In the Loop
Alumni News : Jul 6, 2016

SOTD alumnus John Pinckard gives Florida Alliance for Arts Education keynote address

By Natalie Calvo

Two-time Tony Award winner and SOTD alumnus John Pinckard gave a keynote address at the Florida Alliance for Arts Education Leadership Summit the weekend of June 24.

The Florida Alliance for Arts Educations aims to make art instruction a part of every student’s curriculum and for Florida communities to have cultural programs that support lifelong exposure to the arts. Pinckard discussed how access to the arts in Tampa is the reason he became a Broadway producer.

“My 6th grade literature teacher was a drama nerd,” Pinckard said. “We spent more than a little time reading plays – and by plays I mean everything from Euripides’ “Iphigenia at Aulis” to Neil Simon’s “Plaza Suite.” I showed an interest in this. A couple months later, when the Showboat Dinner Theater produced “Plaza Suite,” my parents took me. I had a blast, and from then on we went to almost every show at the showboat until I was well in to high school.”

He worked as an interim art director at Gainesville’s All Children’s Theatre after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in lighting design, though he had originally set out to pursue a bachelor’s degree in physics.

Pickard has returned to UF with his production company, Tilted Windmills, for the last two years to workshop productions with UF students.  This year, the School of Theater and Dance partnered with his company to produce “Puffs; or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic,” which was performed at the Nadine McGuire Black Box Theatre to sold out audiences in early June. “Puffs” will open Off-Broadway early this fall.

In 2000, he worked a freelance design job in New York City and never left. His last two plays, “Clybourne Park” and the musical “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” won him Tony awards.

 “None of this would have happened had I not been provided access to the theater,” he said. “First in the classroom, and then at home by dedicated and supportive, if at times baffled, parents.”

This season on Broadway all four best actor winners of people of color. “Waitress,” a new musical, has an all female creative team. Hamilton a story of “the original old, white guys” showcases that most of the founding fathers were immigrants and children of immigrants, he said.

“Look behind the curtain at the industry itself,” Pinckard said. “You see that the overwhelming majority of decision makers at every level of our very insular, very small industry are white, male and of a very certain age and income. Our audience is correspondingly overwhelmingly white, female and of a certain age and income. A Broadway ticket is a luxury item, and we market it as such, and make our content choices accordingly.”

Arts for All is advocated by The Theater Development Fund which subsidizes low-price tickets to shows around the country for educators, artists, service members, veterans and other groups. The fund also pioneered autism friendly Broadway performances that have been adjusted for people on the spectrum.

Every year, roughly 20 percent of seats on Broadway are vacant. Situation Interactive, a digital marketing Broadway agency, has founded Situation Initiative, which seeks to donate the unsold seats to students in low-income, high-risk neighborhoods, who may not otherwise see a Broadway show.

“Broadway is known as the commercial tip of the American Theater iceberg,” Pinckard said. “However, the lifeblood of the American Theater is the non-profit sector.”

The non-profit sector showcases diversity of age, color, ethnic identity, ability and gender expression in a way that the Broadway plays do not. However, there is hardly a successful show on Broadway that didn’t make it through the non-profit sector first, he said.

Pinckard’s speech was titled Live Engagement in a Digital Engagement Age.

He estimated that 91 percent to 98 percent of children in the U.S. do not have access to Theatre for Young Audiences and 77 percent of these children have access to tablets.

“We beg these young people to look up from their tablets and engage the arts, with somewhat fractional success,” Pinckard said. “If the next generation is fully wired, then let’s use that to our advantage.”

Digital Family Stage a non-profit venture that Tilted Windmills has been working on designed to partner with Theatre for Young Audience Companies to film productions and make them accessible to young people at cinemas, through online streaming and on television stations, like PBS.

 “Let us embrace non-traditional modes of exposing young audiences to the arts,” Pinckard said. “We can be in the world as well as of the world, and the world will continue to change.”