The June 2023 neh Institute—“Preserving and Transmitting American Ensemble-Based Theatre”—aimed to understand the work of the many ensembles who have made work within the United States. Each ensemble has a unique story but the Romanian phrase that an ensemble has “the life of a dog” struck a nerve, positing that ensembles come and go. Maybe so, but this essay suggests that though their candle may burn out, the light they produce lives on. In an era of tremendous uncertainty and extremes of teenage sadness, ensemble theatre as a practice can, and has, galvanized a new generation to take control of the narrative and to make work that speaks directly to the current moment. As seductive as the story is of artists emerging out of necessity during particularly tumultuous times, it helps the next generation know that their work will leave a mark and that meaning within performance is how culture is created.

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