Saturday, July 12, 2008

I sometimes speak at futurist conferences, and I participated (and then commented at length on, in monologue and book forms) the dot-com boom, so if I seem a little *obsessed* with the retarded "theater = blackjack" meme, it's because I have seen firsthand how dumb ideas that have viral energy can dominate a conversation.

For example, in IF YOU SEE SOMETHING SAY SOMETHING I address at some length the currently popular idea that freedom and security exist in direct relationship to one another, and that if you have more freedom, you ipso facto have less security. That is an easy to digest idea that you can demonstrate by making a hand gesture, so lots of people begin to repeat it, but it also happens to be totally full of shit.

(I am hungover, and the apartment is full of used poppers and the Slovakian prostitutes that the theater hired for us to celebrate the opening of the show, so I am not going to dissect that idea here. See the show, get the argument.)

Unbelievably, there's more to say about

"And suddenly we got ourselves a tag team brawl where Don and I play the part of the Road Warriors and Mike and Scott playing the role of the Hart Foundation.  And yes, that is a very old school wrestling reference but what the hell, it's Friday . . . let's have some fun."

To start with, it's always a good time for a wrestling analogy, especially when I am so well cast.

"In their haste to bash my comparison of the poker world to the much more noble world of the professional artist Mike and Scott miss a few of my broader points"

No. This is full of spin. I didn't "bash" it, I just talked about how it was pernicious and dumb. Don and Adam are clear thinkers who write what they think, and enjoy provocative thoughts. But the idea is a dumb one. And I am a working artist, and it's equally spinworthy to throw in the "more noble" reference--the issue isn't the social class of gamblers and artists--the problem is that this analogy doesn't illuminate.

And broader points? Nothing in this response reacts to anything I wrote
here debate that would be a forfeit of all those points in discussion--why isn't anything I said  yesterday addressed in this post? Hello? Bueller?

"In this complex economic world we now live in, which is dynamically different then the one that existed just 10 years ago my theory is that the only thing that really creates money/wealth/value is scarcity, which Websters defines as "something in short supply."

I don't think this actually has much to do with "theater = blackjack", but that's probably why I find it more interesting. One of the secret, often unsung strengths of theater is that it automatically creates scarcity--it scales very poorly, when it even scales at all. Traditionlally people see this as a weakness and work to fight it, but I would contend that its precisely this resistance to quick corporatization and commodification that could prove to be a path to theater returning to relevance in the American cultural landscape.

So I get scarcity--theater is swimming in it, because every someone creates great work it exists in that moment and that moment alone.

"So if you want to make a really decent living doing ANYTHING now, people have to believe that there is something about working with you that you can't get working with just anyone."

You're shifting the landscape—I just want artists to be treated better by the institutions that use them. That isn't a "really decent" living--it's just a reasonable living. Even having the security and pay of a middle-school teacher in America today (which is often horrendous) would be an immense gift if it were possible for working artists to aspire to.

"If you haven't been able to carve out that distinct niche for yourself, either in the work you do, how you do the work, or who you do the work for . . . then you are officially a commodity and you will be treated like one, meaning you will get paid just enough to keep you working but never enough to be stable. It's true for doctors, lawyers, plumbers and artists . . . there is nothing sacred about the artistic profession that makes it different."

Except that doctors, lawyers and plumbers don't live in an abusive system with institutions that systematically underpay them if they practice their professions. AT ALL. In fact, you've chosen three groups that many make jokes about being massively OVER paid. I mean, are these really the best examples? Even lawyers, doctors and plumbers who do NOTHING to make theselves "scarce" and inhabit a niche make a solid, secure living. This is almost as bad as the blackjack example!

Doctors do live in a system that is dominated by institutions that are similar, if you squint a whole lot (i.e. hospitals) but in that case through long precedent, negotiations and the state of the dominant paradigm we as a culture have agreed that doctors are important to our health, and so we don't pay them like shit. This isn't actually true everywhere—I have an acquaintance who was a doctor in central Africa (I think Zambia?) where health care has been nonexistant, and so the government refuses to support any real degree of health care support for its citizens.

Why would any country do this? Because it's what they're used to, because it's easier to follow the old path, and because until people are shaken awake and shown why something is important they don't support something—that's human nature.

I leave the connection between the above and the theatrical system as n exercise for the reader.

I used poker as an example of this because to be successful in it over the long haul you have to develop some form of scarcity in the midst of an incredibly hostile environment.

Right—that's what I said. It FEELS like being in the arts, which is also an incredibly hostile environment. That doesn't mean it actually sheds any light on what it is actually like.

So when I make the poker and art analogy, I'm not really comparing artists and poker players  . . . I'm talking about the difficult environment both face and how each side has to develop unique skills to thrive in it. I guess this works just as well with oil derrick workers, foreign war correspondents and prostitutes.

We seem to be agreeing it's a facile—I mean, if the only real connector is that they're both hard jobs that require unique skills...that's really not illuminating.

But here's the thing . . . not everyone will develop those skills.  That's just a fact. Those who do develop those skills will eventually be the ones we call winners. Those who don't will be the ones we call losers . . . or dead money.

Right, right. People who know how to thrive, thrive. Those who suck, suck. I don't see what that has to do, in a specific, illuminating way, with working artists in the theater. And artists who fail  aren't "dead money", because if it worked that way it'd be like HIGHLANDER and I'd be lopping off shitty artist's heads and Quickening and shit like that.

A world like that would be paranoid and super-fucked up—artists would be incredibly afraid to even be near one another...but the reality is, artists strengthen when they communicate and come together.

It. Is. A. Bad. Analogy.

Do you need some examples of people who have developed the skills?  I got two good ones. Scott Walters and Mike Daisey.

OH COME ON. Don't drag me into this shitty analogy—that's low.

Now the question becomes, should Scott and Mike have to go through all the damn struggle to find a path to keeping art in their day to day lives?  Shouldn't it be easier to make it as an artist?

NO IT SHOULD NOT. You've missed the point—this isn't about making it easier to "make it" as an artist—it's about the fact that when you "make it", you haven't made anything at all in the American theater. It's currently a loser's game for the artists.

It's about changing the paradigm so that it isn't about "making it"—it's so that the working artists of the American theater can be treated more equitably by the institutions that currently use them without regard, so that there can be more hope. Right now the most talented artists in the American theater don't receive security or a living wage, while the institutions sit fat on endowment and building funds, believing that *they* are the ones who are poor and utterly forgetting their original mission to be of and for and with the artists.

And as much as people saying they want it to be easy . . . they really don't mean it.

You're right, because I never said I want it to be easy—I want it to be fair. Fair to the incredibly talented artists who have given their lives to rise up and prove their worth in theater. Fair doesn't mean Harrison Bergeron—it means not fucking over the people who create the art that makes the existence of American theater possible.

9:57 AM