On Tuesday, I responded to devilvet's challenge to tell him in 250 words or less how I was going to change theatre for the better. I did it in 108 words, which, as you know if you've been reading me with glazed eyes, may be a record for succinctness. But devilvet was not one to be impressed by mere bullet points -- oh no! He wrote: "Great! I like it! Now I want an outline of tactics under each of the four points. Top 3 ways to achieve each of the four points." Now, I'm harboring suspicions that devilvet is actually hoping if I put all this out there in a bullet-point form, then I will have shot my wad and lapse into internet silence. We'll see. But I will accept devilvet's challenge. (beat the drums! sound the trumpets!) The numbered items are what I wrote Tuesday; the lettered items are the tactics. Here goes:
1. Decentralization. Get out of the major cities and gather somewhere else that isn't already choked with theatre. No drive-by guest artists from Nylachi.
a. If you have a place in mind, for God's sake go there -- this is about freedom. If not, go to this website (cities with a population of 50,000 as of the year 2000) and find a group of cities that are under 350,000 that appeal to you.
b. Research these cities: demographics, cost of living, real estate prices, number of educational institutions in the area, number of arts organizations in the area (professional and amateur), population density (off the top of my head, it seems to me that a moderate density would be best -- say, between 2,000 and 8,000 people per sq mile), primary employers
c. Narrow it down to two or three and visit, if possible. Do what Zacharay Mannheimer did: meet with people and hang out. Repeat as needed.
2. Localization. Form an ensemble that will stay together for a while. Preferably with at least one resident playwright attached who writes plays for the ensemble. Become an active member of the community. Listen.
a. Join Theatre Tribe to meet people who might share your interest in a new model and talk about the research you've been doing in #1 above.
b. Discuss these ideas with friends who you enjoy working with and who might share your desire to relocate. Pure talent is less important than a commitment to tribal values. Read Daniel Quinn's Beyond Civilization together and discuss it.
c. Put together a group of theatre artists who together have the skills necessary to operate all aspects of the theatre. If you have a lot of directors and actors, you're not done. You need at least one designer, and the longer I think about these ideas, the more I think you need to have at least one person who either is a playwright, or is interested in developing their skills in that area. Also, be sure you have someone who is interested and knowledgeable, or willing to work hard to become knowledgeable, about management.
3. Tribal economics. Pool income. Take out what you need to survive. Each member brings more to the table than their theatrical specialty. Ensemble controls ancillary income. Everyone does everything.
a. Theatre talent isn't the sole criterion; you need to discuss ancillary skills. These are skills that can lower costs within the organization (for instance, if someone has skills as a handyman and can fix plumbing or electrical problems, they are valuable; if someone is good at web design, that is good; if someone is a good ad salesman, that is good), AND skills that can create additional income (for instance, people who would be willing to develop the skills to serve as a consultant in some area, or people who like children and could operate a day care or after school program, or people who are good gardeners who could grow food for the company and could sell food at the farmer's market).
b. Once you have put together the group who will be working together, spend time discussing collaborative processes. How will the season be chosen? How will casting happen? How will business decisions occur? Who will have primary responsibility for what aspects of the operation of the theatre? (Hint: simply because a tribe has a "flat" organizational chart doesn't mean that there aren't people who have certain responsibilities -- it doesn't mean, for instance, that every design choice is put to a vote or something.) The clearer you are about processes, the more effective and efficient the group will be. There are many books that have been written exploring these issues -- read them. Don't ignore the wisdom of experts.
c. Write a letter of agreement for everyone involved that spells out responsibilities and expectations. Be explicit about as much as you can. Do you want a commitment of a certain amount of time with a renewal periond? Say it. Figure out a way that slackers can be voted out. If everyone is expected to contribute all income to the theatre, say that, and outline how it will be divided. Again, the more you do in advance, the more efficient and effective you will be once you're trying to stay afloat.
4. Education. Teach young artists the entrepreneurial and collaboration skills needed to control their own artistic lives and truly co-create.
a. Learn social entrepreneurial skills. Not only grantwriting, but budgeting, marketing, networking, political activism, teaching artist skills.
b. Teach collaboration skills. These skills not only can be learned, but it is necessary that they be learned. It is not a natural skills, and a great deal of frustration could be avoided if young people truly learned how to effectively collaborate. This should be seen as a priority as important as traditional skills. It is the foundation upon which a theatre tribe will exist.
c. Teach community involvement and service learning. For a tribal theatre to work, everyone involves needs to be active members of the community. They need to be comfortable volunteering, attending community meetings, meeting politicians, getting involved in religious or social organizations, and so forth.