We Players and San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park

San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park.
It’s a mouthful of a name, for a very special place on the northern waterfront of San Francisco. And it is very much an artistic home for We Players, thanks to a robust Cooperative Agreement that spans 2012-2017. We recently had a meeting with SAFR (the NPS code for that 15 syllable name) where our agreement was referenced, and I took the opportunity to revisit the language in our “Statement of Work” –

“We Players will produce various site-specific traveling theatre productions and other art and community engagement programs at various sites throughout San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. In the course of the programs, park visitors will be encouraged to explore multiple park areas. Programs will be presented both during the day and evening, daytime programs will be accessible to all park visitors at no charge. Programs will generally be ticketed (some offered free of charge) and open to the public. ‘We Players may offer focus group workshops, i.e., art workshops open to the public.’”

In our planning meeting and again as I re-read this, I am reminded how much the staff at the Park respect Ava and I, admire the quality of our work, and appreciate our professionalism. I understand that trust today, having created two full-scale site-integrated theatre productions, presented several music concerts, and hosted multiple workshops and parties at the Park in recent years. What’s amazing to me is that San Francisco Maritime went out on a limb to establish We Players as a cooperating agency in 2012 – just a year after being established as a formal organization, and only a few months after we received our non-profit status. Just as (then site-supervisor) Amy Brees’ invitation to a three-year creative residency on Alcatraz Island, 2009-11 helped us shape our programming and design our organization to truly address our mission, San Francisco Maritime’s partnership is helping We Players deepen our practice and further our mission of connecting people with place.

Deliberately shaping We Players’ lasting creative contributions to the Park is what’s most interesting to me as we continue working with the lovely staff and volunteers aboard the historic ships, on Hyde Street Pier and in the Maritime Museum. As site-integrated performing artists, we excel at creating ephemeral beauty, captivating audiences with full sensory experience, and provoking thought on the shared themes embedded in a story and site. And, we are very interested in sharing the fruit and scattering the seeds of our practice, which we find central to a creative and fulfilling life in healthy relationship with people and place. I look forward to developing and sharing our programming at San Francisco Maritime this fall, and working with our artists and Park staff to create new interpretation programs that will hopefully live on long after 2017.

– Lauren D. Chavez, We Players Managing Director

Working with the Parks

We Players has been creating art in public spaces since 2000, and in partnership with the National Park Service and California State Parks since 2008. Last year we coined the term “site-integrated” to describe our keystone, outdoor, traveling theatre productions to differentiate our creative practice from the many (and ever-increasing) site-specific performance groups and artists in the Bay Area and beyond. Rather than simply choosing a dramatic or inexpensive backdrop for a performance, we very much create our art in direct relationship with the many layers of history, ecology, and community that we encounter within our treasured parklands.

Hamlet on Alcatraz. Autumn, 2010.

Hamlet on Alcatraz. Autumn, 2010.

In addition to regular visits to a project site and protracted, full sensory observation, frequent interaction with various partners in the park services and affiliated non-profit cooperating agencies is a major part of our process. At the start of a new project, we get to explore the troves of information and artifacts housed in the many libraries, archival storage sites, and memories of staff. Wanting to be around the site as much as possible, we volunteer where we can and use our craft to honor park anniversaries. And as we create art in a park, the staff who have worked (and sometimes lived) in our project sites for years or decades tip us off to hidden gems, provide suggestions and feedback, and help us problem solve. It’s a mutually beneficial exchange. We all appreciate the place and want to support visitors in experiencing the park in a profound way.

Our park partners understand the value of our work and acknowledge the potential for creative engagement to transform park visitors into park stewards. I am proud that We Players projects make up half of the past projects listed by the newly-formed Art in the Parks Program. And I’m glad that the Golden Gate National Recreation Area has a well-delineated process for inviting more artists to explore the parks and deepen their relationship with place through art-making.

I’m very curious about the changes in perspective and behavior that occur when one goes from a non-committal, unattached visitor to an invested lover of place. When we truly care for our public places we take time to be present there. We listen. And as we listen, we learn more and more about the environment, from traffic patterns to animal behaviors to the patterns of the wind. I’ve had the blessing to witness this transformation occur in many of our collaborators over the years.

-Lauren D. Chavez
Managing Director, We Players