P. Carl has spent his career exploring the power of story and the arts to create policy, to facilitate dialogue, and to transform people and systems. As a longtime artistic director and theater advocate, now
a nonfiction writer and Distinguished Artist in Residence at Emerson College in Boston, Carl has come to see the theater as an important medium for peacebuilding work.
He served as the dramaturg for the 2018 premiere of poet Claudia Rankine’s play, “The White Card.” The play sought to unpack racism that unfolds during everyday life events and follows Charlotte Cummings, a black artist who visits the home of two prominent white art dealers in New York City, and the tensions that unfold around a dinner they share.
“Part of the intent of the show was to have a conversation with the audience after the play ends,” said Carl. “You can’t do that very often with a novel or with a film. People come to the theater to be in proximity and to engage in conversation. As important as the story a play presents is the conversation that it generates afterwards.”
Carl is also passionate about interrogating whose stories make it to the stage and how they are told and finding ways to promote broader equity and inclusivity in theater. In 2011, from his dining room table in Chicago, Carl founded and launched the online journal HowlRound, that eventually evolved into a collaborative public commons for global theatermakers and “amplifies progressive, disruptive ideas about the art form and facilitates connections between diverse practitioners.” The platform, now part of Emerson College, includes a journal, a blog, and works to convene conversations and events to spark conversation.
“I really started HowlRound out of anger at all the ways in which the theater had been controlled by a very small perception of what the world looked like,” said Carl. “HowlRound was a labor of love to encourage having more transparent and open conversations about how decisions get made. It took off like wildfire because there was such a need.”
In 2018, Carl received an Art of Change fellowship from the Ford Foundation and was named as a Holtzbrinck Fellow at the American Academy of Berlin during Fall 2018. In January 2021, Carl published his memoir, Becoming a Man: The Story of a Transition (Simon & Schuster), which explores his transition from being perceived as a queer white woman to living as a white man.
“As a social justice advocate who has lived most of my life as a queer white woman and felt the discrimination that comes with that subject position, what does it mean to inhabit white masculinity at this time in our history?” said Carl. “I’m at the point in my career where I’m focusing on my own art and telling my own stories as my primary work for the first time. I’m hoping that the book will end up being adapted for the stage.”
Carl credits his time at the Kroc Institute as both an undergraduate and master’s student with helping him to think about peace and social justice concepts in ways that integrated with his interest in the arts and for introducing him to faculty who modeled the role of a scholar-practitioner.
“I have always been interested in the theory-praxis relationship,” said Carl. “It really can’t be one thing or the other. I’ve really tried to cultivate both parts of that passion, and that model was really the thing that interested me most when I was at the Institute.”