Sunday, July 05, 2009

I found this recent post by David Dower interesting and problematic for a couple of reasons. I don't know David well, though we've had lunch in the past and are colleagues in the theater. I've been happy he found a new post at Arena Stage in DC that he seems compelled by, and I am glad he's blogging.

That said, it is difficult to swallow in the middle of a rather vanilla progressive post about what we can do to come together and build a bright future for American theater, this:

While I'm at it, I'll dissent on some other engagement. I've stayed out of the slug-fest that is the Olson-Daisey chain. (I'm not even going to link it, that's how much I'm staying out of it. You can look it up if you've been buried in grant deadlines, or your day job, or off on an artistic retreat and missed the dust-up.) Why? The whole conversation is stuck in the past and seems to burn up important energy for actually moving forward.

Everyone is always free to engage or not, but it must be said that this is part of how the status quo is maintained. While I've already commented here publicly on how that conversation may not have been the most polite, it was at least an honest and full-throated collision between the viewpoints of theater professionals, and between artists and administrators.

If it feels "stuck in the past", maybe that says something truthful about where the world actually is. If more people chimed in with constructive things to say, or built from the dialogue provided for you, perhaps something productive would occur. Or perhaps it has already triggered reactions from others, as I know it has, and been valuable that way. If it "burns up important energy", I'd like to see the engaged discussions that are happening online between administrators and artists that are so vibrant that they make it superfluous. Point me to them, because I don't see them happening.

The truth is, if it wasn't a great conversation no one truly paid in time but myself and Mr. Olson. But if we all find it ugly and distasteful and believe it has no value, it really is a choice for silence over engagement. You don't have to approve of an interaction to have a conversation, and if we actually talk about how theater works in America, where the power flows to and how it is distributed, more than feelings are going to be bruised over time.

Dower continues:

The issue is not locked boxes for actor endowments or blowing up the buildings or turning more artists into administrators or whatever zero-sum proposal-du-jour causes a mini-stink in the blog and theater presses, (again, in my view).

Mr. Dower has chosen to conflate two reasonably compelling lines of inquiry (artist/administrator hybrids and lockboxed endowments for artist salaries) with BLOWING UP BUILDINGS, or as it is more commonly known in America, domestic terrorism.

David, did you really mean to conflate these together? While I'm sure if you sifted the internet long enough you could find someone who actually wants to destroy the physical theaters, are we really supposed to believe that in your reading these three points of opinion are roughly comparable, and can be lumped together and therefore discarded?

It's insulting, and frankly, beneath you. Judging from the fine quality of your writing throughout your site, and even in this very post, I can only assume some desire to quickly and expeditiously discredit two of these proposal by connecting them with terrorism. It's painfully cheap and transparent.

The truth is that lockboxed endowments or artist/administrator hybrids are far more than a "proposal-du-jour". I stated some months ago that I am working on white papers in these areas, and that work continues, and these ideas have currency far beyond my efforts. It's ironic that a post that is ostensibly about dialogue and discourse and claims to have some connection with Shirky's book could misunderstand the value of community organization and the reach of ideas.

Dower dismisses these ideas with prejudice as being, clearly, unworthy even of conversation. Instead he offers us this:

Can we stop grinding the same old tunes, working the same list of complaints, move beyond the competitive frame, and start moving purposefully toward effectiveness as a field? Can we celebrate and engage successes, even if they aren't our own? Can we look up from our own desktops and beyond our own immediate horizon to find the things that need to be done and set about doing them? And share what we discover in the doing?

To which I say: duh. I think that's what's happening when we have the very conversation you're shutting down *with this post*.

Here's an honest and modest proposal: David, let's you and I have a conversation. It's not a debate, but a dialogue. You're sharp and a well-informed theater practitioner, and I think we agree on a great many things—but I suspect a bracing public conversation about the state of theater in America would be interesting and useful in clarifying our own ideas, and possibly push some ideas forward. If you like we can discuss a general theme to start with, or simply let rip back and forth. I hope you're up for it.

2:44 AM