Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Random Thoughts on the Value Discussion

Potential
As Slay notes at TheatreForte, there were 30 posts and countless comments on this topic around the theatrosphere. Consider the effect if we could marshal that kind of brain power around a practical problem! The effect on devilvet alone would be remarkable! ;-) But seriously: the potential power is palpable (I just wanted to be alliterative). What if, for instance, there was a theatre that had a challenge concerning a production (could be anything -- from marketing to sustainable design to audience building to...), and we focused the minds of the theatrosphere on it for a couple days -- think of all the ideas that might be generated.

On Talk and Action
devilvet points out that talking is only half the process. True. In a 1985 book called Action Science, the authors draw a distinction between espoused theories and theories-in-use. "Espoused theories," they write, "are those that an individual claims to follow. Theories-in-use," they conclude," are those that can be inferred from action." (quoted in The Learning Paradigm College by John Tagg, p 13.) It is important that our espoused theories match up with our theories-in-use.

I'd also like to quote from one of my new favorites book, Getting to Maybe: How the World Is Changed:

We've been taught that thinking is separate from doing. But in this book we offer thinking as a form of doing, and emphasize doing as an opportunity for thinking, reflecting and learning. Complexity science suggests that how we think about thngs matters. A fundamental sociological premise is the Thomas theorem: what is perceived as real is real in its consequences. We would add: how we think about and understand the world frames our actions. Indeed, we can be even more basic: whether we think about things matters. The capacity to think astutely is often undervalued in the world of action.
While thought without action may be stillborn (may be -- I'm not totally certain that is true, if you define action as direct action on the specific topic), but I do believe this: action without thought is the War in Iraq. I can imagine King Georgie bouncing back and forth in his chair and whining, "Stop all this talking about winning the peace -- we'll figure that out when we get there. Let's go kick some butt and take names!"

Accountability
Yesterday, I posted about the seeming Nylachi (New York/Los Angeles/Chicago for those of you who don't know the source of that neologism) orientation of American Theatre. devilvet suggested the creation of a parallel publication, probably on-line, that covered the rest of the American theatre scene. Great idea. Not one I am willing to devote my focus to at the moment, but one that I wish somebody would do (maybe the "Flyover" folks at ArtsJournal?). However, I will say this: we also need to hold people accountable for what they are supposed to be doing. The fact is that American Theatre is not fulfilling its purpose by failing to provide a picture of the vibrant theatre that is occuring throughout this great country. So I will be emailing Jim O'Quinn, the Editor in Chief of American Theatre with a link to my post, and request a response. If you would like to participate, I suggest you do the same: O'Quinn's email address is joquinn@tcg.org

26 comments:

Ian Mackenzie said...

"What if, for instance, there was a theatre that had a challenge concerning a production . . . and we focused the minds of the theatrosphere on it for a couple days?"

Brilliant. I'm in.

As for this NYCHILA-ification of theatre converge in the media – isn't it the responsibility of local media to cover local arts? This strikes me as a local accountability issue.

If I'm living in Savannah, GA and my local media isn't doing enough to cover local arts events, it's partly my responsibility, as a local citizen and a local art producer, to call them to account for it and to vote with my wallet whenever I can.

And with alternative media and self-publishing becoming increasingly popular and powerful, it's increasingly likely that someone from those regions is going to put together a credible local arts journal.

Big fish. Small pond. Right?

So, I agree, we should be calling national publications into account for not doing enough to cover non-NYLACHI theatre, but we shouldn't wait around for them to change.

". . . the creation of a parallel publication, probably on-line, that covered the rest of the American theatre scene."

This is a great idea. I wonder, though, if cooking up another national publication is really going to solve the problem of local theatre coverage.

Scott Walters said...

Ian -- I think we need to differentiate two purposes for media coverage. The first, which is local and aimed at the general public, would be coverage of the events themselves through the publication of pre-production articles, reviews, interviews, etc. This is necessary for generating audience, and is very important. An article in American Theatre will appear far too late to affect ticket sales.

The second might be considered, for want of a better word, coverage of The Scene. It is directed towards practitioners, not toward the general public, and provides inspiration and a sense of what is being done, and how it is being done. It helps practitioners to establish a "geography of the art form," a sense of what activity is happening where. It also provides a sense of diversity -- that there are many different models of how theatre might be done, why theatre might be done. That's what a publication like American Theatre might provide. Your interviews on Theatre is Territory does this for the Toronto independent theatre scene. When pieced together with other blogs from other places in Canada, you start getting a larger sense of the geography of the art form.

Paul said...

We've been taught that thinking is separate from doing. But in this book we offer thinking as a form of doing...

In your own words, Scott, that there's some bullshit. Sorry. Thinking is theory/hypothesizing, doing is practice/experimenting, and the two are not forms of one another.

Devilvet said...

This is not a rebuttal, but...

