By David Colfer
I am starting week number five today as the new General Manager at Emerson College for the Department of Performing Arts and Emerson Stage. My new school year has begun in two ways: first, I am looking forward to an outstanding season here at Emerson Stage; the programming choices are bold, exciting and enticing for artists and audiences. The beginning of a school year is full of anticipation and optimism. Second, this is not just a new school year, but an entirely new school. After nine years at another university, I am full of excitement and optimism about the start of my time with Emerson College.
Watching Emerson expand and succeed over the last several years from the outside has been deeply satisfying and intriguing for me. While many institutions of higher learning have been shedding programs in the arts under the real and convenient claims of budget pressures, Emerson has been expanding and growing arts programs, facilities and relationships. This forward-thinking plan is truly visionary: as this society moves from an industrial-based economy to a service/creative/information-based one, the skills acquired through an arts-focused liberal arts education will prove to be far more valuable. Yes, technology rules. But aren’t creative minds, educated in imagination, exploration and intellectual curiosity responsible for this technology? More important, now that technology is the new normal, what lies ahead?
Here’s why I think Emerson is perfectly poised at the moment: this institution embraces innovation as a core value and lives it every day, in every way. For us in Performing Arts and at Emerson Stage though, technology can never replace the person to person, one on one, intimate, excruciatingly real experience of rehearsing and performing a play or musical. We adopt and exploit technologies and attempt to be innovative with them, but technology only creates the framework or skeleton of a piece of theatre. To further the process, we must have living, breathing artists design and shape that technology, speak the words of a playwright to one another, explore the rich emotional undercurrent of a character and create and execute a graceful flow, a rich arc, a seamless rhythm to the performance. But none of this is complete until the audience is there to witness and experience our work. Theatre not only depends on real life interaction and participation, it is not valid until it has been shared with others.
Emerson College was founded on the principle that ‘Expression is necessary to evolution,’ a tenet I embrace personally and professionally. The ability and desire to be expressive, and the development of the tools, techniques and strategies to do so, are at the core of a meaningful and valuable arts education. An appreciation of the theatre’s unique expressive language and acceptance of the audience’s role as witness is equally valuable in this process. So whether you are backstage, on-stage or facing the stage this season, I look forward to sharing this season with you.