Commentary from Theatreforte--you can read the entire posting here:
Mr. Daisey makes a compelling argument, but I have to question one of his fundamental assumptions. He states:
"My piece is called HOW THEATER FAILED AMERICA because I am speaking about the responsibility the institution of theater has to America, how it has failed that responsibility, and how we are all implicated in this."
I'm confused because Mr. Daisey neglects to define his terms. What exactly is meant by "responsibility?" Is it an obligation to hire actors as full-time staff with an annual salary and benefits? Is it a duty to challenge, educate, and entertain American audiences? Is it a commitment to expand the formal and artistic boundaries of the medium? Is it all of the above?
That isn't neglect—I'm stating why the monologue has the title that it has. To get my full response, one has to refer to the monologue itself--that's the work that covers these questions at some length, addressing them both as policy and in deeper, emotional terms.
That said, I'll take a whack at a few of these off the top of my head, in brief.
What exactly is meant by "responsibility?" Is it an obligation to hire actors as full-time staff with an annual salary and benefits? Is it a duty to challenge, educate, and entertain American audiences? Is it a commitment to expand the formal and artistic boundaries of the medium? Is it all of the above?
It is all of the above, but not necessarily as narrowly as defined as it is above. Theater has multiple responsibilities, but the two facets I am mostly engaged with in HTFA concern the responsibility of theater to create a healthy, sustainable path for its artists to live and work, and the responsibility of theater to make itself a vital, relevant voice in public discourse. In both respects I believe theater has failed its responsibilities.
Additionally, Mr. Daisey does not define what he means by "the institution of American theater." Does he mean institutional theatre, which would include individual theatre companies? Or is he talking about theatre as an institution, which is a more abstract concept that indicts TCG, LORT, the American educational system, and the entire non-profit funding model from the NEA on down?
The shortest answer to this would be: yes. The slightly longer answer is that it is intimately tied into the institutionalization and corporatization of theater.
In terms of "America," this could include American cities, American performing artists, the American economy, American audiences, or all this and more.
Again, the answer here would be: yes. It has failed America, by which I mean all of us in America—the country, the future of the country, take your pick.
These definitions matter because not all operating or funding models provide adequate attention or remedies to such a broad array of diverse components.
It matters little that not all models work for all situations--that's obvious. What is important is that currently all the dominant models run on the blood of the artists, and so long as they run this way we are all implicated in its failures. It's a huge enduring bias, and needs to be addressed, and it is present in every part of institutionalized American theater.
Some local actors may benefit from being hired as full-time staff in a traditional resident theatre model, but the ensemble model may be more effective in pushing the formal and artistic boundaries of the medium.
I'm not nearly as concerned with the "artistic level" of the end result--I will trust artists to work that out to the best of their abilities. I'm concerned that there is no security of any kind in the art of the theater, regardless of skill level, and that amount of cannibalism ruins good people, destroys the bond that would be created by communities who know and connect with the people they see on the stage, and generally sucks ass. That is a larger issue than any other, in my book, and its this destructiveness that
Now that the proverbial boat has been rocked, it's time for Mr. Daisey and others to get specific about a vision for American theatre and how to best achieve those goals.
In a word: no. Not for me.
I've already created a work that speaks and resonates about these issues, that engenders discussion, foments real discourse and has been lauded by many. I may CHOOSE to work on policy issues in my free time (of which I have vanishingly little) but I am certainly not CHARGED to do so. I have a calling, which I fulfill through my work. I do my part and more. I am an artist—I will nurture, hone, and refine it, and that is what I am responsible for because that is what I am.
Once I have time I'll be publishing a transcript of HOW THEATER FAILED AMERICA under a Creative Commons license, as well as audio. Note that this will involve giving my work away for free, even though I have no institution to fall back on—but I understand the shape of things today, and that ideas are more important than money. Ideas can be viral in a way that money never is, because money is ultimately an abstraction, while ideas...ideas are one of the highest forms of human expression. They *make* us human.
Since I am already expressing my vision, I think it's high time that ANY of the people who never write online to speak up with their visions for American theater. I want to hear from the administrators, the artistic directors, the movers and shakers...I'm busy with this work, so let them do their jobs and lead. It is, after all, what they are ostensibly paid for--show us that American theater has a backbone and prove me wrong.