Create Amazing Things Where You Are: Taneisha Duggan’s Vision for Hartford’s Future

The grass isn’t always greener; sometimes, it’s more meaningful to create amazing things where you are.

Many of the artists featured on this blog have either moved to the Greater Hartford area as a transplant or returned after some time away. In this way, Taneisha Duggan’s story is no different. After graduating from the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts, Duggan went on to pursue Acting at SUNY Purchase and ended up pivoting to American Girl, where she worked in events and marketing for a decade. She used this opportunity to launch her career as a full-time artist, eventually attaining her Actors’ Equity card at TheaterWorks, where she currently serves as Artistic Producer. It was partly through her experience as a National Arts Strategies Creative Community Fellow where she discovered the importance of home and using local artists and resources to activate spaces on her home turf.

“I believe in you, tell me what you want to do.”

According to Duggan, producing is harnessing and investing in creative energy as much as it is putting together the countless logistical pieces of a puzzle. The first step in creating something amazing right here in Greater Hartford is saying “I believe in you, tell me what you want me to do.” At the same time, she compares her job to running the show at Grand Central Station: “If I’m doing it well, the trains run on time with no delays, no weird snafus…everyone’s having a good time.” Producing is both a visionary and technical effort, not one or the other. Over time, Duggan has noticed a shift in thinking, particularly more recently, in how theatres are seeking talent. Not only is there a deeper interest in engaging artists on a hyperlocal level, but there is also a need to directly connect artists and creatives to funders and donors, and she is curious about how to make those connections. For Duggan, theatre is all about gathering people together around a story, having the same experience at the same time, whether it be on stage and in the audience or through screens. The story, in this case, is emphasizing the importance of quality work by artists in our own backyard.

The past year has been rife with challenges for the artist community – from closed doors to lost revenue, artists and organizations from all over have had to adapt in ways they may have never found imaginable before this point. Duggan and company are proud to have led the way in creating at-home theatre experiences for their audience. Within just a couple months of closing their doors, TheaterWorks announced an entirely virtual 2020-2021 season, including full productions, scripted readings, live conversations, and a podcast. They still hired and brought talent to Hartford as they would for a live production, but they did so under strict safety protocols, establishing “actor pods” to limit interaction outside of work. Behind the scenes, they provided actors with “studio in a box,” a full production toolkit including a computer, mobile phone, backdrops, lighting, and how-to videos to sync up actors from the comfort of their own homes.

Cast photo of “Hooded: or Being Black for Dummies” directed by Duggan at Juilliard

As we are asking questions about the future of theatre in Hartford and beyond, Duggan is unpacking individualistic ideologies; how “legacy trumps all.” Conversations about climate, race, and other front-of-mind societal issues will never change with an individual-forward mindset. This will be at the center of TheaterWorks’ upcoming production of “Walden” in August, their first in-person show since the pandemic shut-down. “Walden” is being developed as an immersive project, with audiences wearing headsets, ambulating around the scene construction; an entire property built on the grounds of Riverfront Recapture reserved specifically for this show. The play is set in a near future where humans are starting to colonize Mars. The protagonist Earthbound couple lives off-the-grid; one partner is an “Earth activist” trying to save the planet and keep it relevant. “Walden” puts forth the question, “how do you want to live?” Ticket sales open to the public on June 19.

Photo still from a Duggan-helmed filming of “Jesus Hopped the A Train” at the Hartt School

Duggan thinks similarly about the city and society at large – how are we leaving this place? Do we have the capacity to think big? She cites “Dirty 30” as one of her favorite projects; a celebration of TheaterWorks’ 30th anniversary in 2016 where the theater collaborated with activation thinktank Breakfast, Lunch, & Dinner and artists like Hong Hong and Arien Wilkerson (artists both known for their work in the Hartford area who now live in Houston and Philadelphia, respectively). She envisions a citywide projection mapping, lighting up downtown facades with massive public art.

TheaterWorks’ founder Steve Campo thought of Hartford as the “center of the universe.” Duggan is interested in how the city could use that framework to envision our future. With all the innovation that TheaterWorks and other arts organizations have incorporated into their practice, there is no reason why we can’t bring the world to us in 2021 and beyond.

– Dan Deutsch, Marketing & Communications Manager

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