Art takes courage.
At it’s core, all art begins with the leap of faith that something you know in your deepest, personal self, is an answer – a broadening – of the fundamental questions we face as human beings. Creating art requires a real risk into the unknown for it to take shape. And that ability to risk, in service of sharing fundamental truths, building a tapestry of the human condition, seems important to me. Worth dedicating lives to. The purpose and passion behind Elysium Conservatory Theatre has always been fueled by empowering and inspiring others to access their raw power of fearless expression.
Margaret Atwood says “in the end, we all become stories,” and I’d like to believe that those stories are what our theatre is all about. Textured and subtle, epic and extraordinary. Human. Poetic. True.
The question for our organization today, a decade into our work, is, are we on the right path?
“As you set out for Elysium, hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery...”
Art is unique.
Theatre is collaborative. While art rises from a personal knowing, the form is guided by the canvas. In theatre, that canvas is community. We began our aesthetic around the model of a Teaching Theatre, a home for artists who hungered to teach, mentor and continue growing themselves as a means of inspiring the highest levels of professional work.
That first step was a celebration of the unknown, the X, in our craft, our work and in ourselves. Beginning by bravely looking at questions, and utilizing our hunger to scratch and claw fearlessly forward, we foraged into deeper knowings of living truthfully as artists, of perspectives and techniques that formed our teachings, and of learning how to express our poetic truths viscerally.
As our aesthetic came into focus so did our purpose, evolving our work into a mission of artistic empowerment. We leapt from the unknown to a vision of the ideal. A paradise modeled after the Greeks, who believed the gates would widely swing open for those who earned it through integrity, dedication and nobility of effort. Their vision of paradise was getting to work on the things you loved most, alongside the people you most loved working with. They called it Elysium. And we couldn’t imagine a higher calling than creating a paradise, through that prism, for the performing arts.
angry Poseidon – don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement stirs your spirit and your body.
wild Poseidon – you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you...”
Art is messy.
The line from the Unknown to Elysium has hardly been a straight one. In searching for our heart, we have at times lost our soul - demanding far too much from our company, our community and ourselves. We simply refused to slow down our drive, racing forward relentlessly towards an ideal at the cost of straining season budgets, locations we called home, and causing our friends and artists stress in place of the joys of creation and community. When faced with the opportunity of slowing down, we’ve pushed harder in our work, refusing to settle for anything less than our ideas of artistic success. They say it’s hard to make things that are complicated work better, but it sure is easy to make them worse.
In theatre, the hardest parts of rehearsal can be the moments of failure. And our hardest failings have consistently fallen on not adequately preparing our people and ourselves for the world we were inhabiting. At times, even with the best artistic intentions, we’ve let down our audiences by not offering the technical support and accessible seating necessary to appreciate the full potential of our productions. These things chip away at the hope, trust and goodwill we count on in inspiring people to work with us and invest in our success.
“Hope your road is a long one…”
There is a concept we talk about in the Elysium aesthetic that speaks to the steps of artistic creation. It begins with observation igniting inspiration which, when invested with preparation, creates fearless improvisation (or true freedom of expression).
I’ve been told that you find what you need where you least want to look. And that the only way to overcome adversity, is to face it. We have decided to let go of our location, take a full season to step back and really observe our ways of working and how we prioritize success. Even in these first few months, what has begun to reveal itself is the totality of our potential and the sacred responsibility of building community.
After 10 years, 32 productions, and 8 graduated conservatory classes, we have now affected over 10,000 audience members, 500 theatre professionals and practitioners, and more than 100 students with our fearless aesthetic. We’ve produced some of the most innovative work in Southern California from The Lady of Shalott and Joan of Arc to Cymbeline (an adapted celebration of Shakespeare’s cannon) performed aboard the USS Battleship Iowa and original work such as Alik (a look at the life of Lee Harvey Oswald) brought to life amidst the artifacts of the Wende Museum of The Cold War in Culver City. The idea of who we are, and why we are - our mission - has never been clearer. A company dedicated to growing fearless expression in the performing arts; by empowering artists worldwide with our innovative Elysium Aesthetic.
