Playwrights, a producing artistic director and an award-winning actress had “Creative Conversations” about theater and their work in it on April 12, 2014 during the annual Greenfield Prize Weekend in Sarasota, FL. This partnership between the Greenfield Foundation of Philadelphia and the Hermitage Artist Retreat in Englewood, FL, offers six week residencies to artists to work on creative projects. The Greenfield Prize, an annual $30,000 commission to create a new work of art, went to playwright Nilo Cruz.

Each year the prize rotates among drama, music, and visual art. The winner must present two community programs, open free to the public, in connection with work done in residence at Hermitage Artist Retreat. The day before Cruz accepted his prize, Vijay Iyer, composer and 2012 Greenfield Prize winner, was interviewed in a “Creative Conversation” about “Jazz in a Modern Age.” Bob Seymour, WUSF Jazz Director, conducted the interview.

On the 12th in the Cook Theatre of Florida State University's Center for the Performing Arts, Nilo Cruz presented an account of “My Life, My Work” beginning with his early love of words. Then “beauty invited” to sense nature, colors, and the like. Art came from ordering elements of beauty. For Cruz, words had to be explored under all conditions--”not just dialogue but images, silences, poetic moments.” Emily Dickinson was the poet who first influenced him. In drama, he credited Maria Irene Fornes, Chekhov, and Lorca most. Yet his “work is very internal.” Cruz knows the moment of inspiration is when “I am about to fall in love” and “all feelings result.” The playwright “needs an unconditional love” of characters.

For a following “Creative Conversation” Cruz joined Carlyle Brown, playwright and performer; Olympia Dukakis, actress; Lillian Manzor, professor and Cuban archive director; and Diane Wondisford, president and producing director, Music-Theatre Group. Their American Theater topic: “Many Voices, Many Visions.” Michael Donald Edwards, producing artistic director of Asolo Repertory Theatre, moderated the panel. Participants represented as well as spoke of diversity as a contemporary need.

Olympia Dukakis, who reached the height of her fame in film, stated her pride in having started and maintained for decades two theaters. She believes “the immigrant thing” was important to her as a striving, first-generation American. Now she finds most theaters “very corporate...more management driven” than artistically motivated. “Who is CEO of a play, the director?” she asked. “Can an artistic director keep someone off the Board?” She's also had problems promoting women writers. Currently, Dukakis is working with The Gathering, a group of any women who write and need or will use a forum.

Diana Wondisford said she gets her best people to do music theater by referral from artists she admires and works with. It takes much working well together to get words and music “physicalized” after starting from scratch. Feedback and changes have to be timely.

Dr. Lillian Manzor finds the U. S. concern for diversity doesn't happen much with Cubans, and she bemoans the lack of female directors. Concern doesn't always translate to getting “one for the next play.” She also thinks American theater is more inward-looking that outward-directed as is much of the rest of the world. “We are more concerned with the verbal in subtitles” and not the original languages of plays.

Carlyle Brown reminded, “We become artists to have some relation with audiences.” Also “some think if money can't solve an issue, it has no value. We need enormous new ideas as humanity to face tremendous changes. We are already experiencing change and problems. We are trying to get a new vocabulary, to be relevant to audiences.” He said theater people must ask “who we are, where we are, what do we do?” He also acknowledged problems attracting blacks to theater.

Nilo Cruz said he's always concerned with audiences and wonders about the development of color-blind artists and producers.

Michael Edwards concluded that many in the theater don't understand their audience. He said he struggles to “be a CEO with values” that can be shared with consumers of his theater. Yet he brought out the tremendous duty he has to fulfill toward the many who rely on him for their living and the prosperity his theater's prosperity should bring to the region. He was reminded that regional theaters were created to serve their areas, where they are embedded. Yet many have to fight to stay alive in their own home.

Nilo Cruz

Key Subjects: 
Greenfield Prize, Hermitage Retreat, Nilo Cruz, regional theater, diversity
Marie J. Kilker
April 2014