On April 7th, The Grappler challenged The Theatre School and greater Chicago theatre communities to come together to discuss the creation, criticism and responsibilities of making modern art.

The Grappler is a student led publication interested in bringing the practice of dramaturgy and criticism in Chicago into the present moment. This is Modern Art asked audiences to “start a revolution” and the revolution manifested itself on social media. The Grappler aimed to create a space that practiced a call-in-culture. We acknowledged that This is Modern Art sparked online debate, but asked all panelists and audience members to move beyond that individual show to discuss the broader implications of our modern art and discourse.

The two-hour panel challenged the label of “theatre for young audiences” and asked what it means to think critically about creating theatre in a world of divergence and diversity. Moderator Dylan Fahoome was joined by Kevin Coval, Ricardo Gamboa, Hallie Gordon, Chris Jones and Lisa Portes for a conversation where opposing viewpoints asked the audience to #grapple in a way they had never #grappled before.

The forum contained some long bios, a handout on diversity in the theatre, some tough questions, moments of graciousness and compassion— and a whole lotta grappling. We would like to extend a big thank you to everyone that joined us to grapple with the ways in which we define where theatre belongs, who gets to make it, and the gatekeepers who qualify that art.

Below are some excerpts from the original question asked to all panelists and responses given. For the conversation in its entirety, be sure to check out the recording above or at

Dylan began the forum by asking, “What is the role of the gatekeeper when giving voice to the voiceless?”

KC: A large part of my artistic practice is to listen, and to then try to translate what I hear into words that make sense to other people.

LP: My entire artistic impulse is driven by the desire to reflect people on stage that are rarely reflected on stage…to be reflected tells you that you are seen, that you matter, and there’s no audience that needs to know that they matter more than young people. The job of the gatekeeper is to create that opportunity regularly, often, whenever possible, all the time, at whatever cost.

HG: I don’t like to think of it as the voiceless. I like to think of it as- I’m fortunate enough to be here to listen to the stories that are not heard. The biggest job I have is listening.

RG: So when we think of the role of the gatekeeper here, we’re talking about a Chicago theatre scene that is anything but “Chicago” theatre. It’s usually transplant theatre – people that come here, people from the suburbs, that can afford to go to theatre schools, that can filter into theatres like Steppenwolf… I’m trying to invite everyone to think critically about the world that we’re reinforcing.”

CJ: The most sacred thing is the trust of my readers – and I try not to set them wrong. I try to tell them what a show is, tell them how I feel about it, if it’s worth their time, and try to respond honestly to it.


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