A while back in this discussion, Matt Freeman asked for an action plan as it applies to the issue of regional representation in the arts. And of course, this topic also connects to my opinions concerning the value of decentralizing the theatre. So I allowed myself the luxury to imagine that I was suddenly named the head of the NEA -- what one thing would I do to enact change?
I decided that I would make the following rule in regards to funding:
If you are a regional theatre, you will receive NEA funding only if you meet the following criteria:
1. 75% of the talent involved with your theatre (actors, directors, designers, artistic director) is drawn from artists who have lived in your state for at least a year.
2. At least one mainstage production each year must be written by a playwright who is a resident of your state, and be set in your state.
The effect of these two little rules would be dramatic.
Suddenly, the necessity of moving to New York in order to be considered for regional theatre roles would be eliminated. Theatre artists, like almost all other workers in our national economy, could choose where they would like to spend their lives, rather than being compelled by conditions to make a choice between their lifestyle and their art.
Playwrights would suddenly spring forth from all kinds of unexpected places. As Robert Gard found when, in the 1920s, he put out a call for plays about Wisconsin, there are many, many artists whose love of theatre is powerful, but who have no outlet for their work. They write plays that they put into their desk drawer never to be seen except by their descendents when they are cleaning out the desk after the playwright's death.
But but but...you sputter. Wouldn't quality suffer? Maybe at first, while the theatre scene was rearranged, but I suspect that soon we would see a rise in quality, diversity, and energy in the theatre scene. I also suspect that nationwide support for the arts, and for the funding of the NEA, would become stronger as a larger portion of the nation felt more closely connected to its theatres.
In addition, the issue of the perpetuation of stereotypes would be weakened, as people who were from an area created art that was about that area, and began to tell stories of all the wonderful characters from its past, from its myths. There might be an increase in the gathering of oral histories, which could be used as the basis for productions, and also as a means of preserving the daily life of everyday folks who make up the bedrock of a state's population.
But it sure would look different.
Think I'll drop Dana Gioia a note...