Saturday, March 15, 2008

On Nick at the Cameron

First, my apologies to Nick at Rat Sass for failing to acknowledge my debt in my post "A Theatre Space" to his fascinating description of his Toronto days at at Cameron House entitled "Theatre Kultur." And his musings on the "edifice complex" article in the NY Times. By the time I got around to writing that post, I had literally 24 tabs open from links to blog posts and articles I wanted to notate and discuss, and I totally lost track of where I had gotten started.

In case you were wondering, Nick's background and mine are pretty dissimilar. I have led a pretty damned conservative lifestyle throughout my 50 years, even if my mind leans toward solutions that step outside the norm. In many ways, I think our conceptions of what constitutes a tribe is shaped by those experiences.

Life at the Cameron house certainly has certain points of connection with the theatre tribe idea that I am (relentlessly) focused on at Theatre Ideas. The artists there certainly form a community, not only with each other but with the patrons as well. They share an aesthetic, and are willing to take from the resources only what they need.

But my concept of the theatre tribe, like my background, is a bit more focused on integrating artists into the broader community, rather than remaining on the fringes of society. When all is said and done, that may be the biggest difference between Nick's concept and my own.

In addition, I am much more focused on the smaller towns of America, the large swaths of geography that showed up empty in my TCG Google map. It isn't that I don't care about Toronto or Chicago, or that I don't think that a tribe might be focused on a neighborhood in a large city and find its identity by focusing on it. But the very first principle listed in the right-hand sidebar is "decentralization." There is a populist orientation to my ideas, and a desire to fill in the gaps in the TCG maps with something unique and designed for those places.

Could the theatre tribe ideas be adapted to a big city? Absolutely! I have no doubt at all. And I hope somebody will do that. I consider these ideas to be sort of like Open Source programs on a Creative Commons license -- you can take the code and adapt it to fit your needs. And that is very inspiring for me to see! But it isn't what I am doing. I have my plate full trying to figure out how this works in Independence, Missouri, especially given how doors keep opening into new and unexplored areas.

I know that some may feel I am being exclusionary or reverse-elitist if refuse to tinker with the model I am developing to allow it to encompass big cities, and I guess I am sort of, but only because the conditions are so very different and I want to make this model powerful and specific for the context I am aiming at.

So to all you Chicago or New York or Seattle or LA readers who are attracted to the basic ideas of the theatre tribe idea, but want to make it work in your beloved cities, I offer you my encouragement and applause. And I hope you will continue to offer ideas and critiques of the ideas I am developing. It's like you are interested in developing a model for a 4-door coupe while I am focused on a 2-door truck: we share a lot of the same machinery, but there are parts that just won't work together!

1 comment:

nick@ said...


Thanks for the acknowledgement. I feel privileged to be part of this conversation on theatre tribe. Certainly it is the most sustained, vibrant, and far-reaching theatrosphere dialogues that I have seen or participated in. So no one can argue too much against what you feel you need to include/exclude to maintain and direct it.

I am thinking here about both your definitions of “fringe” and “broader community” when you attempt to delineate our differences. For instance, how do you view your university in relationship to the broader community of Asheville? I know that all the “fringe theatre” I have produced would engage the university audience much better than the broader community, but I am not sure what that means.

I will try to address what you say here in more substantive way in a post tomorrow. To me the biggest difference between your Independence Theatre and the my Cameron House circa 1984 is the same as the gulf that often exists between practice and theory. As an academic you know this dead horse well but I'll try to throw some new kicks at it within the theatre tribe discussion.