i don't think scott's idea is ridiculous - it's a really interesting idea. but HOW do you do it? let's talk about doing. has anyone heard or had ANY ideas on how we get to the DOING! also scott, you said if you don't ask the question who will and that those in the trenches have no time? believe me, they have the time, EVERY DAY before they leave for their waiter job or temp job or whatever soul sucking thing they have to do so they can do no pay shows for free to "pay their dues", they ask themselves these questions. and after the shows they do for little or no money they go to bars or coffee shops and discuss these things for hours. and alone at home they think, what should i do? go to grad school? move to LA and try to break into "show biz" and try to get paid? take another class? we all ask the question all the time - but we are searching for something we can actually DO.
This sentiment was seconded by several others: we all agree the system sucks -- now what? Can we do something more than bitch about it?
Yes, we can.
But let's make sure we keep in back of our minds that, while we may think the system sucks, there are still many who feel like Isaac's friend: "A friend of mine and I got coffee. She makes her living directing regionally, and a few years ago directed several shows in DC (which has a vibrant local theatre and acting scene). She said she really loved the city and the working environment down there and felt no attachment to New York. I asked her why she didn't move there. She said "the actors just aren't that good, I had to pull teeth to get theaters to agree to use New York actors because I didn't like most of the people I saw." For many theatre people, this sort of thinking makes sense. These are the people whose minds must be changed.
Since this is a Big Problem, obviously it can't all be addressed at once. But I will make an effort to focus on suggestions for action. Let's start with the issue that is described by Isaac's friend: out-of-town theatre artists being imported to a city that has a rich pool of local actors. Places like Chicago, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Seattle, Philadelphia, and DC. These are places that might have several large regional theatres in them who don't seem to have consistently committed to using local artists. What can be done?
First, I don't think we want to get shrill and aggressive -- we don't need to be perceived as another group of artists getting red in the face about funding. We get enough of that every time the NEA is up for refunding. No, let's use our sense of humor and irony, which is one of the strengths of theatre artists, and our ability to think symbolically, which is also a strength. I'm going to float one idea -- low cost, symbolic -- that might get the ball rolling on this issue. I welcome any suggestions for fine tuning, or additional actions. I want this to be a group process, because this is going to have to actually be done by someone other than me -- Asheville has problems different than this one.
- The Goal: to increase the hiring of local talent by major regional theatres.
- The Pay-Off: Increased employment for local artists, increased ticket sales for the major regional theatres.
- The Justification: Audiences like to follow the development of local artists.
I am announcing the creation of a national organization devoted to this issue: Support Local Artists Working (yes, SLAW). I have built a basic website for this organization where supporters will (eventually) be able to find information about techniques for raising awareness about this issue, evidence that can be used in campaigns, and stories from places who have engaged this issue. Click on "Evidence" to read the story of Rob Kozlowski's wife, Jen!
Now, let's say you are an artist in, say, Minneapolis and the Guthrie Theatre seems oblivious to the fact that there are hundreds of great actors in the Twin Cities and has just recently brought in a 24-year-old NY actress to play Juliet. What can you do? Well, you could organize a boycott, where none of the Twin City theatre community attended the show, but that would be invisible, and not particularly effective. Plus, who wants to miss a good show?
What we want is a way not only for local artists but community members to express their interest in seeing local actors on the stage of the Guthrie. And we don't want to make this too much work for anyone. We don't want to ask people to write letters to the theatre or to the editor of their local paper. Only a few will, and it will be too easy to write those off as cranks. At the same time, we aren't looking to embarrass the Guthrie staff or force them into a corner. If something would be good for business, I suspect they will be happy to use it.
First, I think we should put together a flyer with basic information about the issue (we can use the website to develop this as a group). You then hand them out to audience members entering the theatre -- people like having something to read before the play starts, so make it brief, catchy, and friendly -- this isn't the time to go all Chicken Little on them. You could call the flyer "Wanna Little SLAW with That?" or something. Whatever. You're all funnier than I am, you think something up.
But here's where the easy symbolic act happens. You ask the audience members -- and you also spread the word to the rest of the local artists community, so that they have a way of supporting the cause while attending the show -- you ask the audience members to express their support for local artists by simply tearing one of the bio pages from the program and leave it on the floor of the aisle when they leave the show. Simple, easy to do, nobody has to make a spectacle of themselves or Take A Stand. Just tear out a page and leave it on the ground.
Call or write the theatre staff to let them know what this means, and also notify the press. All it will take is one article and awareness of the RIP movement will skyrocket, leading to more people tearing out a page from their programs. Then make yourself available to the regional theatre staff to discuss possibilities.
Will this work? Who knows. But it is a fast, cheap way to bring the issue out of the bars and coffee shops where theatre people hang out and into a venue where it might get some attention from people who can actually do something about it.
The website is there for brainstorming. If you have other ideas for addressing issues, add them to the "Techniques" page. Got some evidence? Click on "Evidence" and add it. Click "Edit" to make changes, and don't worry about screwing up: every previous page is saved automatically, so if we want we can revert to a previous version. The password is: local.
This is a babystep, but an attempt to go beyond simply pointing out the problems. Next week, I will be traveling to Los Angeles to attend a meeting of a group of theatres who are attempting to put into action some of the ideas that have been discussed on this blog. I'll report on their plans, too.