Saturday, May 02, 2009

Over at Mirror Up To Nature there's a response from Thomas Garvey of The Hub Review, which I respond to below:

The problem here, of course, is that the economic model for theatre is broken - the available, freely-paying audience is not large enough to support it.

The vast majority of theater in America has been heavily subsidized from a variety of sources for the last century, so the idea that what is broken is simply that there isn't a market for it is patently untrue. What's broken (amongst other things) is the priorities of institutions in choosing real estate over people, and their failure to recognize the long-term effects that has on the theatrical ecosystem.

Wage equity inevitably breaks down in such a situation, and actually, at a deep level, whether it is indeed possible, or even "should" be possible, is somewhat in question.

And here is some of the fruit of these decisions—we begin to question whether ANYONE should be able to make a living at these crafts. Note that we no longer need to wait for the Puritans to bring arguments against theater artists—we do it to ourselves.

We are not having any kind of debate about whether development directors or marketing should be paid a living wage. Why? Because in our hearts we all agree to value what they do. They have not been the victims of a systematic campaign to devalue and disempower their craft for the last two generations, and it shows.

Artists have been devalued until we are not even certain they deserve a fair shake, and even more disgustingly, we in the theater have done it to ourselves.

Thus neither Daisey nor Ned Averill-Snell, the writer of this letter, seems to have a cure for the condition underlying the symptoms they decry. (They just don't admit it. Of course no one else does, either.)

First, I have to say I'm getting sick of this manuever. If someone points out that something is broken, especially something that has been broken a long time but no one is speaking about in public, that actually has worth in and of itself.

Example: if one began speaking about migrant farmers around the country and their working conditions, no one would negate the value of that advocacy by simply saying, "So? Unless you have a plan TODAY for how to reform our farm system, what you're saying is WORTHLESS."

They wouldn't say that because it's an infantile tactic. I keep hearing it again and again (often much more pointedly than from Mr. Garvey above) because in politics when people can't address a fundamental inequity, when a power system is clearly in the wrong and can't argue out of its responsibilities, there isn't much else to do but look for tactics to silence discussion and debate.

Even their seemingly justified anger at investment in theatres rather than actors is at least partly deflated by the observation that physical facilities last, while performances are ephemeral - the money spent on a theatre ensures that performances can go on for years.

AT WHAT COST? I argue that valueing the shells of buildings over the art and the artists inside those buildings is morally, ethically and aesthetically bankrupt—and that the work, the institutions, and the people suffer from those decisions.

Far from agreeing that my arguments are "partially deflated", I'd say THIS is the centerpiece of the battlefield.

Who do you value? What do you stand for? In the end, what served the arts, the artists, and the community with more honesty, integrity, and strength?

So I'm not sure that a theatre that invests in a new facility rather than a full Equity cast is entirely in the wrong.

None of us are entirely in the wrong. I understand completely why theaters make the decisions they do in these cases. On the balance spreadsheet it makes sense doesn't it? Of course, if we ALWAYS listened to balance sheets, every theater in America would simply close or convert to a banquet rental hall.

But they can not be allowed to believe they are in the
right. Ecologically, these decisions are eroding the support and stability that could make great work possible within those institutions. Inch by inch we all do our part, eating away at the possibility of change.

It's not as though the current, inequitable system works. It doesn't—it's broken, and everyone in the American theater knows it.

We can debate about what kind of tomorrow we want to have, but have no doubts that regardless of what happens, it will look very different from today. I believe it's an opportunity to take hold of our destinies, assess what we believe in, and begin, at long last, to fight for it.

4:03 PM