Emerging from the Cave


          The Sundance Institute commissioned this report as part of an effort to understand the most urgent needs and priorities of the theater and performing arts community during a time in which the Institute’s Theater Program is in transition.

The idea of a field inquiry began prior to the pandemic, after the departure of longtime director Philip Himberg, when we paused to interrogate the future of the Theater Program before hiring a new artistic director. To facilitate this work, our executive director, Keri Putnam, began a series of conversations with individuals across the field to learn about the Theater Program’s role in the field, and explore how we might adapt and respond to improve our work.

Then came the pandemic. As was the case for so many other nonprofits, the onset of COVID-19 added stress to our budget, and it meant that the sense of community and in-person support we once provided to artists was no longer possible.

In the summer of 2020, we suspended the Theater Program, which was already in a period of transition, along with two other Institute programs - and created a new Interdisciplinary Program focusing on theater, performing arts, music, and emerging/immersive media. While our labs have not taken place this year we have been supporting theatre artists with grants through this program, while exploring and embracing the interplay among creative disciplines, especially during the pandemic where innovation has been necessary to sustain practices.
From the field’s perspective, we know it felt as if the Theater Program was going away forever. However, we remain committed to supporting theater and performing artists, and in the fall, we will be introducing new fellowship and granting opportunities. We also felt it was important for us to consider not only how we could support theater artists, but also how we could amplify their voices and ensure that their concerns about their livelihoods were heard by institutions that often don’t hear them.

At our Theater Lab, when artists meet with advisors, artists are encouraged to come up with their own questions about their work - the artist leads the way. Out of this methodology, this report was born. This report is a field scan commissioned by the Sundance Institute and executed by Jesse Cameron Alick, a longtime advisor of the Institute work with theater artists. Over 70 artists and thought leaders were interviewed, and they were generous enough to share their unique observations on our field and how it can become a healthier space.

The power of this report is in the cumulative particularity of these perspectives. Each person we interviewed had their own different ideas, and their responses, taken together, paint a picture of what’s happening in the field - what artists are thinking, feeling, and, yes, asking for. There is a deep desire for change. And while this report does not give us answers about how to get there, it does ground us in where we actually are, which is key to getting us to where we want to go.
We are beginning a conversation that we hope arts organizations and leaders will continue in order to provoke new modes of support. We understand that some of these issues are not solvable by arts organizations alone. In fact, we feel strongly that a lot of the solutions need to originate from places outside our institutions.

We hope you will read, discuss, and engage with the conversation started here, which was so beautifully presented and collected by Jesse. He has included a Google form where you can add your thoughts and observations - and we look forward to sharing the additional insights we receive, and continuing to support the dialogue toward a more equitable and vibrant future for our field.

Keri Putnam, Executive Director
Michelle Satter, Founding Senior Director, Artist Programs
Lisa Kron, Advisor to the Interdisciplinary Program
Ana Verde, Manager of the Interdisciplinary Program