The late theatrical director and innovator William Ball, who founded the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, charged his artist colleagues with the awesome social responsibility of speaking truth to power. I remember him speaking to a group of us once, insisting that "the most deplorable events that have transpired in human history can be explained by the mere fact the people are more afraid to speak in public than they are to die." Bill Ball knew that even in societies where freedom of expression is considered a fundamental civil right, most people prefer not to "muddy the waters." Furthermore, he recognized that the political, social, and economic costs of speaking out against injustice are burdensome, and, consequently, injustice frequently goes unchallenged. He started America's first conservatory for actors partly because he loved the theater, but also because he knew that social engagement, critical thinking, and public debate require constant drill and practice. Ball saw the theater as a bastion of democracy and a training ground for its champions. His "soldiers of the theater" employed clowning and comedy far more persuasively than the young men of that time were using mortar and shells in Viet Nam.
The Lark's work is also about getting back to the basics of public discourse by using theater, a political forum since the Greeks, as a platform for open discussion. At the heart of our mission is an affirmation of the individual playwright's role as community leader and as fulcrum for the principle of free expression in society. As the globe gets smaller, we see fresh opportunities to bring forth voices from a wider network of communities and to tap into the creative power of more individual artists than ever before.
We aim to bring truth back to political discourse by giving space and credibility to the true voices of citizens as a counterweight to media manipulation and the unrealistic reliance on technology to solve social problems. The human network is the flipside of the information revolution; what cannot be improved through computers, technology and specialized systems is human contact and the trust that it engenders - and theater is at the intersection of contact and trust. Theater, therefore, helps us to focus on each individual's life and the power of local community, and enhances a conversation about democracy that can only happen in person. We, at the Lark, are in the process of creating a global network in order to ignite social change and prompt political discourse by going beyond mere news and analysis of world events and seeking more dynamic interpretations of meaning through the very intimate prism of theater - a practice that has enriched the world, and the language we use to describe it, for millennia, from Aeschylus and Shakespeare to Chekhov, Shaw, Miller, Kushner and an explosion of diverse writers who now need our support in order to be heard.
John Clinton Eisner