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Florida Refugee
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My point is neither to praise nor condemn nor glorify the starving artist. Simply to point out that as companies grow and mature and assume new and ever-burdensome financial responsibilities, they of necessity change. Sometimes that change makes them less likely to be the risk-taking innovators that made us like and admire them in the first place. I'm a firm believer that as actor's, writers, directors and designers we bring all of our life experience to our work. We filter each project through our eyes, experience and history. When your life experience is living on the edge, it's a little easier to take risks. When you have to sell $3000 or $5000 or $10,000 in tickets 52 weeks a year to meet payroll for a full-time staff with mates and children who depend on them, it's a little more difficult to take a risk or mount a production that might alienate one or more donors or ticket buyers. An example. A few years ago, a New York playwright shopped a script around Washington theatres about a woman on her deathbed, making last requests of he adult son, w and daughter, her long-time companon, and the ghost of her late husband, who may have been the President of the United States when the children were little. The script never identified the dying woman as Jackie O, but it didn't really need to. It was broad satire, brutal satire, but not as cruel as parodies aimed at LBJ, Nixon, Reagan and the Bushes. But it was deemed too risky for production because it might offend Jaime Auchinclos, who was then still around town and had donated generously to small theatres. So I guess my point is that linking small, edgy theatres with private donors is simply going to mean that the small edgy theatres will face a point in their history where they have to get less small, less edgy, and less risky if they take the money. Don't hate me, because i'd love to be proven wrong. But I also remember what happened to Bart Whiteman when the Board of the theatre he created decided it was time to move on. How'd that work out?
Toggle Commented Dec 17, 2006 on An invitation. at theaterboy®
It’s not that I disagree with Lucky Spinster, and it’s not that I wish continued poverty for Randy Baker, Jenny McConnell, Jeffrey Skidmore et. al. They are young heroes doing wonderfully innovative work in small, underfunded theatres. They should be celebrated and rewarded. Unfortunately, if Callie got her way, with a network linking willing private donors to these cultural mavericks, I fear that Callie (and Randy, Jenny and Jeffrey) would be among those rendered most unhappy by the noble institution she envisions. I have read that the average life, from incorporation to dissolution, of a theatre company is approximately seven years. Seven years during which these fledgling upstart companies do edgy and inspiring work in church basements, empty lofts, and converted warehouses and auto dealerships, all the while dreaming of a home of their own and a chance to compete with the “big boys”. Seven years to make a name, grow up, find longer-range funding, be consigned to the margins, or die. Setting notions of practicality aside for this discussion, just what would happen if there were an organization that could put private donors together with companies like the Theatre Alliance or Rorschach? History suggests that they would become bigger, more stable, and somewhat wealthier. They’d become the “middle class” of DC theatres, still a niche below the uber-funded Arena Stage, Shakespeare Theatre and the ever ambitious Zinoplex. But would the dollars come without strings? Probably not. With the strings, would there be calls for accountability, for oversight, for budgeting and planning, overhead and organization? Would the choices remain edgy, political, risky and sometimes unpopular (with the so-called silent majority), or would their choices grow ever safer, and more mundane as they pursue a less political agenda. Would the companies be able to rip up their announced seasons and subscription campaigns to do a new play on the war or poverty or racism, without being second-guessed by Directors, Donors, and Agents? Sociology majors should recognize this as Max Weber’s iron law of oligarchy. Those with knowledge of Washington theatre will see and hear echoes of Bart Whiteman and Source, of New Playwrights Theatre, of Smallbeer, TFA and others now resting in peace, or in exile. It’s also a story that is still being written. Wooly has a fancy new home. Were they edgier, more daring, more innovative putting dead monkeys on the stage of their less elegant digs on Church Street? How about Signature? In the garage they were forced to reinvent and re-imagine. Will the move free them from the constraints of a small black box, or will they be inhibiting by the need to sell to a wider audience? Was Washington Shakespeare Company ever as good or as intersting once they found a home on Clark Street as they were when the once nomadic troupe presented Julius Caesar in an unfinished Ballston office complex? Does Washington Stage Guild put more compelling work under the lights when they give Ann Norton more than $1.98 for the set? These companies have grown from childhood to at least the verges of adolescence, with mixed results,
Toggle Commented Dec 15, 2006 on An invitation. at theaterboy®
Couldn't we spend time on a less pretentious debate, like whether God exists, or if a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there, does it make a sound? Puhleeze! This debate presupposes that the purpose of theatre is to make art. I thought the purpose of theatre was to tell a story, and oh yes, sell tickets. Because, after all, you won't be telling that story for very long if you don't sell enough tickets. This is not to say that theatre can't be art, or at least approach art. I can remember that as a boy of 12 I cried leaving the Schubert Theatre in Chicago after seeing Bea Arthur as Vera Charles in Mame. (I was the only boy on my football team who could sing all the lyrics to bosum buddies, but that's another story). And at 21. on my first visit to New York, I couldn't move for almost half an hour after the curtain came down on Dewhurst and Robards in Moon for the Misbegotten. I was afraid that if I left the theatre I'd forget what I had just seen. Now I'm certain there are readers who would suggest that Dewhurst and Robards in O'Neill were the theatrical equivalent of Picasso or Monet, while Bea Arthur in a musical was just an extended audition for The Golden Girls, with an artistic quotient akin to dogs playing poker or a black velvet Elvis. I'm not so certain. I was equally transported out of my dreary life, at least for a little while, by Mame and Moon. Which is why, some 40 years after seeing Mame, and 30 some years after seeing Moon, I'm still going to the theatre. So T'boy, my wish for you is that Arena's production of Noises Off is good enough that it takes you where you need it to take you at the time. Enjoy. And don't you dare feel guilty.