Saturday, July 07, 2007

More on Tribalism

I'm going to cannibalize a comment I made on Paul Rekk's outstanding blog Que j'ai reve. Paul was writing in response to my post immediately below concerning Daniel Quinn's ideas about occupational tribalism. In his post (go read it) he notes many past theatres and movements that seemed to follow the tribalist impulse.

In the comments, Tony quoted Ben Cameron's excellent advice offered as he left TCG:

* Do not assume that you have to have some prescribed conditions to do your best work.
* Do not wait.
* Do not wait for enough time or money to accomplish what you think you have in mind.
* Work with what you have right now.
* Work with the people around you right now.
* Work with the architecture you see around you right now.
* Do not wait for what you assume is the appropriate, stress-free environment in which to generate expression.
* Do not wait for maturity or insight or wisdom.
* Do not wait till you are sure that you know what you are doing.
* Do not wait until you have enough technique.
* What you do now, what you make of your present circumstances will determine the quality and scope of your future endeavors.


I replied as follows:

Quinn's personal example of a tribe was when he and his wife started a community newspaper, the East Mountain News, in New Mexico. First, there was just the two of them, and they put out a few issues together. Then, a retired newspaper photographer called them and asked if he could work with them -- he said he could do everything except sell advertising. They said that unless they sold more advertising, they wouldn't be able to make it. He said he'd sell advertising. Then a writer contacted them and asked if she could work with them: "Can you sell advertising?" "I can sell anything." This is the rule about new additions adding to the income in some way. And so the four of them did the newspaper. They only printed as many copies as the advertising would pay for, and they split the leftovers equally. No salaries or wages.

The point is that they didn't spend a lot of time making sure they had a common vision of what a newspaper should be, they just created a newspaper together and shaped it as they went. They were four people who wanted to do a newspaper -- period. When Quinn suggested, when money was a little low, that they turn the newspaper into a shopper, which would be more lucrative, everyone said no -- because they wanted to do a newspaper, not a shopper. The money was secondary -- important, but secondary. If it was primary, they would have done a shopper.

You love theatre. If there are a couple more people who also love it, and who are willing and able to contribute their energy in whatever way is necessary to keep the theatre going, then you're on your way. Negotiate as you go.

I agree with Ben Cameron: work with what you have right now. Don't have a theatre, and don't have enough money for a theatre? Then find some place else to perform -- a community center, a retirement home, somebody's living room. Scale your work to the resources available. This is how Commedia dell 'Arte worked, and to some extent Shakespeare and Burbage worked (although they employed wage laborers to play the smaller parts, so it wasn't a pure tribe.) This isn't a new-fangled idea, but something we've forgotten.

I also like your idea about looking outward, too. This is how Steppenwolf and Mabou Mines works -- their members always return home. But initially, they worked intensely together.

By the way, I think a tribe could extend beyond simply using theatrical techniques to create productions. For instance, you might hire yourselves out to businesses to help with training, with team building -- use Boal techniques to help people brainstorm solutions to problems. Write grants to collect oral histories, and then occasionally use those oral histories to create new work. Do podcasts and audiobooks. Expand as desired, but always make sure you have enough people who extend the income base.
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Note: Thanks to Slay for this correction: "In the long quotation from Ben Cameron up there, he's actually quoting at length the last page of Anne Bogart's book "A Director Prepares". So, if you like what he says there, get the book. It's full of gems like that." You heard him -- go get the book!

1 comment:

Slay said...

In the long quotation from Ben Cameron up there, he's actually quoting at length the last page of Anne Bogart's book "A Director Prepares". So, if you like what he says there, get the book. It's full of gems like that.