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My first real jobs in Chicago were working on commercial theater productions, so it is a little strange to see "I'm not sure there yet exists a Chicago producer who would be willing to make that kind of investment without a guarantee of recouping..." Yet, it is also telling that my commercial theater career didn't last all that long. The early 2000's recession delivered quite a setback, and sent me out looking for other sources of income. People who work in storefront/nonprofit/residential theater in Chicago sometimes don't understand that there is, in fact, such a thing as for-profit theater in this town. Perhaps that's why the Jeff's classify any production in either a "residential" or "touring" category. I remember Bomb-itty of Errors winning in 2001 in the "touring" category, which was ludicrous, as it wasn't touring in any sense of the word at the time. But I digress. Yes, there is such a thing as commercial theater in Chicago, and yes, there are commercial producers. But it is quite risky, and therefore few producers are up to it. Most productions close before recouping, and therefore lose their investment. Some producers, particularly the "angels" who don't understand the business, give up after a few failures. No, there is no such thing as guaranteed recoupment in theater. To be a professional commercial theater producer, you have to make sure that the 1 in 10 successes can pay for the other nine losses. It says a lot about Chicago theater, perhaps, that there isn't enough risk-seeking theater producing capital in town to achieve a critical mass and be noticed. Maybe it's because there is so much low-cost theater here? This is coming from a guy who blatantly prefers tickets that cost $20 or less, by the way. I'm willing to suggest that the great proliferation and diversity and high quality of Storefront theater makes commercial theater very, very difficult to sustain here. Audiences often can't tell the difference between the productions, because the only significant difference is that everybody gets paid more--product quality is often very similar. So, if you can't tell the productions apart as an audience member, why would you pay for the more expensive one? If all creative theater artists in Chicago would like to get paid more without moving, here is my prescription. It will only work if you all agree to do it at the same time. Stop working for free, and stop founding new companies where you work for free. The product will dry up, and then commercial producers will eventually step in to meet the demand (assuming that doesn't dry up, too), and they will have to pay you, because you won't work for free for THEM. There will be less theater, less risk, less diversity, less character, and less of everything we seem to like about Chicago theater. Aaron Andersen is now following The Typepad Team
Jun 24, 2010