From the late 1980's until the beginning of the 21st Century, Roadside Theater worked with Michael and Theresa Holden of Western and Southern Arts Associates (now Holden Arts and Associates) to create ground-breaking national Roadside tours and in-depth community cultural residencies, and to found the American Festival Project. Michael and Theresa were vital to the success of the work. Following is a remembrance written in honor of Michael and Theresa as they transition to new roles at Holden Arts and Associates after 35 years of ground-breaking toil.

Donna met Michael in the 1980’s at a Southern Arts Federation “Booking Conference.” At the time, one of her jobs at Roadside Theater was booking the ensemble’s national tours.  At that SAF conference, John O’Neal, friend and collaborator of Roadside’s  and artistic director of Junebug Productions, told Donna that he was going to sign on with Western and Southern Arts Associates, Michael and Theresa’s new booking and management company. “They seem honestly interested in what I’m trying to accomplish with my work.” Now as a kid, Donna had not joined the Girl Scouts because she didn’t like the prospect of selling cookies, so when she returned from the conference, she told Roadside about WASAA. 

The close friendship we subsequently formed with Michael and Theresa quickly went far beyond tour booking: Roadside, John O'Neal/Junebug, and WASAA formed what could be characterized as a national ensemble dedicated to producing new work binding beauty to social justice. 

By 1990, after 14 years of steady national touring, our team was increasingly dismayed at the lack of audience diversity in the US – audiences for theater were overwhelmingly white, college educated, and well-heeled. Dudley started reciting W.H. Auden’s On the Circuit: “Though warm my welcome everywhere/ I shift so frequently, so fast/ I cannot say where I was/The evening before last.” 

This narrow audience presented a particularly disturbing problem for us: We were making plenty of money to meet our modest needs, but we weren’t reaching our people. We knew how to develop diverse audiences through long-term community residencies, and we also knew that arts presenters weren’t in the habit of paying for such residencies -- and there was no indication that those arts presenters were dissatisfied with the elite audience they already had in their pocket. The economic risk of changing our touring model and insisting contractually on audience diversity was very high – kindly like betting the ranch. Theresa just took a deep breath and said, “Well, we have to do it.” 

Thank you Michael and Theresa for taking the risk, for keeping the faith, for making change.  As Roadside’s Ron Short once put it, “If Theresa and Michael Holden told me we have to invade Lubbock, I’d pack my ruck sack and get behind them.”


Donna, Dudley, and Ron

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“Binding Beauty to Justice -- A Tribute to Michael & Theresa.” March 23, 2018.

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