Friday, February 29, 2008

Bring Out the Models!

I am getting into the new model discussion very late -- so late that I fear there's already a kind of orthodoxy around this subject that I am obviously flouting by engaging in a discussion (there's the word -- engaging!) with Mr. Daisey.

I should note that Mike and I exchanged emails privately today, and despite areas on which we are likely to agree or disagree, I was actually personally gratified by his interest in getting to know me and, later in March, getting together and breaking bread (and hops). As per my usual policy, I won't get into the content of my emails or of my private discussions with people. But I feel very good about what I've said and done, I think he feels very good about what he's saying and doing, and all of that, in the end, is about getting off one's ass.

Meanwhile, I decided to allow the publishing of a comment by Scott Walters, even though his first sentence asks whether...ugh, I'm too tired at 12:15am to find it to quote it precisely...but basically whether I want everyone to hold hands and sing. No, Scott, I don't want everyone to hold hands and sing. Because if you're holding hands, you're not doing something about problems in the American theatre. And if you're singing, well, Ryan Seacraft wants to check your bulge.

I do, however, want to respond to Scott's terse four-point plan, presented as a comment on a different blog, for how to take a half-century of the regional theatre/nonprofit/institutional theatre business model and chuck it out the window. It is more than likely that some of these thoughts have been expressed elsewhere and better, so please forgive any redundancies. Please understand that if you already know all or any of this, or if you've discussed any or all of this, or if you just want to blow up the carriage containing the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary so as to foment a World War and therefore don't care about any or all of this, that's ok. I do.

And my goal in this case, I might add, is not to refute, really, so much as to elaborate. Scott writes:

1. Decentralization. Get out of the major cities and gather somewhere else that isn't already choked with theatre. No drive-by guest artists from Nylachi.
So the problem is that regional theatres job in actors, writers, directors, etc., from elsewhere? That's fair, I think, if we're talking about regional theatres like the Intiman or the Wilma or New Rep or the Guthrie or the Arden or the Woolly Mammoth or ACT. But I'd gently -- gently, bloggers, very gently -- point out that there are differences between these groups and nonprofit presenters. In fact, here -- take a break from your rabies foaming and visit the website of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters. While there is obvious overlap between the business models of the groups represented in APAP and, say, the membership of TCG, fundamentally they are after the selling of different kinds of products. Performing arts presenters aren't really in the business of generating new work but presenting work already created elsewhere. And no, my darlings, I don't mean E-I-E-I-O Repertory Theatre's Kabubi-style revival of Arsenic and Old Lace. I mean stuff like Matt & Ben. Now, regardless of what you think of such things, these organizations employ many, many, many artists -- indeed, many of the same artists who are, on other occasions, jobbed in from elsewhere to the regionals that are held in such low esteem. So when we say "no more drive-by guest artists from Nylachi," could it be too general?

Also, while I support the idea in theory -- and while I admire my buddy Zach Mannehimer for having the guts to put his money where his mouth is and shlep all over the US and land in Des Moines, I believe there is something vaguely paternalistic about this theory, too. And Zack knows that, and time will tell whether my concern is validated or not. (And if not, that'll be a good thing.) Now, perhaps it really is the case that red-state America requires a strong dose of blue-state-generated paternalism. But the idea that there are too many theatres and artists in Nylachi and therefore we must persuade people to go off and tell all the citizens who aren't in Nylachi that they should need our surplus artists, they should want our surplus artists, oh, they should welcome us, "they'll greet us as saviors," etc., is a little on the presumptuous side.

Quite frankly -- and here I speak as the national theatre editor of Back Stage -- there are far, far more artists in the areas beyond Nylachi than you think. Did you know Nashville is a booming theatre town? And booming with real-life Nashvillians? If it wasn't late, I'd actually do a list. Des Moines isn't on it, but I am constantly shocked by where there's theatre, and where there's theatre people fighting the good fight. These people are rightly infuriated by the NEA paying Shakespeare companies to come to their towns -- towns where they've already been making theatre, including Shakespeare -- as if they don't exist. That's paternalism, too. If this first theory is to be put into practice, I simply ask that we do some due diligence -- much on the Zach model, actually.

Note that I'm not bashing the theory. Just concerned about its sweeping nature and about the method(s) by which it may or may not be put into practice.

Scott writes:
2. Localization. Form an ensemble that will stay together for a while. Preferably with at least one resident playwright attached who writes plays for the ensemble. Become an active member of the community. Listen.
Fair enough. This is all predicated on economic viability, of course, but I have no problem with the ensemble method of creating theatre. I worry that people would impose it on vicinities in such a way as to make it seem that it is the only way to make theatre, but these things have a way of finding their own way in any event. After all, everyone thinks they want to suck Harold Clurman's teat (and Harold, as we know, only wanted to suck Stella Adler's), but the Group did not last all that long. What it did was birth a new generation of theatre artists. But again, it did not birth a long-term ensemble.

3. Tribal economics. Pool income. Take out what you need to survive. Each member brings more to the table than their theatrical specialty. Ensemble controls ancillary income. Everyone does everything.
Well, this is back to Zach's philosophy, and I'll let Zach speak to that if he wishes. I'm not convinced this is realistic -- I mean, what do you do, point a gun at people and tell them that unless they're willing to do When We Dead Awaken in Phoenix you'll starve them to death -- or make them serve Hamburger Helper for a week? I mean, fine, ensemble means ensemble, ok, we get it, lovely. But how, in this day and age, are you going to actually persuade people to start doing this? That's what I mean by DOING something. Presenting oneself as Karl Marx doesn't tell Lenin how to overthrow the Tsar. Well, actually, the Communist Manifesto does, ok, scratch that. But you see what I mean. Hopefully.

4. Education. Teach young artists the entrepreneurial and collaboration skills needed to control their own artistic lives and truly co-create.

Yes, yes, ok, but where? I mean, seriously, are we proposing a communist theatre? I ask that question not as a political red-flag, pardon the pun, but how does one make this happen in a capitalist system?

OK, done. Go ahead and yell at me some more for daring to question -- or even support with questions -- your orthodoxy. I hope it's not so precious that one cannot question it.

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Anonymous said...

Mike Daisey has made Milwaukee artists write, too. Go to my Artsy Schmartsy thoughts on the whole deal. Later skater, JTW

Devilvet said...

Hey Leonard,

Those 4 points were I think in response to my challenge.

And, i will say that it is good to narrow it down as much as he has because I think that thing were gets so rhetoric that specificity is a good starting place

Ben Turk said...

You hit it exactly, Leonard. A communist theatre!

When we figger out how to make that happen in a capitalist system (something we're well on the way to doing) it'll put us one step closer to ending the capitalist system, and in a more realistic, sustainable and less destructive method than the top down political-only method Karl described in his manifesto.