Tag Archives: Forward Theater

Behind the Scenes of “The Niceties”

The impetus for Eleanor Burgess’s play “The Niceties” was a 2015 incident at Yale, Eleanor’s Alma mater, that involved a disagreement between faculty, administrators and students about whether Yale should be setting guidelines about which Halloween costumes are appropriate. Those in favor of guidance were trying to ward off controversies over students seen in black face, or stereotypical Native American costumes. Those opposed believed one of the purposes of college is for kids to learn to self regulate and make their own decisions.

Friends lost the ability to talk to each other as the controversy continued.  While this is common today, it was unique in 2015.  People felt the need to pick a side: the university doesn’t have the responsibility to coddle whining snowflakes vs. there should be consequences of making students of color feel uncomfortable. 

After two months of obsessively reading op/eds about the incident in her pajamas, Eleanor realized this incident should become a play. 

Eleanor said she naively thought the play would be out of date by the time it was produced.  But in today’s era of Trump, and the killing of George Floyd, we are still having these conversations.  The difference is, in the play, the professor and student have faith and admiration for each other and believe they can change each other’s minds if they just make the right arguments.  Today, we would back out of those conversations much faster and realize it’s hopeless.

   Eleanor hopes we can learn to talk together again – to thread the needle and realize that two things can both be true at the same time.  In the play, the professor says, “no matter how much we disagree, we’re still stuck in a country together.”  But today, we don’t even share the same reality or set of facts. Eleanor believes we can’t live this way forever. Restoring our capacity to have conversations with people we disagree with is not just a nicety, it is a fundamental necessity. 

Our thanks to Eleanor Burgess for speaking this week and to club member Julie Swenson who interviewed her.  We also thank Janet Piraino for preparing this review article.  If you missed our meeting, you can watch it here:  https://youtu.be/SkGEtyy_sCE.

“Onward, Upward, and Forward!”

submitted by Carole Trone

Jennifer Uphoff GrayFounding artistic director Jennifer Uphoff Gray of Madison’s Forward Theater Company attributes their growth and success to the strong community involvement, much like the Rotarians gathered to hear about Forward Theater’s first decade. This has been a successful span, but their success was by no means a given in the early days. Gray noted the precarious economic climate in their founding days and how it confirmed their abiding commitment to a sustainable financial model for the theater and especially for the artists they employ.

“Mission-driven growth” for Forward has focused on four key priorities: support for local artists; arts advocacy; audience engagement; and community impact. Ninety-five percent of the hundred staff hired each season are from south central Wisconsin and are paid at least a living wage, inspiring standards for the broader theater community. This core priority strengthens the community and also the artists’ personal investment in it. These ambitious goals have a solid business model behind it, with a growing annual budget that has always operated in the black. Forward Theater incorporates multiple strategies to encourage dialogue, and their post-performance talkbacks have proven to be a favorite part of the audience experience. Finally, Forward Theater has woven multiple partnerships with area organizations around key themes in their plays. This has deepened the engagement among audiences and community members through collaborative outreach events, author talks, and even fundraising.

Gray promised more growth and partnerships to come as Forward Theater surges into its second decade of successful productions: “Onward, Upward, and Forward!”

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.