We will continue taking the time to observe and reflect on our first ten years, allowing inspired considerations that we would miss in a drive from show to show, class to class, and budget shortfall to fundraising ask. This clarity fuels our preparation for the next ten years, and is already inspiring innovative, organizational planning that matches our insatiable artistic passion.
“May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time.
May you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things.
Mother of Pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfumes of every kind –
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars…”
Art is innovation.
When we look into the seasons to come we want Elysium associated with the ideal. We want professionals to feel fortunate to have earned a place among our professional core, for students to scratch and claw at the opportunity to grow fearless within our studios and stages, and for audiences to clamor at the chance to have their humanity awakened and hearts inspired by experiencing our work.
We are centering our planning on making those ideals a reality. Matching the best training with the best professional opportunity to developing, student artists and surrounding them with a rotating, small (albeit more powerful) core of Resident Artists - paid handsomely for their dedication to craft, mentorship, and personal, professional pride.
A century ago, before Stanislavsky came along, the idea of “good” acting was determined by presentation. How the body was shaped, the lilt in the voice, and the rigidity of adhering to the accepted norms of the times. And then he noticed an actress blush. Twice. And Stanislavsky wondered how one could have such a truthful, human reaction repeat itself. Was there a way to rehearse truth? To live life on the stage instead of merely presenting idea of the thing?
As Stanislavsky developed his technique of heightened, “rehearsable” truth in performance, his company, The Moscow Art Theatre, began to apply those methods in practice. They toured the world, bringing their teachings to the widest audience possible. Inspiring methods that echo still today. As we look forward towards the next century of theatre, standing on the shoulders of giants we are inspired by their passion to spread their gospel of truthfully artistry and our own fierce humanity.
Starting this Spring, ECT launches the world’s most innovative digital platform for the performing arts: the Elysium Conservatory Artist Network (Elysium CAN). Offering 24/7 access to conservatory growth, community motivation and creative expression, Elysium CAN ushers in the next, great leap forward in our mission of growing fearless expression in the performing arts.
We hope you’ll join the journey from the ground up by signing up today at: IAmElysium.com
In the year ahead, alongside the launch of Elysium CAN, Elysium Conservatory Theatre will be developing original versions of Wizard of Oz, Les Misérables, Julius Caesar, The Seagull, Lord of the Flies, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, and an incredible O. Henry Project (… just to tease a select few… ) that will debut in a number of significant ways. Some will tour the country and globe(!), some will be performed entirely on our digital platform! With each new production, each new place we work in, we’ll be connecting an ever-greater community to the Elysium Network with our fearless aesthetic.
And while we continue to reflect over the months ahead, beginning today our social networks will celebrate our past productions, artists, spaces and successes. We hope you’ll enjoy these loving looks at our past, even as we prepare for an unforgettable future.
“Keep Elysium always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained along the way,
not expecting Elysium to make you rich…”
Art is home.
Every version of Elysium has always included a home. An imaginative arena for artists, a Hogwarts-style feel for students, and a performing arts paradise for our larger community. The vision of our home, our Elysian Fields, has dominated our hearts since this adventure began. And that vision has never been clearer. You might say it’s 20/20.
This year we are beginning our genuine search for the land, the designs and the pathway to that permanent home. We’re ready for it and we will find through the sense of community we inspire. We believe in the power of community. It is an ever-increasing force, a will that can do things that no single person - no matter their talents - can achieve on their own. Put simply, we are Believers. Optimists. Enthusiasts. We invite you to share in our dream - Elysian Fields 2020 - so together we can build an artistic paradise of devoted, passionate, and fearless artists, boldly pushing the boundaries of performance throughout the world.
We hope you’ll lend us your support, words of encouragement, forgiveness, and faith as we forge to a future of possibility, innovation, and celebration in the months and year ahead. We know we’ll need it, and need you, to reach that paradise that we call… home.
“Elysium gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn’t have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Elysium won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what these
- Adapted from Ithaka by C.P. Cavafy