The Public Arena: A literary office without walls
Treat, Erin Kathleen
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American regional theatres are in crisis. The economic downturn of the past four years has resulted in an intensification of existing challenges facing nonprofit theatre institutions, and the result has been a resurgence of aesthetic conservatism, an unwillingness to take risks on new playwrights and innovative productions. Recently, the growing perception of literary departments as irrelevant middlemen between institutions and writers and the necessity of belt- tightening throughout the industry has led to the elimination of literary and dramaturgical staffs at many regional theatres. However, some literary departments have survived by shifting their focus towards audience engagement, becoming spokespeople and advocates for their institutions and their productions. The Literary Office at Arena Stage is one such department; along with other departments, it has become part of an Artistic Development team, whose task is to develop a series of literary-focused audience engagement initiatives called The Public Arena. This thesis explores the need for new approaches to engagement, the development and implementation of The Public Arena, and the program's potential as a model for engagement initiatives at other theatres. A case study of the Public Arena's various programs and how they work together reveals that there is great potential in refocusing the work of dramaturgs and literary managers toward audience and community engagement and that an institutional environment that values transparency, inclusivity, and connection encourages involvement and investment in the theatre and the work from both within the institution and from the larger communities it serves.