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@devilvet: OF COURSE we overestimate our own appeal. We wouldn't do this otherwise. Andrew, I think you have a point about artists disliking business--I've seen it, too. A lot. And I used to think of myself as an artist who hated business. Thankfully, I grew up. But that dislike is not just about feeling trapped by market discipline. I think nearly all artists want to reach their audiences, and that is market discipline. I really believe that we are carrying over some Victorian prejudices that look down on business as a less worthy endeavor, crude and unsophisticated. Aaron Andersen Treasurer/Board Member BackStage Theatre Co.
Wow. Sucks to work during the day and miss out on a great conversation. To Brian Golden, whether it is rational or not, it is a MUCH harder decision to give up what you already have than to give up what you might get in the future. But the risk that commercial theatre undertakes is also more existential than the risk that nonprofit theatre takes. Commercial theatre is capitalized show by show, not season by season. One poorly attended production is not just a problem that can be solved by another show in the season. One poorly attended production is your investment flying away like dandelion seeds on the breeze. Nonprofit theatres, even tiny storefront theatres with little to no subscriber base can frequently survive an unpopular production. Happens all the time! So that is the kind of risks commercial theatre takes. It is very risky, if not always artistically risky. We should be rooting for commercial theatre to succeed, because they are also David against Goliath (the Goliath being movies, TV, internet, etc). It is often stupid to invest in theatre, as Don Hall says (and don't misunderstand, Don, I've never had the means nor the inclination to invest in commercial theatre--just worked there). And it is a little bit hard to feel bad for a guy I knew who sunk $750,000 into one of the worst musicals ever written. But at the same time, Bomb-itty of Errors was a great show, produced commercially, and didn't make a profit at the Royal George, nor in the UK later. The lead producer was a first-time theatre producer, an entrepreneur in love with the theatre, and he sort of got burned by his loss. But really, every working theatre artist should want that guy to succeed and make a profit. Because if he had, he would have invested again in more theatre. We should be in community together, because storefront, regional, institutional nonprofit and commercial theatre all gain from eachother's success.
Kris, I think this is a very important topic. To your friend Nate's point, I do hear a lot of criticism of commercial theatre in storefront circles. Having worked in commercial theatre myself, when I first moved to Chicago, I find these criticisms both justifiable and sadly misguided. Justifiable, because commercial theatre rarely takes the artistic risks that storefront types live for. Misguided, because nonprofit theatre directors and managers usually haven't got the foggiest clue what it means to risk a serious chunk of one's own cash in an industry that is notoriously volatile and rarely financially successful. That aside, you are exactly right that we need to focus on bringing people here for theatre. And while we might not be able to get Columbus groups into storefronts (yet), we certainly could do a lot better getting suburbanites into storefronts. We are not doing a good job expressing the value of our storefront theatre to potential patrons outside our insular circles. Perhaps that's because a storefront theatre actually can survive for a few years just within an insular circle. And we're sometimes too small to fail. One angel donor and a shoestring can bring the whole company back from the brink... I'm not sure that is a good thing. We don't have to justify our existence at the same level as the big regionals, or commercial theatre. I'm getting off topic here. Sorry.