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The Role of Theatre Directors in Times of Crisis

by California Digital News

This panel from the 2024 National Institute for Directing & Ensemble Creation Professional Peer Exchange, moderated by Liz-Foster Shaner, will include stories, examples, and reflections on how the panelists, as artists or as leaders of theatres or collectives/ensembles, have navigated, shifted focus, changed practices, re-prioritized, or evolved leadership in times of crisis—whether responding to natural disasters, state violence, political crisis, pandemic, war, or genocide. What does leadership mean in these times, and what is the way forward as directors and theatremakers now? 

Alexandra Meda is a stage director and cultural strategist, working to equitably reshape the performing arts landscape into a more equitable space with her approach to collaborative artistry and ensemble practice. As artistic director of Studio Luna, impact director for the National New Play Network, and a member of the interim leadership team of the Network of Ensemble Theaters, she works at the forefront of change for ensembles/ensemble artists and new-play theaters. Meda champions spaces for Women of Color in devised theater, orchestrating partnerships across communities, specifically through Studio Luna (FKA Teatro Luna), a leading Latinx and Women of Color artistic hub best known for its cutting-edge performances and contributions to advancing creative collaboration methodologies, new play development, and theatre as a healing practice. Her expertise extends to her firm, Culture Change Lab, a change navigation firm specializing in transitions, organizational sunsets and relaunches, and harm reduction. This team of theatrically trained facilitators and strategists develop actionable anti-racist frameworks and anti-oppression training for orgs, teams, and individuals. Meda is also involved in Penumbra Theatre’s Center for Racial Healing and artEquity’s Getty Emerging Professionals Hub and BIPOC Leadership Circle. She advises on several national arts initiatives, demonstrating her commitment to the imaginative future of theater as a sustainable field and cultural transformation. Her work and consultancy can be explored at her professional website here and the Culture Change Lab website here.

Dipankar Mukherjee is a professional director originally from Calcutta, India with a 25-year history of directing. He is the artistic director of Pangea World Theater and received the 2023 McKnight Distinguished Artist Award. He co-founded Pangea World Theater, an international theater in Minneapolis that is a progressive space for arts and dialogue. His aesthetics have evolved through his commitment to social justice, equity, and deep spirituality, and these factors along with relevant politics form the basis of his work. As a director, he has worked in India, England, Canada, and the United States. Dipankar is the 2023 Mcknight Distinguished Artist Award. He has also received the Humphrey Institute Fellowship to Salzburg and has been a Ford Foundation delegate to India and Lebanon. He is a recipient of the Bush Leadership Fellowship award to study non-violence and peace methodologies in India and South Africa. Dipankar was invited to visit the White House as part of the Asian American and Pacific Islanders Delegation. He serves on the boards of the Network of Ensemble Theatre, Frogtown Farms, Lake Street Council, and Mizna. He has been awarded grants from the National Performance Network (Creation Fund), National Endowment for the Arts and the Minnesota State Arts Board. In his rehearsal and workshop practices, Dipankar facilitates processes that work to disrupt colonial, racist, and patriarchal modalities that we have inherited and collaboratively searches for an alternate way of working.

Meena Natarajan is a playwright and director and the Executive and Artistic Director of Pangea World Theater, a progressive, international ensemble space that creates at the intersection of art, equity, and social justice. She has led the theater’s growth since its founding in 1995. Meena has co-curated and designed many of Pangea World Theater’s professional and community based programs. She has written at least ten full-length works for Pangea, ranging from adaptations of poetry and mythology to original works dealing with war, spirituality, and personal and collective memory.  Meena leads ensemble-based processes in Pangea that lead to works produced for the stage. She has also directed and dramaturged several original theater and performance art pieces. She is currently on the boards of the Consortium of Asian American Theaters and Artists, The Loft Literary Center, and Longfellow Rising, and is the Radical Equity Catalyst in the national cabinet of the USDAC (people-powered U.S. Department of Arts and Culture).  She was a National Theater Project Advisor at New England Foundation for the Arts, Advisory Committee of the Community Arts Network, was on the founding board of the Network of Ensemble Theaters, and was the president of Women’s Playwrights International between 2000-2003. She has been awarded grants from the National Performance Network, National Endowment for the Arts, Theatre Communications Group, Playwrights Center, and the Minnesota State Arts Board. She was recently awarded a Twin Cities Women in Business award.

Liz Foster-Shaner is a civic artist and arts administrator developing creative opportunities for communities and participants of all ages and backgrounds. As Director of Arts Education with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, Liz connects artists with schools and communities across southwestern Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s Arts Education team, Liz was an Equity and Inclusion Facilitator for firms DLJ & Associates and Inclusant with contracts including the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the CMU School of Drama. She also co-founded Theatre of the Oppressed Pittsburgh, a diverse group of educators, artists, activists, and change-makers interested in using Theatre of the Oppressed for social justice in and out of institutions. Partnering organizations included University of Pittsburgh, Duquesne University, Chatham University, and The Pittsburgh Racial Justice Summit. Liz holds a PhD in Theatre Research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a BA in Theatre and Political Science from the University of California, Berkeley. Liz’s doctoral research, praxis, and teaching focused on theatre for cultural and social awareness and the development and representation of community both on and off the stage.

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