a director and dramaturg, my work spans what Michael Rohd and his colleagues at the Center for Performance and Civic Practice (CPCP) have described as a spectrum between studio practice and civic practice, where studio practice references artist-driven projects that do not involve public partners and civic practice describes public projects that enlist artists to co-imagine creative solutions to local concerns. On one end of that spectrum, my studio practice focuses on the development of new plays by feminist, queer, and BIPOC theater-makers. As a graduate student at Cornell, I have brought several professional collaborators to campus for developmental workshops that offer students opportunities to deepen their learning and provide artists with time, space, and financial support to develop their work.
My commitment to new play development links my professional work to my pedagogy. In addition to bringing collaborators to campus, I am committed to creating spaces for student-led work. At Cornell, I have worked toward this aim by directing and producing multiple Ten Minute Play Festivals, advocating for student productions as a member of the department’s performance and events committee, and mentoring students as they propose and produce their own projects. I also direct and dramaturg extant works. I am especially interested in directing classical and contemporary plays by underrepresented artists whose work challenges students to think critically about how the canon gets defined, whose stories are deemed stageworthy, and the types of narratives and dramatic forms they want to explore in their careers.
Much of my work aligns with what Rohd and CPCP describe as “social practice:” artist-led public partnerships that respond to collaboratively identified social issues. This work includes co-creating interview-based works, such as The Loneliness Project, a documentary play about intergenerational loneliness in Chicago’s LGBTQIA+ communities, and Halcyon, an opera that explores what happens when a place that matters to us comes to ruin. I also create community-based plays with companies like Civic Ensemble, with whom I have worked on four community-based plays that addressed topics ranging from racist policing practices to the failures of public education to the local impact of climate change.
In this moment of profound uncertainty, we have the opportunity to reimagine theater training and practice in ways that center equity and inclusion and contest the scarcity model that has for too long determined the types of performances that get produced. My experiences in professional, educational, and community-based contexts prepare me to teach students about those possibilities and to mentor them as they find their way to the performance modalities that best serve their goals.