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Lost Land - Artistic Director Martha Lavey's Preview

by Martha Lavey

We feel tremendously grateful to be able to offer Lost Land to our Steppenwolf audiences. The process by which this play and production came into being is descriptive of what makes this theater unique: an actor, by virtue of his membership in the ensemble, calls on a playwright with whom he has an artistic relationship to write a play for the company, and a director, who has relationships with the actor, playwright and the company, creates the production for the theater. The ways in which each of these players are able to shape their work to known strengths of his collaborators contributes mightily to the rich and unique texture of the production. In this sense, Steppenwolf participates in a long tradition of theatrical creation in which writers, actors, directors and producers work together to articulate an aesthetic vocabulary and point of view: Shakespeare’s company at the Globe, Molière at the Comédie Française, Odets’ with the Group Theatre, Brecht with the Berliner Ensemble, Chekhov in collaboration with Stanislavski. It may be more common, in the contemporary landscape, to find such affiliations in the world of film: the repeated relationships of Scorsese and DeNiro, Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands, Woody Allen and his production team and a loose company of actors. In art forms as intrinsically collaborative as theater and film, the ability to marshal a company of artists who have engaged repeatedly in the creative relationship is the strongest basis from which to produce work of nuance, expressiveness and sophistication. It is in this conviction that we place our trust as a theater company. On a recent artistic retreat of our senior staff, we began the weekend by acknowledging that our work at Steppenwolf is, by most measures, countercultural. In a contemporary culture that values speed, efficiency, the compression of information into the smallest possible unit of expressiveness, we are dedicated to event time rather than (race against the) clock time, to the handmade rather than the mass-produced, to the long-way-around of metaphor rather than the straight-line path of denotative messaging. Collaboration, the exercise of repeated creative relationships, participates in the countercultural inefficiencies that we embrace, finally, as identity-conferring. Collaboration means sitting around in a room, talking to one another, listening to everybody’s point of view. Collaboration is a horizontal organization of creative energy rather than a hierarchical one. More, it is a process-driven discovery of an organizing principle rather than an application of a management model. It’s messy, it’s unpredictable as to outcome – it can all go badly wrong. Our trust, the confidence we hold, is that the ways in which collaboration – in which ensemble – can go wrong are more interesting (to both participants and observers to the process) than the smooth efficiencies of well-worked systems. The great good fortune we enjoy at Steppenwolf is the caliber of the artists who inform the collaborative process. To have John as an actor and as the instigating force of a production that attracts Stephen Jeffreys and Terry Johnson, a top-flight design team and ensemble actors is the gift we enjoy as a theater company founded by actors and now approaching our 30th year together. It is, in turn, the gift we offer to you. In return, you have given us your confidence and support. It is a rich exchange – a conversation between interested and engaged parties. We thank you for valuing, as we do, the unwieldy process of collaboration, for appreciating the creation of new work, for welcoming the moment when you sit down in the dark to witness the work of your theater.