Interview: Jamie Gahlon on THE 10TH ANNIVERSARY of HowlRound Theatre Commons

The Commons' co-founder and director reflects on a decade of peer to peer learning

By: May. 28, 2021
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Interview: Jamie Gahlon on THE 10TH ANNIVERSARY of HowlRound Theatre Commons

"HowlRound is a place where you can share your learning, experiences, and expertise in service of a future in which resources and power in the theatre can be shared equitably in all directions," explains Jamie Gahlon, the Director and Co-Founder of the Boston-based theatre commons. Gahlon chatted with me via Zoom from a cheery, yellow-bathed space about what a decade of HowlRound has looked like and what the next decade might hold for the commons and the American theatre as a whole.

Founded by a group of four staff members at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. in 2011 as a think tank around opportunities and challenges facing new work in American regional theatre, HowlRound soon discovered a synergy which lead to joining ArtsEmerson in the Office of the Arts at Emerson College. "I had been working in regional theatre for five years," she recalls of the time HowlRound was established, "so I had my own feelings of dissatisfaction and gaps I was seeing. I was also deeply inspired by the work of my colleagues." The two blossoming organizations made sense together, as, according to Gahlon, where ArtsEmerson acted as a "lab of practice", HowlRound could serve as a "lab of thought and theory."

With connections to an institution of higher education but no ties to a producing theatre company which may feel the need to uphold an established status quo, HowlRound has found the ability to welcome marginalized theatre artists into a commons where their perspectives can be "heard and valued." As Gahlons explains, "a commons is a shared resource with protocols around that resource." With HowlRound, she continues, "that resource is knowledge, and through our values agenda and curatorial process we ensure all our content is licensed under the creative commons and is free, open, and re-shareable."

"Knowledge is abundant, non-rivalrous, and unlimited. This is a participatory, community-sourced platform. There is a version of my title," she hazards, "where I am editor in chief, but you'll notice that I'm not. Our editorial process is limited; we ask, 'Is this a fit for our values?' and we edit for style," but otherwise, the commons shares each author's original content.

In addition to their online content, which has been elevated to new levels of significance since the pandemic shuttered public gatherings, and their in-person programming, Gahlon feels proud of HowlRound's work alongside the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in establishing the National Playwright Residency Program. In Gahlon's words, the program provides "holistic investment in playwrights' work, and examines artist/ institution power dynamics." Through this program, playwrights across the country are signed on for three year terms in which they work with a specified theatre as an artist in residence. They are provided with salaries, health benefits, development funds, and a guarantee of production. "It should be a no-brainer that when people have access to insurance and they don't have to hustle they make better work." In looking at the Huntington Theatre's recently announced season, Gahlon notes, three of the playwrights represented are either current or former members of an NPRP cohort.

Over the past decade, Gahlon hopes that HowlRound has done the feedback loop of its namesake justice, giving the city as much as the city has given to the commons. As Boston's artists continue to grow and learn collectively, Gahlon is excited to see HowlRound's resources used as tools in classroom settings, or students taking full advantage of the resources as with the BU student collective that organized for anti-racist training at their institution. "I see peer to peer learning happening in Boston. Sometimes we can be really clear on the challenges and problems we face, but less clear when imagining the future we want to see. In terms of climate justice, anti-racism, and anti-oppression, there is a lot yet to be done, but whatever comes next, we know the community participating on HowlRound will help lead us in the direction we need to go."


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