Thankfulness in a Thankless Time

We reached out to some of the artists who have worked with us this year to ask them what they are thankful for. As we wind down the tumultuous 2016, taking time to find gratitude is more important than ever. Please feel free to add what you are thankful for in the comments. We at Azuka are certainly grateful to be surrounded by such a fierce group of artists.

I am thankful that I get to live in a city that reminds me, daily, of the freedoms we have and the lengths to which we must go to protect them. The fact that a person such as myself, the daughter of teachers (granddaughter of a coal miner, great-granddaughter of immigrants), is afforded the opportunity to make art in this city is something that I am thankful for every single day.

I’d like to thank Azuka for giving young artists a chance to share their work and experiment with the love and knowledge of theater that they’ve accumulated thus far.
James Whitfield in  How We Got On  (2016). Photo by Johanna Austin/AustinArt,org

James Whitfield in How We Got On (2016). Photo by Johanna Austin/AustinArt,org

I am thankful that we live in this sparkling city of people unafraid in the face of injustice. People who fight for humanity and who cover each other with grace at every turn. I am thankful that we don’t think theater should be safe. I am thankful for Azuka’s staff, our board, our crew, our actors, our volunteers, our playwrights, our donors, our audience who all stepped into the vision of a world where everyone’s story was valuable dreamed up by a bunch of kids almost twenty years ago. I am thankful that family comes in all shapes and sizes. I am thankful that I have always been able to call my colleagues friends. I am thankful that our parents gave us a road map to survive almost anything because they had to first. I am thankful that, by the nature of our work in the theater, people we know now and people we will never meet might feel less alone. I am thankful for teachers who remade us in the image of our best selves. I am thankful that we are all working so hard to stay woke. I am thankful that new beginnings often start out very small but make our hearts very big. I am thankful for pie. Most of all I am thankful that we are living in these strange times with each other and that we have been tasked, but whatever universal forces are at play, to create the world in which we want to live - to laugh, and cry, and wonder at what could be - together.

Hannah Parke in  Moth  (2016). Photo by Johanna Austin/

Hannah Parke in Moth (2016). Photo by Johanna Austin/

I’m thankful for being in this community of artists that includes me. As a child, I was always the outsider, the odd one, the creative weirdo, the annoying one. As an artist in this community, it is okay that I’m different, loud, bold, queer, artistic, a thinker, a risk taker, a mess. I am thankful that I can surround myself with people everyday who want to educate, yet learn, tell stories, yet listen, learn structure, yet take risks, and soak it all in, yet paint the whole world with new ideas. We all have things to learn, I am just thankful that we all want to learn together, learn to accept, learn to grow, learn to find ourselves with a group of outsiders.

I have been thinking about this a lot with recent events, and I think in this troubling time the things I am most thankful for are:

That people still believe in the power of art to transform our world. That people are willing to dedicate so much time and energy to making that idea true. That we haven’t given up.

I am thankful for the families we choose as well as those that are chosen for us. The ability to stand by others despite our differences and love each other despite our own flaws and failings.

These are the things that are keeping me afloat right now.
Concept drawing for the set of  Moth  (2016) by Apollo Mark Weaver.

Concept drawing for the set of Moth (2016) by Apollo Mark Weaver.

I’m thankful for the blue sky space in my mind I know is just beyond my thoughts and anxieties. I’m thankful for the people who teach me how to access it, who remind me that the world needs our calm, our clarity, our centeredness.
Jahzeer Terrell, Mary Tuomanen, Anna Zaida Szapiro & Tabitha Allen in  Local Girls  (2016) by Emma Goidel. Photo by Johanna Austin/

Jahzeer Terrell, Mary Tuomanen, Anna Zaida Szapiro & Tabitha Allen in Local Girls (2016) by Emma Goidel. Photo by Johanna Austin/

I’m thankful to Emma Goidel for writing a play that allowed me to rock out.

I’m thankful to Azuka for making pay-what-you-can a reality

I’m thankful to the Philadelphia theater community for welcoming me and my family, and for being a bunch of artistic badasses.

I’ve had a continual gratitude list for more than 20 years now—here are some highlights:
As always, grateful for another day clean and sober
Grateful for the people in my life, my big crazy family of both birth and choice!
Grateful for my health…I may be getting creakier, but it all still works!
Incredibly grateful that I get to make theater as my occupation; not only am I lucky enough to make work with insanely talented people, my job enables other people to make their work too and that’s just a gift.
The Forbidden Drive in the Wissahickon, my refuge and my church
And the laughter of babies, especially Abby and Patrick because…babies.

Thankful for the many new plays I’ve gotten to see and read this year from a diversity of perspectives, processes, and experiences and thankful for the passionate commitment to make the world a better place from fearless art warriors all across the globe.

