I'd like to applaud Don Hall for his planned efforts to create an "Off Loop Freedom Charter" modeled on the South African Freedom Charter, and also his plans to lobby the city of Chicago to use empty city-owned buildings for arts centers, and to give tax breaks to anyone who rents to a small-budget arts organizations. With all my heart, I wish him the best of luck -- anything that makes it easier for artists to create is worth the effort. Don is following a well-worn path, one that Isaac might be able to confirm takes a page out of Saul Alinky's Rules for Radicals -- community organizing, fixing a streetlight (or, in this case, perhaps a water main). I will be watching with great interest to see how Don's effort goes.
But it isn't what I'm doing here.
And that's OK, because we shouldn't all be doing the same thing. We need as many experiments as we can afford in order to find out what works. There are armies of scientists trying to find a cure for cancer, all working on different theories and taking different approaches, and because of that there is a better chance that a cure will be found. There are a lot of people trying to figure out a cure for what ails the American theatre; some are writing blogs, some creating theatre companies, some working within institutions. Who knows who will discover the most effective way?
So why am I not taking Don's approach? Ironically, Don himself answered the question himself on today's blog post, "George Carlin and the Truth." In a 3-minute segment from what I assume is one of Carlin's monologues, Carlin scathingly dismantles any belief in government as self-delusion, portraying politicians as bought and totally controlled by the Rich, and by Big Business, all to the detriment of the working people (a group that I, and I suspect Don as well, would see as including artists -- Carlin explicitly includes himself in the group). Don then follows this with a quotation from Daniel Quinn's Ishmael that says there is nothing intrinsically wrong with people, but that they are following a story that puts them in opposition to the world. "Tell a new story," Don concludes. "And keep telling it."
While I don't quite have the level of despair that Carlin has, I don't have much faith that government or Big Business will help us out. I'd like to try to figure out a way of creating theatre that is independent from government grants, independent from foundation support. Why?
Recently, somebody reminded me that the work of Ariane Mnouchkine's internationally renowned Theatre du Soleil bears a resemblance to the tribe model of creation, so I was reading Collaborative Theatre: The Theatre de Soleil Sourcebook this weekend and came across a quotation that rang true. It was buried in a footnote on p 41: "In May 1973, the Soleil and other groups staged a large demonstration and procession from the Place de la Nation, in response to remarks by the then Minister of Culture, Maurice Druon, to the effect that, 'People who come to the door of the Ministry with a beggar's bowl in one hand and a Molotov cocktail in the other will have to choose...'" And this was in France, which American's often look to as an example of enlightened arts funding! If you want money, drop the Molotov cocktail. I am tired of seeing theatres going everywhere with a beggar's bowl in one hand, because inevitably those who fill it will ask for consideration, and that's only a fair expectation.
If possible -- and it may not be possible, that remains to be seen -- I'd like to explore a model that could do without a beggar's bowl. It's not as practical, and not as immediate, as Don's approach, but it doesn't rely on others to make it happen, and it might have more long-term effects. I don't know, I don't know.
I'll end with my own Daniel Quinn quotation, this (predictably) from Beyond Civilization, a segment called "The incremental revolution": "I say again that, because we don't expect to overthrow the governments, abolish world capitalism, make civilization vanish, turn everyone in the world into walking buddhas, or cure all social and economic ills, we don't have to wait for anything. If ten people walk beyond civilization and build a new sort of life for themselves, then those ten are already living in the next paradigm, from the first day. They don't need the support of an organization. They don't need to belong to a party or a movement. They don't need new laws to be passed. They don't need permits. They don't need a constitution. They don't need tax-exempt status. For those ten, the revolution will already have succeeded."