What’s good, folx! We haven’t met yet. My name is Brandon Carter, affectionately known as “Carter”. I am the proud Artistic Director and co-leader of the American Shakespeare Center (ASC) in Staunton, Virginia. I use he/him/his pronouns and I racially identify as Black. Before I jump in, let this be a moment for us all to acknowledge that we are resting on the shoulders, laps, and legacies of those that have paved the way before us. With that said, my artistic mission is to “break the legacy” and culture that surrounds classical work by creating a symbiotic relationship between the canon and innovative voices. My goal is to co-lead and empower this ASC ensemble toward a healthy, innovative, connected, and equitable future; to create a lasting legacy of artistic excellence that influences the next generation of theatre innovators. I will be checking in with you quarterly on this blog to contribute to the voice of ASC, so beautifully initiated by Kevin Maroney, our new Director of Development, with his weekly emails to our donors, and other valuable staff members and colleagues who regularly post to the blog. Just to clarify: I am one voice in a collaboration of voices, and it’s just my turn to speak.
So, what’s on my mind? Well, recently I saw the new movie TÁR starring Cate Blanchett and directed by Todd Field. This is a fictional tale that centers around the recent stories of abusive and exploitative behavior by powerful people in the arts. This is a film that centers around how “the pie gets made.” To me, this is a film about vision without focus on the minutiae of those around you. It’s not just about how we singularly move and feel through an expansive web of experiences and lessons, but how we are interconnected with people. This got me percolating even more about my role as an Artistic Director in a 21st century classical theatre company.
This was my main bit of concern before my appointment. How in the hellkite do I contribute to dismantling the stereotype of the Artistic Director–the traditional hierarchical structure that has been the foundation of the theatre industry for almost a century–in a theatre on fire and thirsty for change? We at the ASC took a major and much-needed risk by co-implementing a distributed leadership model this past year. This is a fairly new concept across the field, a managing group of department heads that represent diverse perspectives, needs, and expertise that make major decisions for the company together through consensus…and lots of coffee. Ours is appropriately named the Management Group (or MG for short).
The Management Group’s charter states that it “provides leadership and primary oversight of ASC’s operations, programming, production, and engagement in a manner that supports our mission and vision. The Management Group is a co-equal team of individuals representing vital facets of the company. It is accountable to the teams it represents and to the Board of Trustees.” This decision to form the MG sparked our journey towards a healthier organization. We knew that without striving towards equity, we wouldn’t be able to affect change within our company–and create the kind of theatre that matters. That kind of theatre, in my opinion, is activism: a piece of work with overt social and political messages, striving to persuade, to ignite thought, as well as to entertain. In the case of ASC, our focus is on programming parallel works to Shakespeare that create dialogue, a bit of alchemy, and holds our community- and ourselves- accountable. If we are not inviting new voices to challenge outdated themes with our own lived-in experiences and skill, these texts won’t survive and we won’t wring out their possibility and their deep lessons of what it means to be human. My role within all this is to open the floodgates and exhaust the opportunity for theatre-makers to claim space and to dream big. Everyone has that right.
In short, this has become an invitation to take this journey with us, to be uncomfortable. We don’t have all the answers, but together we can figure it out. TruthFULLY.
We recently received rave reviews of the wonderful work of our Fall Season, featuring two titles produced in our signature Actors’ Renaissance style, as well as the resilience of our company through the plague and its lingering effects. Let this be a barometer of our ensemble reclaiming its joy, sharing our love and expertise of the craft, and bringing back the spirit of ASC. A spirit and beacon that you have enjoyed for almost 35 years. (Come celebrate our 35th Anniversary next year!)
This weekend is the closing weekend of our fall shows before we move into A Christmas Carol. I hope you will join us in the conversation surrounding The Tempest and Une Tempête–there are only 2 performances left of each. See you at the Blackfriars and more to come!
Kindest regards and Happiest of Holidays,
Like this post? Be sure to tag us on social media! Come see the closing weekend of our fall trio of plays–Pericles, Une Tempête, and The Tempest–at the Blackfriars Playhouse through November 20 and A Christmas Carol from December 1-30. Get tickets today!