In 1991, several professional Atlanta film and theater actors, a few directors, musicians and other performing artists started work focused on new ways of creating intellectual product. It was a series of workshops about process and collaboration. We questioned the productivity of a proprietary, insular and vertically integrated creative hierarchy. In other words, we were looking at new systems of rehearsal.

After six years of weekly workshops and a dozen trial theater productions, PushPush Theater was incorporated in 1997 to provide a space that offered an alternative to the typical theater. Auditions and other forms of top down control were abandoned. The core staff maintained an uncompromising adherence to the mission of the theater, while at the same time opening all staff meetings, financial records and planning to all the artists involved. Often frustrating those coming from the traditional theater world, the day-to-day evolution involved a unique blend of control and chaos, stubbornness and collaboration.

Decisions on what to produce and who would be involved in a project were arrived at collectively. The selection criterion were not based on the content but on the developmental possibilities for those involved. We were not a production house serving the entertainment needs of a mass audience, but a center for the development of those who create scripts, plays, films and other forms of art.

PushPush continued to expand and grow outward and not vertically. New, independent artists were gradually taking on leadership responsibilities and creating new production entities working loosely under the umbrella of PushPush Theater.

In 2007, New Street Arts became the new name of the umbrella organization and PushPush Theater became one of 15 independent groups calling New Street their home base. Each of these independent groups governs themselves independently and creates a unique product. There is active sharing of resources and manpower among all the groups and each of these groups is represented on The New Street Advisory Board that suggests improvements for the physical space and plans growth for the organization as a whole.

As an organization devoted to the development of creative artists, we measure our success in terms of original content created and new artistic opportunities formed. Each year of our existence, we have originated a property that has gone on to a greater success beyond its workshop beginning. We’ve sent plays to The Humana Festival in Louisville, Theater Row in Manhattan, and Los Angeles as well as five productions to European theaters, including our 2003 production of Manny and Chicken at the BP that is currently running at The Freikammerspiele Theater in Germany.

In 2007 a project that started as a film-theater workshop in 2004 resulted in the feature film The Signal that sold at the Sundance Film Festival to Magnolia Pictures, and involved more than a dozen of our core actors and directors. Since then we’ve seen our artists:
join the lead writing staff for NBC’s 30 Rock in New York
  • hired as director of the European Tour Show from Das Theater in Amsterdam
  • cast as a feature role in Paul Giamatti’s film The Hawk is Dying
  • join the acting ensemble with The Wooster Group in New York and tour Europe
  • cast in Bill T Jones’ current New York City show
  • invited to perform in Europe’s International Beckett Festival in Switzerland
  • selected for the new playwright’s program at The O’Neill Center in Waterford, CT
  • cast as a featured actor in Sony Picture’s feature film, Stomp the Yard, hitting #1 nationally two weeks in a row

Retaining Atlanta’s Newest Artistic Leaders

Our successes argue well for Atlanta’s homegrown talent, but it also makes us very eager to develop the support to retain this talent.

In our early years at PushPush, we tended to lose younger artists. Funders, staff and our board often asked if we were moving too fast and expecting too much flexibility and growth from our artists. This has changed and now we tend to lose our more experienced artists. Increasingly, the more advanced artists find it necessary to move to faster growing environments and to take their Atlanta-created success to other cultural centers that provide the support they can’t find in Atlanta.

Retaining original creative artists will result in a lively scene in the performing arts; a scene that can keep pace with the most rapidly changing environment the performing arts have ever experienced. It will involve a new blend of film, theater, music and other disciplines and technologies. New technologies will level the playing field with other cultural centers. Atlanta is ready to take advantage of this new landscape. The key ingredient is developing and retaining our creative thinkers.

A New Age Where Individuals Participate

It is clear that we are living in a remarkable time as theater producers, workers and audiences. We are seeing the very core of live theater communal gathering being challenged like never before in recorded history. This year, Time Magazine named “You” as the person of the year. Young people increasingly have the skills to access the information age in ways we could only have dreamed of a decade ago and this is creating an entirely different purpose for live theater and different expectations from the audience.

The biggest change we see in the Net Gen is a new ability to participate rather than being passive spectators. The Internet 2.0 is so named because it is the second wave of major change affecting internet users and it is marked by open-source access and active participation in self-developed programming. This is in a very early stage of development but one from which we will certainly never go back. Theater as we have known it has been disrupted.

Here at the beginning of the 21st century, it is up to the arts community to embrace these changes in technology that affect story telling and performative acts for the public. Being aware of and integrating new technologies does not mean that one has to completely abandon the traditional forms, but rather respond to the understanding that the anthropological desire for performing and enacting a story and connecting with an audience through that story is being newly redefined.

One can observe a worldwide desire for live theater, by both audiences and artists. In these next few years, the theatrical landscape will be reformed, reshaped and revitalized. The trend of “my personal world” will increase the desire for creating centers that can provide interactive face-time and functional places of public cultural gathering, and thus help redefine a need for a new concept of a public sphere, so crucial for any living democracy. As a result of this need, theaters that merely offer a place to go and view a product are becoming less necessary.