An Invocation for Woolly Mammoth

At her first Dinner on Stage, Woolly’s new Artistic Director Maria Manuela Goyanes delivered the following speech, which was inspired by the work of author adrienne maree brown, the advocacy firm Indigenous Direction, and Woolly co-founder and Artistic Director Emeritus Howard Shalwitz.

First, some gratitude. Let’s give a round of applause to the staff that put together and hosted this evening’s festivities!

I also need to take a moment to say thank you to all the artists who have participated tonight. Can all the artists who are seated at tables please stand?

You are why Woolly Mammoth exists. It is important that we recognize and honor you at every moment we get a chance to. Thank you for your talent and for being part of this family.

This is a milestone moment for me. This is the first time that I am speaking on the stage of this incredible theater. And though I can see you all right in front of me, I can also absolutely feel the presence of an audience behind me. The audience of every single play that has lived in this space. Is it obvious that I believe in ghosts? I do.

So this is for all of you, ghosts included, to feel and hear with the energy of the next generation: the mission of Woolly Mammoth is to create rousing, visceral, enlightening theater experiences that galvanize diverse artists and audiences to engage with our world in unexpected and often challenging ways.

This mission was drafted in the year or so before I was hired. Now, that’s a bold move for a theater company. Most companies wait for the new person to draw up a new mission and core values for the theater they are going to run. But not Woolly. One could call this an innovation in the Artistic Director search process, and it may be the reason that this transition has felt so right.

In me, Woolly Mammoth found someone who deeply believes in the words of this mission statement, in the power of this articulation, and who knows it will take fierce ambition and courage to make those words ring more and more true.

What I can say, right now, with all the arrogance that comes with being a newcomer, is that Woolly Mammoth is ready. We are ready to be the most radical, the most provocative, the most innovative, the most daring, and the fiercest theater company in the United States.

We must keep following through on that promise. Why?

Because mass shootings in our schools and workplaces are now commonplace.

Because people of color are dying all over this country as a result of not being seen as fully human.

Because we now have another accused sexual predator on the Supreme Court.

These are just a few examples of what I see as the current status quo. And this status quo is real, relentless, and enduring.

I want to be clear: I am not advocating for creating plays that are ripped from the headlines. I want Woolly to create theater experiences that galvanize artists and audiences to challenge that status quo. I believe that by engaging in art that is unexpected, takes risks in both form and content while being masterful and virtuosic, we can, please excuse my language, wake the fuck up.

It is by waking up that we can become better citizens in this great nation, and become conscious of the compassion and righteousness within each of us to care about the lives of all our fellow human beings, not just our own.

I see this as our responsibility.

Or, as Howard has said, “Woolly is here to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.”

So here on this stage, is an invocation for both us and our ghosts, past, present, and future:

May we know that there is no such thing as a blank canvas or an empty land, but that everywhere there is a complex, ancient, fertile ground full of potential.

May we realize the potential of this land and these spaces, and may we honor its deep history.

May we be intentional in our work, and practice vulnerability with each other, just as we ask our artists to do on this very stage.

May we surprise ourselves in how creative and risk-taking and radical we can be.

May we practice productive ideological conflict with each other, not just because drama is our bread and butter, but because the exchange of ideas actually ennobles us.

May we recognize that there are many paths forward, and may we hold the learnings from our spectacular failures in as high esteem as the learnings from our spectacular successes.

May we be brilliant together.