The book as a whole is a fascinating exploration of of what Quinn called "Taker" and "Leaver" culture in Ishmael. I urge you to read Beyond Civilization in its entirety, and then read Ishmael and Providence: The Story of a Fifty-Year Vision Quest. I've read all three in the past couple weeks, and they made a strong impact.
The part six of Beyond Civilization is called "The New Tribal Revolution," and it begins with this quotation:
You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.--Buckminster Fuller
I'm not certain that what Quinn is proposing is a new model as much as a return to a new and equally original version of an old model. In essence, what he proposes is "occupational tribalism: self-sustaining "tribes" organized around a way of making a living. Before we go any further and you start having 60s flashbacks, it is necessary to differentiate a "tribe" from a "commune." "Communes are about living together and may or may not involve working together. Tribes...originate among people who want to pool their energies and skills to make a living together" and they don't necessarily live together (in fact, it is probably better if they don't).
If you're thinking, "Say, this sounds like what theatre people sometimes do, especially in the indie movement" Quinn agrees with you. In fact, two of the three examples he gives of tribes in our culture are theatrical: small traveling circuses, and the Chicago theatre group the Neo-Futurists. He also talks about a small community newspaper that he, his wife, and several committed friends ran in Arizona.
However, be careful about thinking that all small theatres are tribal, because it isn't true. Most theatres, large or small, involve employees arranged in a hierarchy of power, whereas "a tribe is nothing more than a coalition of people working together as equals to make a living." [ital mine] It is a self-sustaining, ongoing group of people who, "among them, have all the competencies needed to start and run a given business," who are "content with a modest standard of living," and who are "willing to think 'tribally -- that is, to take away what they need out of the business rather than to expect set wages." A self-sustaining tribe "needs to perform all the functions that will make it successful." While each person may have something they are especially good at, they nevertheless share responsibility for all aspects of the tribal business. So, in the case of a theatre, a person may be an actor, but if program ads need to be sold or lights hung, you willingly pitch in. Again, at least to some extent, this is the case in most indie theatres.
But note one factor that drops many theatres out of the tribal category: it is an ongoing group. In other words, it is not a small group of "leaders" who hold auditions to cast actors and/or hire designers from the outside. All members of the tribe are insiders, and as such have equal commitment to the health and direction of the tribe. In other words, "members of the tribe aren't employees of the tribe, they are the tribe....Because the tribe is its members, the tribe is what its members want it to be -- nothing more and nothing less." Obviously, if you think that a theatre requires a single "visionary" that everybody follows, and who makes most substantive artistic decisions, then Quinn's vision is not for you.
As far as the extension of the tribe to include new members, the "tribal rule of thumb is: Can you extend the living to include yourself? In other words, if you want to live out of the tribal occupation, you'll have to extend the group's earning power to the point where it covers you."
This doesn't mean there isn't a "boss." However, "all jobs must be done -- and the boss's is just pone of them. In hierarchical organizations, the boss is a supreme being. In tribal organizations, the boss is just another worker."
What is most important is a mutual commitment from all concerned to the tribe. Each individual commits to the tribe, and the tribe to the individual. It is necessary to make money for the tribe to continue, but at the same time money isn't the object.
The theatre must be kept going so that it can keep the tribe going, but when money-making becomes more important than the idea that holds the group together, then the tribe falls apart.
What all this means, first and foremost, and perhaps most difficult for theatre people to embrace, is the abandonment of the individualistic concept of career and creativity. If you look at something like, say, the Group Theatre of the 1930s, in some ways (especially in the first years) there was a tribal sensibility. But the organization was hierarchical (Clurman, Strasberg, and _____ made all the decisions), and each individual artist abandoned the theatre to pursue their own careers. It also means giving up a sense that you are a specialist who, if all is going well, doesn’t stoop to working outside your specialty. No divas in tribes.
Why this is important, at least to me, goes back to my steadfast belief that the current industrial system of production, which resembles more a Ford plant than an artistic process, doesn’t function in a way that furthers the art forms. From an educational standpoint, I think I should be teaching students to form tribes rather than how to go out and get headshots, agents, and slick audition techniques.
Does everyone need to do this? Hell no. “What Daniel Quinn teaches is that no single person is going to save the world. Rather (if it’s saved at all), it will be saved by millions (and ultimately billions) of us living a new way. A thousand living a new way won’t cause the dominant world order to topple. But a thousand will inspire a hundred thousand, who will inspire a billion – and then that world order will begin to look shaky.”
As I mentioned, Quinn mentions the Neo-Futurists. Of course, there are other theatres who follow this same basic pattern. One might think of Mabou Mines or the Wooster Group, perhaps, or many, many other theatres around the country. So perhaps in addition to looking at what they create, we should be writing about how they create it.
The question I would ask you, dear reader, is how such an approach to theatre production might be creatively empowering. Not for everyone, of course, but if you find yourself intrigued by the idea, how might it be good for you?