Three Lenses on MicroFest USA: Intentions, Values, and Prepositions
This is the second of two essays by Gerard Stropnicky, director, writer, actor, and co-founder of the Network of Ensemble Theaters (NET) that reflect on NET’s MicroFest: USA. In this essay, Stropnicky looks at the work of socially engaged ensemble theaters featured at MicroFest: USA to examine how ensemble values and practices influence the work and its impact in the context of place-based revitalization and renewal. He looks at the work through three lenses: intention, values, and language of engagement. He discusses how clarity of social intention supports artistic choices and engagement strategies by comparing two quite different plays related to issues of incarceration—Angola 3 and Did You See Me?— performed as excerpts at MicroFest: New Orleans. Through a range of other examples from Detroit, Appalachia, and New Orleans MicroFests, Stropnicky proposes five core values that guide theater that most effectively transforms, revitalizes, and renews distressed communities—agency, authenticity, artistry, audacity, and accuracy—as well as thoughts on the complex interrelationships between them. Finally, he reflects on the language of engagement, that is, how the prepositions by, with, in, and about which describe the work suggest the degree of social engagement had by community members and people affected by issues of place.