NTP Cohort Meeting: strengthening the field
One of the goals of the National Theater Project is the strengthening of relationships within the field--artist to artist, artist to presenter, artist to advisor, advisor to advisor. While touring the excellent projects supported by NTP is one way to strengthen the appetite and support for this kind of work, NTP, as a program, has networking built into each round, each cohort of projects.
Each February, NTP convenes two artist and/or management representatives from the projects selected in the last round of grant making with the 12 NTP advisors for a two-day cohort meeting, usually hosted by one of the advisors. This meeting is an intensive working session designed to strengthen relationships between the artists and advisors and build knowledge sharing among the artist cohort. Findings from the ongoing NTP evaluation and case study development give context for the meeting and incorporate each new cohort into the evolving program. The small size of the convening, limited to that year’s grantees, NTP staff, advisors, and occasionally funders, allows for the frank and open discussion about the status of creation and touring development for each project and collective problem solving.
This year’s cohort meeting took place February 17-18, and was generously hosted by Lisa Steindler and Z Space in San Francisco, CA. The meeting is structured to foster conversation and ranged from the practical – “how do we use the tour subsidy?” to the artistic – “determining when a work is finished.”
A major topic of discussion this year was the role of the independent creative producer. This cohort was notable in that there were a number of attendees who perform this function, both independently and as part of an organization. Discussions about some of the elements that might be part of a successful collaboration included:
- taking on management duties so artists can create
- refining artist vision
- working with presenters
- being a translator of the work while also being an artist
At one point, the question was raised, “What are presenters are looking for when booking their season?” This sparked a conversation about getting to know the needs of the individual presenter. For the presenters in the room, there was no one answer. Answers given reflected, sometimes simultaneously, practical, aesthetic, and aspirational considerations. However, the answer always came back to building relationships and getting to know the presenter; a few specific responses included:
- On the purely practical side, presenters are often looking to fill holes in the season, sometimes as straightforwardly as programming boards with sticky notes tracking artists and projects of interest which are then moved around the board based on available openings for performances
- Projects that are a great fit for the community, but we are open to other types of aesthetics that the artists are working towards
- What is it that brings value to somebody’s human experience? We need to give people permission to have multiple passions for different art forms.
Occasionally, performance or residency opportunities arise from the back and forth in the meeting, although the primary purpose of meeting is to build connection between NEFA, advisors, and artists to move projects forward. One of the most beneficial parts of this meeting, and previous cohort meetings, has been breakout sessions where the projects are paired with two advisors to talk about their specific, NTP-funded project. These sessions have included discussions that range from brainstorming about possible tour locations to a conversation about how to get past a sticking point in the project.
There is something truly amazing about having artists, presenters, and producers in the room together without the pressure of the booking conference. The conversations are thoughtful and as connections are made, the meeting helps build the devised, ensemble theater field. As it approaches its fifth year, NTP is contemplating a convening of NTP artist cohorts across the program’s history with current and former advisors to exchange experiences about developing and touring new works and to share this learning with the larger field.