Ashton Carter in  Lights Rise on Grace  (2015). Photo by Johanna Austin/

Ashton Carter in Lights Rise on Grace (2015). Photo by Johanna Austin/

I am thankful for such a loving and supportive ‘home away from home’ in Philadelphia.

"I'm thankful for the water protectors at the Oceti Sakowin camp who last night were maced, tear gassed, shot with rubber bullets and hosed for hours in 23 degree weather. I'm thankful for the people who streamed it when no media was covering it. I'm thankful for the six women who chained themselves to TD Bank this morning in protest of this attack on peaceful civilians, holding signs that demanded TD divest their support of the Dakota Access Pipeline. I'm thankful that they offered their bodies up for arrest because they care this much about human rights in America, which include right to protest, right to clean water, right to be free from fear. I'm thankful for to the water protectors who are healing their bodies in the hospital after withstanding hours of attack, and I am thankful for the doctors who have taken oaths to care for them regardless of their political beliefs.

Also grateful for Sophia Wilansky, former Headlong Performance Institute student, who was critically injured in the militarized police attack on the 20th when struck directly in the arm by a concussion grenade on the front lines of the Bridge. She is in a Minneapolis hospital now with her family."
                                                                                                                     - MARY TUOMANEN   

I’m thankful that I can make the worst joke and SOMEONE in this community will find it funny. That’s love, people.

I’m so thankful to be a part of such a strong and vibrant theatre community. One that embraces new and daring stories by local writers, directors, actors, designers, and administrators. Philadelphia stories by Philadelphia artists are vital to exploring our collective identity and I’m so thankful to the people in this city who dedicate themselves to this ongoing pursuit.
Kevin Meehan & Taysha Canales in  Moon Cave  (2015) by Douglas Williams. Photo by Johanna Austin/

Kevin Meehan & Taysha Canales in Moon Cave (2015) by Douglas Williams. Photo by Johanna Austin/

I am grateful for my family and my chosen family and dear friends. They are my heart and keep it pumping. I am grateful for the strength and power of art and the artists who are called to action in this community. I am grateful for and humbled by all of the love that has risen up to help shield the most vulnerable members of society from the hate. I am grateful to work. I am grateful for my weird little Orange House and my catfriends. I am grateful for the children in my life that help me see past the fuzz and try to create a better future.

I am thankful to be a part of a community that is constantly striving for excellence and pushing the boundaries of what is possible. I’m thankful for everyone who makes it possible to do what I love, and for the love itself that is so abundant in the community.

I heart all of you. And I’m thankful for your existence.

I have been thinking a lot about this. And I am lucky because I have a great deal to be thankful for. It’s hard to just pick one, ten or even my top ten. But here are 5 things I am grateful for at this very moment.

I am grateful I get to live in the moment. I know that sounds odd but a great deal of people have large problems that are looming over their heads. I have food, shelter, clothing, and love.

I am grateful I get to work with extremely talented and caring collaborators. And I work a lot. It is a nice feeling to say ‘I am sorry I am booked’ even when sometimes I really want to do the project.

I am grateful I can breathe. I have really good insurance right now and it makes breathing easier.

I am grateful to live in Philadelphia. I know, that is shocking to hear coming from me. As much as this city can irritate me (currently I am sitting near a pile of trash on the trolley. Come on! Throw your trash away!) I really do love it here. There is so much art and so many amazing people who work in the Arts. We are all truly lucky to be living and working here. And that is only a small part of the City.

Mostly I am grateful to be spending Thanksgiving with Friends and Family that are open minded and loving towards all people. No matter their heritage, religion, orientation, gender, or economic status. I miss my Immediate Family greatly and would love to be spending the day with them. But I have the next best thing.

Bi Jean Ngo in  Lights Rise on Grace  (2015). Photo by Johanna Austin/

Bi Jean Ngo in Lights Rise on Grace (2015). Photo by Johanna Austin/

I am thankful for a theater community full of people who actually care about the city in which we live & work. In these unsettling days following the election, I’ve never seen such camaraderie and motivation towards arts activism. So, I’m very grateful to be working with and surrounded by colleagues, who happen to be great friends, who are invested in creating meaningful art.

I am thankful for my elders who have lived and persevered through the dark times of the past. Who have looked fear and hate and injustice in the face and said ‘NO’. I’m clinging to their wisdom and guidance, and I’m trying to see the light and the hope through the lens of their experience.

I am thankful for collaborators who are generous and understand that growth of both a play and an artist can be short and joyful or long and painful but is usually somewhere in-between. I am thankful for Azuka and, especially, for Allison Heishman who introduced me and my work to the Azuka family. I am grateful to those who still believe that art is the torch that lights our path in dark times, and illuminates even the corners in bright ones. I am grateful to all of the artists in all disciplines who continue to work fearlessly from love today, tomorrow, and the day after that. I am grateful to all of the art-seekers who are willing to stand open as witnesses to the work. It takes all kinds in all ways at all times to thrive. Thank you. And Happy Thanksgiving!