This panel from the 2024 National Institute for Directing & Ensemble Creation Professional Peer Exchange, moderated by Liz Foster-Shaner, will include stories, examples, and reflections on how the panelists, as artists or as leaders of theatres or collectives/ensembles, have navigated, shifted focus, changed practices, re-prioritized, or evolved leadership in times of crisis—whether responding to natural disasters, state violence, political crisis, pandemic, war, or genocide. What does leadership mean in these times, and what is the way forward as directors and theatremakers now? 

Alexandra Meda is a stage director and cultural strategist, working to equitably reshape the performing arts landscape into a more equitable space with her approach to collaborative artistry and ensemble practice. As artistic director of Studio Luna, impact director for the National New Play Network, and a member of the interim leadership team of the Network of Ensemble Theaters, she works at the forefront of change for ensembles/ensemble artists and new-play theatres. Meda champions spaces for Women of Color in devised theatre, orchestrating partnerships across communities, specifically through Studio Luna (FKA Teatro Luna), a leading Latinx and Women of Color artistic hub best known for its cutting-edge performances and contributions to advancing creative collaboration methodologies, new play development, and theatre as a healing practice. Her expertise extends to her firm, Culture Change Lab, a change navigation firm specializing in transitions, organizational sunsets and relaunches, and harm reduction. This team of theatrically trained facilitators and strategists develop actionable anti-racist frameworks and anti-oppression training for orgs, teams, and individuals. Meda is also involved in Penumbra Theatre’s Center for Racial Healing and artEquity’s Getty Emerging Professionals Hub and BIPOC Leadership Circle. She advises on several national arts initiatives, demonstrating her commitment to the imaginative future of theatre as a sustainable field and cultural transformation. Her work and consultancy can be explored at her professional website here and the Culture Change Lab website here.

Dipankar Mukherjee is a professional director originally from Calcutta, India with a twenty-five year history of directing. He is the artistic director of Pangea World Theater and received the 2023 McKnight Distinguished Artist Award. He co-founded Pangea World Theater, an international theatre in Minneapolis that is a progressive space for arts and dialogue. His aesthetics have evolved through his commitment to social justice, equity, and deep spirituality, and these factors along with relevant politics form the basis of his work. As a director, he has worked in India, England, Canada, and the United States. Dipankar is the 2023 Mcknight Distinguished Artist Award. He has also received the Humphrey Institute Fellowship to Salzburg and has been a Ford Foundation delegate to India and Lebanon. He is a recipient of the Bush Leadership Fellowship award to study non-violence and peace methodologies in India and South Africa. Dipankar was invited to visit the White House as part of the Asian American and Pacific Islanders Delegation. He serves on the boards of the Network of Ensemble Theatre, Frogtown Farms, Lake Street Council, and Mizna. He has been awarded grants from the National Performance Network (Creation Fund), National Endowment for the Arts, and the Minnesota State Arts Board. In his rehearsal and workshop practices, Dipankar facilitates processes that work to disrupt colonial, racist, and patriarchal modalities that we have inherited and collaboratively searches for an alternate way of working.

Stephanie McKee-Anderson is a multi-talented creative executive born in Picayune, MS and raised in New Orleans, LA. She currently leads Junebug Productions Inc., the
organizational successor to the Free Southern Theater (FST). Her work with Junebug continues the significant influence of FST, which was the cultural wing of the Southern Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the primary channel for student participation in the civil rights movement. Her twenty years stewarding Junebug’s important work has allowed McKee to use her skills as an executive, artistic director, choreographer, and cultural organizer to continue using the arts as a vehicle for social change. Throughout her career, she has used her talents as a leader and artist to shift hearts and minds while providing a place for artists that have been neglected by or shut out of historically white institutions. In 2007, McKee was awarded the NewVoices Fellowship for emerging leaders while directing the 7th Ward Neighborhood Center for Neighborhood Housing Services of New Orleans. This critical recovery work wove together direct community action and community storytelling to rebuild the historic ward post-Hurricane Katrina. Her work in solidarity with Urban Bush Women, Alternate ROOTS, People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, and ArtSpot Productions underscores her ability to build connections and strengthen existing relationships in diverse communities. Having taught and traveled across the United States and abroad, she is uniquely positioned to understand and respect a myriad of cultural practices and systems.

Ismail Khalidi is a playwright, screenwriter and director born in Beirut to Palestinian parents and raised in Chicago. Khalidi’s plays include Truth Serum Blues (Pangea World Theater ‘05), Tennis in Nablus (Alliance Theatre ‘10), Foot (Teatro Amal ‘16), Sabra Falling (Pangea ‘17), and Dead Are My People (Noor Theatre ’18). He co-adapted two novels for the stage with Naomi Wallace; Ghassan Kanafani’s Returning to Haifa (Finborough Theatre ‘18) and Sinan Antoon’s The Corpse Washer (Actors Theatre of Louisville ‘19). Khalidi’s work has been published in numerous anthologies, and he co-edited Inside/Outside: Six Plays from Palestine and the Diaspora (TCG ‘15). His writing has been featured in American Theatre Magazine, The Kenyon Review, The Nation, Mizna, Guernica, Al Jazeera, The Dramatist and ReMezcla. Khalidi holds an MFA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and is currently a Directing Fellow at Pangea World Theater.

Liz Foster-Shaner is a civic artist and arts administrator developing creative opportunities for communities and participants of all ages and backgrounds. As Director of Arts Education with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, Liz connects artists with schools and communities across southwestern Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s Arts Education team, Liz was an Equity and Inclusion Facilitator for firms DLJ & Associates and Inclusant with contracts including the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the CMU School of Drama. She also co-founded Theatre of the Oppressed Pittsburgh, a diverse group of educators, artists, activists, and change-makers interested in using Theatre of the Oppressed for social justice in and out of institutions. Partnering organizations included University of Pittsburgh, Duquesne University, Chatham University, and The Pittsburgh Racial Justice Summit. Liz holds a PhD in Theatre Research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a BA in Theatre and Political Science from the University of California, Berkeley. Liz’s doctoral research, praxis, and teaching focused on theatre for cultural and social awareness and the development and representation of community both on and off the stage.

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