Geeks Review Books: “HowlRound Anthology: Essays and Conversations from the First Ten Years”

HowlRound Anthology: Essays and Conversations from the First Ten Years
Fifty essays from 2011 to 2020
Published by HowlRound Theatre Commons
Edited by May Antaki
Copyright 2022
Paperback, 514 pages
ISBN: 978-1-939006-06-6
First edition, May 2022
Purchase the Anthology

Book review by Kitty Drexel

“We make rituals and allow communities to witness new propositions with an emotional vulnerability that unites us in our humanity, and in our greater universal connectedness.” 

  • From “Walking the Awkwardly Heroic Yet Often Depressing Path of Near-Impossible Catastrophe Evasion Through Kick-Ass Poetics” by Elizabeth Doud, 24 April 2015.

BOSTON — HowlRound Anthology: Essays and Conversations from the First Ten Years is not a dainty book of light reading. It is a girthy 514 pages wrapped between a Halloween orange front and back cover, with small font and no fluffy filler. Its only pictures are black-and-white headshots of contributing authors arranged next to author biographies. It’s taken me a month to write this review and I’m only three-quarters of the way through. You could fight off a fascist with this weighty book and win.

The contents aren’t light either. HowlRound clearly strived to be anti-racist, intersectionally feminist, transparent, diverse, and equitable while remaining fully loyal to its mission of amplifying progressive, disruptive ideas about art forms and facilitating connections between diverse practitioners. These articles will challenge your current practices and beliefs and, hopefully, enable you to be a better theatremaker, ally, and person. 

The anthology’s topics range from trouble-shooting climate change, person-facing demands for equity, calls for radical change within traditional norms, the dismantling of racist, white Eurocentric paradigms, and clown pedagogy (which takes it all on). You name it and HowlRound has represented it in the anthology. 

The articles can be loosely organized into five categories: 

  • How-To 
  • Did You Know?
  • Community practice updates
  • Critical examinations 
  • The critic/reviewer community

In each category, there are subcategories for example critical examinations of community practices or tutorials on things you might not know. 

The beginning of the anthology has two tables of contents: one in chronological order, which is how the book is arranged, and in thematic order for those reading according to their special interest (producing, Black theatre, leadership, etc.). Unfortunately, the anthology does not have an index in the back. An index would prove useful for teachers and students who intend to use this book for classes or research. I recommend taking good notes until an edition with an Index is printed.

Girthy with knowledge and bound paper.

Part of what makes HowlRound Anthology: Essays and Conversations from the First Ten Years such a long read is the long length of most articles. The longest articles also used academic syntax – which may be mandatory for academic journals but can put off the average internet reader. As a rule, writers hoping to capture a casual reader on the internet have approximately two minutes before a reader toddles over to another site. Writers may have three minutes if a reader is emotionally invested in the content. Most readers are not emotionally invested. 

The most successful articles were short and to the point. Taylor Mac’s “A Culture of Trust,” tells an interesting story, delivers its message, and then ends. Mac doesn’t expect the reader to juggle multiple abstract concepts while learning new lingo. The article is uncluttered.

Not all articles can be uncluttered, but writers can strive to use simple language while communicating complex ideas. I fully understand and struggle with the fact that it feels mighty nice to write a structured, cluttered sentence with gobs of adjectives and verbs that runs on and on forever and ever. 

Kill your darlings. Smite them. We write for our readers, too. 

HowlRound Anthology: Essays and Conversations from the First Ten Years spans ten years. All of the articles have contemporary value despite being five or more years old. The lingo might become outmoded in the future, but the ideas captured in articles such as “Note on Generosity” by P. Carl (2011), “Do White Playwrights Think About This?” by Larissa FastHorse (2015), and “Why I’m Breaking Up with Aristotle” by Chantal Bilodeau (2016) and many more are timeless. 

Mark Twain wrote that there’s no such thing as a new idea. Twain, an old, cis, white man who could never have foreseen a world in which women and nonbinary people contribute to the arts at the same rate as men, couldn’t have imagined an evolving world arts ecology as rich as ours. Even if he is right, there is value in relearning the theory and practices we’ve forgotten. There is also value in teaching the wonder and joy we found in principles that have become commonplace but were once unconventional. We can’t know where we’re going unless we acknowledge where we’ve come from. This anthology includes it all. 

Happy birthday, HowlRound (belated)!

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