alwaysabridesmaid has contributed a comment to my "Evidence of Confusion" post below. I am not going to paste it all here, but I recommend that you read it in its entirety. Instead, I will respond to particular parts of her ideas.
She begins "I am so enjoying/learning from this conversation!," a feeling that I share. One of the reason I have created this blog is to begin conversations. In addition, it allows me to put my ideas into concrete form and find out what is leading to misinterpretation, and what is being found arguable. So comments are doubly helpful for me.
The spirit of this blog can be most fully expressed by quoting from Athol Fugard's wonderful play, MASTER HAROLD...and the boys. After a wonderful speech in which Sam talks about the ballroom dance contest as a metaphor for a "dream about a world in which accidents don't happen," Hally, who is enthralled with Sam's "vision," asks: "But is that the best we can do, Sam...watch six finalists dreaming about the way it should be?" To which Sam replies, "I don't know. But it starts with that. Without the dream we won't know what we are going for."
I know about "the way things are." I lived in NYC, not just once, but twice. I was a freelance director, and continue to occasionally direct professionally (most recently, an Equity production of The Tempest in Minneapolis). I have many friends who are professional actors, directors, and stage managers in NYC and elsewhere. My ideas do not come out of ignorance of "the way things are." Rather, they come from its opposite: being alarmed about the status quo, and its deleterious effects on the future of the theatre. I cannot read something like what alwaysabridesmaid writes -- that "Hardly anyone can [pay a living wage for anything but small cast shows]. Write for 4 people and one set, or you're out of the game these days" -- without feeling that the theatre is shrinking away (the number of one-person shows in regional theatres and even on Broadway is increasing alarmingly) and that it will soon, with a small pop, disappear completely as some "theatre" figures out a way to do plays without even a single actor. The miniaturization of the American theatre is quite alarming.
As I mention elsewhere, I teach, and it is impossible to look young people in the eyes and encourage them to make their lives in the theatre unless you believe that such a path is possible and worthwhile.
But I also know that it is very difficult to think "outside the box" when you are simply struggling to survive. It is hard to think about the form of your swimming strokes when you are in danger of drowning in the ocean. If you want to make a living as an actor or a designer or a director, it is probably best to adjust yourself to the status quo and figure out how to make it work for you. Which leaves it to people like me -- people who know the theatre, have worked in the theatre, but are not reliant on the theatre to put food in their mouths -- to spend some time looking at the larger picture and propose alternatives -- to dream, as Fugard puts it.
And thus this blog.
alwaysabridesmaid writes: "I think there are still a lot of communities where people expect theatre to be about that experience you wax rhapsodic about of seeing someone they know up there -- because a bulk of their theatrical experience is made up of piling into school auditoriums to see productions of The Music Man. They are supporting the "good for them for getting up there" mentality, rather than going to see how theatre will affect them. Therefore, they won't see anything they don't know anyone in, and they certainly don't want to pay a lot of money to do it. (It's their dentist up there playing Stanley Kowalski! They know he makes good money; they give it to him.)This perception leads to the neglect of theatre artists as paid workers." A bit later, she continues: I'm not saying it's the only place in the country where that's true, but I know where I grew up, in an Asheville-sized city in Central PA, my family only went when I was playing Daisy Mae at the high school or a Hot Box Girl in Guys and Dolls at the Dinner Theatre.Now, the main theatre in town recently switched to an Equity theatre and my stepmother finally, after 50 years of living in that town, signed them up for a season subscription. Did she know that they had switched to a LORT-D contract and were now casting professionals (yes, mostly from NY)? No. But she did know that all of a sudden the plays they saw there got a lot better, now that our pharmacist/mayor wasn't up there trying to play Marc Antony.
Let's be very clear: I am not saying that the theatre would be better off if dentists played Stanley or the mayor played Marc Antony (although I see nothing wrong with that, it is just a different animal entirely). Training is important. What I am saying is that professional actors should become a part of the community in which they live. That people outside the artistic enclave should get to know them as human beings, not simply as artists. People are committed to other people, not institutions. With more and more entertainment options available, many of which do not require that you even leave the house, a little human touch might rouse people off of the couch. Without it, theatre is just another entertainment option -- and an expensive one at that. But if a regional theatre was more like a local bar where, ala Cheers, everybody knows your name -- and also, you know everybody's name -- there might be more loyalty, more commitment to attending. It is impossible to establish such relationships with people who are here for 6 weeks and then head for the next gig.
Which, of course, brings us to the idea of the resident company. alwaysabridesmaid writes: "There is only one non-musical based theatre in Asheville that pays a living wage (NC Stage Co.) They would have to base their entire season around the idea of casting me in order for me to make a living acting in Asheville..." Yes, this is true. They would have to commit to you as an artist, and a member of the artistic community. Would that be hard? Sure. But there are a lot of hard things that are worthwhile. It is hard maintaining a marriage, raising a baby, having a democracy instead of an oligarchy -- but all of these have been judged by many as being worth it for other reasons that are held to be important. Would a living wage and constant work benefit you as an actor? I suspect so, but you'd have to answer that yourself. Would having you as part of the Asheville community, participating in the life of the community, forming bonds with the people -- would that be beneficial to NCStage? I suspect so. Would it require thinking differently about terms of employment and the way of doing beusiness? Definitely. Is ti impossible? No.
I teach theatre history, and there are a lot of models for doing theatre that might be adapted. For instance, Shakespeare's theatre. There was a three-tier structure of shareholders, hirelings, and apprentices. Shareholder bought into the theatre and were part owners. They were paid a percentage of the box office according to their percentage of ownership. Hirelings were paid a specific wage to do a specific job. Apprentices were given room and board, and they could move up the ladder as they became more fully trained. There was a fourth position: householder, which meant you were part owner of the theatre real estate itself. Right now, most people in the theatre are hirelings, but what would happen if you were a shareholder in NCStage? How would this change your relationship to its operation? How would it change the way that productions were chosen? How would it change the finances of the theatre?
I'm not saying that Shakespeare's model is the Right One. What I am saying is that, until we start thinking more creatively about every aspect of the way we do theatre, the theatre will continue to shrink and sputter.
We create "the way things are" every day by the way we think and behave. What if we thought differently? What if we dreamed?