O’Hagan Blades: How would you introduce the festival to someone who has never heard of it before?
Glory Kadigan: The Planet Connections Theatre Festivity Inc. is New York’s premiere eco-friendly/socially conscious not-for-profit theatre festival. Fostering a diverse cross-section of performances, the festival seeks to inspire artists and audiences both creatively and fundamentally, in a festive atmosphere forming a community of like-minded artists. At the heart of the festivity are individuals striving to create professional, meaningful theatre, while supporting organizations, which give back to the community at large.
OB: There’s not really a founding story on your website. Can you tell me about how the festival came to be?
GK: I have a long background both in theater and in community service and I wanted to combine my passion for those two areas. Every production is paired with a community organization that it raises money and awareness for. One day I invited some other people to meet me at a diner and I told them I thought it woud be a good idea if we opened a community oriented theater festivity.
OB: How did all the various staff become involved?
I hire about 90% of the staff myself.
OB: Is it run mostly by volunteers?
GK: All of the staff are paid small stipends.
OB: How do you choose which charities to include in the festival?
GK: The artists select them -- but we do have guidelines for that and that's in the festivity manual which you can download on the Artist Resources page of our website.
Melissa Moschitto: It’s a very personal process and often, artists choose an organization that is thematically linked to their show, which can be quite powerful. I’ve also had the pleasure to connect several shows and artists with some non-profits that I know personally who are doing amazing work. Whether the charity is big or small, this type of partnership is really gratifying. It helps to create a network between the arts and charitable organizations all over New York City and beyond!
OB: How do you select which shows to include in the festival?
GK: I see about three shows a week throughout the year and sometimes solicit artists. And some people just apply of their own volition. I read all the scripts myself and create a line-up each season.
OB: I see that the socio-political topics of the festival extend beyond the environment, especially into LGBT and women’s issues, education, etc. Is this coincidence or intentional alliance? In other words, do you see these sorts of issues as linked with sustainability, ie that the idea of a sustainable planet is not just about physical sustainability?
GK: I see it as linked. It certainly is not just a coincidence. Many of these causes -- and others the festivty supports -- are near and dear to my heart.
OB: You seek to “build a more sustainable theater and planet through the power of entertainment.” What exactly is the “power of entertainment?” Is “entertainment” a better vehicle for a public message than say, a bill in Congress?
GK: Well in ancient Greece, theater/entertainment was used to develop the spirit of a community, and to develop the souls and minds of the people within that community. I believe that it still does this today.
OB: Do you think it is an artist’s responsibility to try to make the world a better place? In other words, is “art for art’s sake” a luxury, an irresponsibility, a selfish indulgence, or a perfectly viable motivation that is just not represented in this festival?
GK: Well, its up to each individual. Personally, I as an artist do my best to help people learn about others that are different from them, and in turn learn about themselves. I hope to have the audience walk in someone else's shoes for a bit. But there are a lot of various artists in the world and I think its all valid. I would like to see more people creating and being involved with their communities. Also -- you haven't asked about the benifit of "working on a theater production." Whether someone is trained or not trained -- I believe people from all walks of life should participate in the creation of theater and/or other art forms.
OB: Do you think the greater audience of this festival is already in agreement with its ideals? In other words, are you preaching to the choir? Are there really non-eco-friendly attendees who need to be persuaded to change their ways?
GK: Well, I may be preaching to a choir but many people in that choir have little to no idea what they as individuals can accomplish. We educate the artists every year on how they can be eco-friendly on their budgets and connect their productions directly to the community. Even on Broadway, if you asked the people working on those productions if they supported the environment, many of them would tell you "yes" -- and yet, an entire forrest is destroyed every day just from the Broadway Playbills alone. So, it may be to a choir, but we're helping people understand what they can do, and what's within their control as artists.
And yes there are people who come to the festivity every year who are changed by it. One of the artists told me that prior to the festivity he had never volunteered in his community but now he and his daughter volunteer regularly for the charitable cause his production represented. He told me it has really strengthened his relationship with his daughter. When you come to the festivity you may see a little 10-year old girl out collecting money with her Dad after one of the shows. That's one of the ways the festivity makes a difference in the community.
MM: I think our audience fills in the full spectrum of the eco-aware! We have such a wide variety of theatre offerings -- in style, content and form -- that it draws a wide array of people. Someone might attend specifically because we’re eco-friendly and if they do, I hope they’ll learn something new about how they can make more sustainable and earth-conscious choices in their daily lives (we’re trying to lead by example!). Or, someone else might come specifically for one show that they are interested in and perhaps one of our eco-displays will inspire them to think further about, say, water usage. We’re also trying to build a huge wave of positive energy surrounding being green -- it’s not a burden and we don’t have to change everything but we can all work together to make a collective cultural shift. I think Planet Connections is proof of that!
OB: Do you find live performance to be especially suitable to environmental advocacy because of the way in which it happens in a moment and then is gone without trace (the way, perhaps, we should live as people), or is it simply the medium you’ve chosen? In other words, could static art achieve the same message?
GK: Of course static art could achieve the same message, but, I like people and I like to see them interacting and working together to create beutiful art. That builds community. And I'm all about that.
MM: You can’t replace the energy that is created by people interacting in the same space -- actor to actor, audience to performers, staff to guests. Hmmm....maybe we should find a way to capture all of that amazing, buzzing energy in our lobbies and turn it into electricity to power the space!!
(The Planet Connections Theatre Festivity features 35 full-length productions and 15 readings through June 26, 2011. Performances take place at the Robert Moss Theater, 440 Lafayette, and the Gene Frankel Theater, 24 Bond Street. For the full schedule and more infomation visit planetconnections.org.)