Saturday, April 05, 2008

There's a posting over at the BackStage blog that mentions me heavily in the context of an ongoing discussion of the state of American theater. Link

First, I think the blog drops the ball by not linking to many of the other folks discussing American theater in the blogosphere; the platform is a hell of a lot larger than just me, and there are lots of people coming at these questions from exciting angles. It behooves a blog to do this; if it's going to be an editorial, take the time to read the discussion that's happening.

Second, I think it does a disservice to the art form of theater to not mention the existence of the show HOW THEATER FAILED AMERICA, which opens at the Public in a week. I know, I know--I'm just looking for publicity. There's some truth to that, of course...I want people to see the show and get a chance to respond to the full width and breadth of the work. You get the sense that even the blog for Back Stage is ceding that the written word trumps the theater for relevance and engagement--I mean, it's going to be running at the Public Theater in New York City--it's not a low-profile venue. The fact that a larger, richer work on this very topic will exist IN THE ART FORM WE ALL SHARE should be somewhere in the post.

Third, there's this sentence:

"Frankly, these assessments seem reductive: There's no founding document stipulating that all nonprofit theatres must be repertory companies, nor is there conclusive proof that young companies aren't being formed every day, drawing in young audiences and young (or younger) donors."

This is either half-strawman or half-revisionist, and I'm not sure which, but I'll dismantle it in turn. I've never run across anyone so far who does not agree that the resident theater movement was not founded to create resident companies of actors in cities across America. I assume the article isn't actually proposing that this is not the case, because that's crazy. The essay instead seems to be speaking about nonprofit theaters, which I don't address in the essay or the monologue on those terms--regardless of economic model, I'm interested in the pact between regional theaters, their artists and the American people. I have never called for every nonprofit theater to have a repertory company.

The second contention, that there is not proof that new companies aren't being formed, is obvious and pointless--of course new companies are being formed! They form all the time! What I'm interested in is where the MONEY and INFLUENCE is poured, and where the support goes...the ability of young companies in garages and makeshift spaces to find audiences is a credit to the sharp and clever theatermakers of today, and owes nothing to the current system...and those audience members are not transferring to regional theaters, because they have their own spaces to support in their own ways doing work that tends to be quite different in cost and content than the regionals, so I'm not certain why this indicates anything that will actually help working artists in America, which was the thrust of my article and monologue.

Let me address a few more things from the article.

"Yes, this is an old squall: No artist or staffer ever feels adequately compensated for his or her work."

This is a dismissive way of putting it--I'd say instead that actor and artists are routinely denied a living wage or any job security for their entire careers, and this has a devastating long-term effect on the quality of the workforce in the theater and the work it can's a bit more of an issue than "adequately compensated."

"Is it right for regional theatres to rely on cheap labor when top administrators (i.e., artistic and managing directors) often earn six-figure salaries?"


(We can have a longer discussion about why it's done, and how the world works, but the answer is plain.)

"Indeed, was the nonprofit business model meant to make people rich?"


(See above.)

"Daisey's solution is a wholesale re-evaluation of the regional theatre system."

I didn't actually proposing any kind of direct solution, in either the essay or the play. You can see this as chickenshit, or simple wisdom—I open a number of doors, and I intend to continue asking questions and, in the right forums, proposing solutions and answers to pieces of the puzzle, but a 1500 word essay (or a 90 minute monologue) is not a blueprint for change, nor was it meant to be.

That said, re-evaluating the regional theater system doesn't sound that radical to me--shouldn't we be doing that anyway, in order to challenge our assumptions and be good stewards?

Finally, the posting ends with:

"We ask industry leadership organizations, such as Theatre Communications Group, to consider Daisey's criticism seriously; perhaps they could convene a special conference to address whether administrators receive outsized shares of the funding pie, thus denying theatre artists appropriate compensation. Daisey also notes that regional theatres too often import actors from New York. That too should be a prominent part of the agenda.

Yet we also call on everyone to sell the public on giving generously to your local regional theatre. The American theatre community is depending on it."

I'm not really clear why there's a "yet" here--I guess it's the fear that if the public perceives theaters dealing with their failures, perhaps charitable giving will go down.

That's possible, if your PR people are slow and dinosaur-like...but it could be a golden opportunity to reframe what you need money for, and who needs your support, and rise above naming every stairwell and lighting fixture after a donor and let those people see their contributions having an effect directly on the living art of the theater.

But I get what Back Stage is doing--they're talking to people who might be scared of all this, assuaging them that my fiery rhetoric isn't the whole story, and that ultimately it is worthwhile to take criticism seriously...and I thank them for that. Everybody has their own way of negotiating the rapids of politics, and I think this is a good faith attempt to say that the large themes that arise out of my work are worth looking at closely, and actually discussing, and it's great to hear that they recognize that.

12:30 AM