In 2013, The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage launched An Experiment in Five Acts (Five Acts), conceived of in collaboration with Obie Award-winning playwright and former Center Visiting Artist Ain Gordon. Five Acts was aimed at artists and cultural producers working in the Philadelphia region who are negotiating mid-career challenges—be they purely aesthetic or more practical. The participants met every three months over a period of 15 months at various cultural sites in the Philadelphia area, between January 2014 and April 2015. During each day-long session, the participants openly discussed their challenges with each other, guided by an invited interlocutor from outside the region. In between sessions, participants conversed one-on-one with “thinking partners” of their choosing. The primary goal was to stimulate refractive dialogue that may undergird each participant’s ongoing process and address its quandaries.
The Five Acts cohort encompassed practitioners from a range of disciplines and practices, including a choreographer, a theater director, a contemporary art curator, a puppeteer, a composer, an anthropology museum programmer, a music producer, and a documentary filmmaker. Because of the sensitive nature of the conversations, and in an effort to encourage the most candid dialogue possible, the participants remained anonymous throughout the process. In an effort to share the project with the field, the Center enlisted the services of nonfiction writer and 2005 Pew Fellow Jay Kirk, as “creative documentarian” for each of the five sessions (“acts”). The digital booklet that follows features Kirk’s essays—all experiments in and of themselves—along with an interview with Ain Gordon, and more, offering a peek through a crack in the door.