Honey, I Blew Up the Theater

David White Secures Dance Theater Workshop's Piece of the Rock, and Expands Its Programs.

But many artists weren’t so inclined to be cocky anymore. By the mid ’90s—even before NEA head Jane Alexander accused them of “neglecting participation, democratization, and popularization”—artists had largely relinquished their century-old claim to outsider, visionary, loner, and freak status and were thinking hard about “community.”

“By the ’90s, a lot of funding was being directed at art forms to do the heavy lifting of social beneficence that the government had abandoned,” White explains. “And artists work reactively.” In 1993, DTW created Public Imaginations to fund choreographers’ projects with particular constituencies, such as prisoners, nurses, schoolchildren, and public housing residents. (Later this month, David Drake’s solo theater piece, Son of Drakula, inaugurates Outer Edge, the most recent prong of Public Imaginations, with gay and lesbian audience members as the target constituency this time.)

David R. White on the rear deck of the new DTW Doris Duke Performance Center, 219 West 19th Street. Behind him, top center, is the building that housed the original Dance Theater Workshop, founded in 1965.
Joshua Farley
David R. White on the rear deck of the new DTW Doris Duke Performance Center, 219 West 19th Street. Behind him, top center, is the building that housed the original Dance Theater Workshop, founded in 1965.

DTW has been proactive and it has been reactive—fueled by utopian hope but governed by a strong sense of political reality. It is also a bit paranoid. White, for example, may disparage choreographers for “the fatalistic assumption that you’re just here for this moment and then you’re going to get splatted like a mayfly,” but then he proceeds to count the ways they have been splatted: the boom economy, the bust economy, the right-wing attacks and consequent loss of buckets of federal funding, and the ideological restrictions on the funding that remains. The new building is a bulwark against that chronic vulnerability. “We’ve guaranteed, into the future, a place for artists to work,” White says soberly. “If we’ve done nothing else, at least we’ve done that.”

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