Here is the thing. I don't believe that any justification is necessary for 'thinking' so long as some 'doing' eventually happens, and I believe that the thinkers are responsible for either metamorphosizing into or finding the doers.

The online forums are great. I applaud them. But like Mr. Winston Wolf in Pulp Fiction says, "Let's not start sucking each others $%^& just yet fellas." The digital venues like N.Keenan's are the foundation to the house we would build. But, getting a roof on the place requires more than 'thought as action'.

I think we all want more. Travis told me so in my comments, and I belive him, but "thinking as action" I believe this sort of rationale in part is what enables wonderful wish lists on blogs, wonderful eloquent what ifs...however important conceptualization is...it alone is a half assed job. If there are those who say, I am only the conceiver not the doer, I say to them that they must find the doer or suffer irrelevancy. Time is fleeting. Virtual change is not equvilant to actual change.

Scott, if you want it, I think you have to find, to network with the others...conceivers are great, they are part of the solution...but without the doers...they are castrated.

We are all of us enuthsiatic at the conveiving side...how many of us are doing (if you like me dont believe thinking is action)?

Frank Lloyd Wright would not be a great architect if he hadn't Built. If he had only drafted, we would have at best called him a dreamer...as in opposition to a doer.

Again, This is not meant as a rebuttal. This is call to encourage a further step up the ladder you are trying to build. Yes? No?

With respect

Ian Mackenzie said...

Paul,

Maybe this thinking-doing binary is a false dichotomy.

What use is there in pitting them against each other? As if somehow either can exist independent of the other? Are we talking about the degree to which one informs the other?

What are the potential dangers of blurring the thought-action distinction in your mind?

Ian Mackenzie said...

Scott,

So you're saying that American Theatre magazine is well positioned to provide "scene" coverage of regional theatre but is not living up to the promise of its mandate?

Ian Mackenzie said...

Hi Bob,

I think we're all "doing". We're making plays, training ourselves, interacting with the world, and – yes – typing words into keyboards (though not everyone is comfortable calling that action).

If I'm reading you right, you define "thinking" as a completely solitary, action-less process without influence on the outside world.

Is that an accurate reflection of your position?

Devilvet said...

Hey Ian,

"If I'm reading you right, you define "thinking" as a completely solitary, action-less process without influence on the outside world."

Uhhhhh....don't put those words in my mouth ;)

That's not quite it...I'll make another imperfect stab at it though...

I think that over the past decade, our entire mode of Being has moved slowly above the neck line and toward the fingertips. There are many of us who make a decent living and don't ever get out of our chairs for most the day. Seocnd Life, chat rooms, etc...have us in a place where we are commiting more "virutal action' than actual action in our everyday life...combine that with a section of the populace who are usually increbily well read, eloquent, appreciately of the well turned phrase and debate, often lacking the fundage necessary to enact a dream or vision as often as they might have, a populace who is indebted and connected to the university, the bookstorem the coffee shop, etc...a populace who see the real world as a place where action seems to always lead to unfortunate political inevitability... and out of this...

arrises a tendency to conceive without executing. To write about lifting a hammer, without lifting a hammer...a belief that we can change the world with a keystroke while the fascists are banging the doors off the hinges...

As I said before, no justification is necessary for thinking, but if it doesnt eventually lead to someone burning calories and breaking a sweat for the thought...then something less than action has occured.

(I need coffee)...I hope I rose half to the occassion...and I request a rebuttal or at the very less a virtual shoulder shrug

Devilvet said...

Oh and Ian,

How does our 'doing' effect the (gulp) community...if there is quantitative community benefit...then amplifying beyond the audience talking to each other should be a breeze right?

Are we 'doing' for the (gulp) community, and if so who, what, and where...

Isn't all of these debate about...more value...lets say I was an audience member who thought, "well I already talk to my neighbors...so how does you show benefit me"? What is the talking point on the card you pull out of your pocket?

ohohoh "interacting with the world"
this good but only so long as you tell me who, what, and where and standing on the boards in front of them...doesn't count unless you can tell me how what you do on the boards leads to the who, what, where.

Valid questions? I'm trying

Ian Mackenzie said...

Bob,

You're wrong.

Just kidding.

This is my favourite argument you've made on the thinking-doing subject yet.

Has the relative abundance of thought-related media (?) versus the relative dearth of action-related media (?) placated the populace into inaction?

Maybe.

[Ever seen that movie, The Matrix?]

But we're talking about degrees here, not absolutes. [And we don't live in the Matrix, at least no yet.] And I would venture to guess that the people who are out there typing away on the more high-minded blogs are the very same people who got out there and voted in the last election – and that voting is the most basic unit of – wait for it – civic engagement.

So does a propensity to think more lead to a propensity to act more? And to act in a more thoughtful way? I think it does.

Scott Walters said...

I wish we had gotten to a point in our society where there was too much thinking going on and not enough action -- maybe we wouldn't do so many goddamn dumb shit.

Paul -- that there is some bullshit of your own, my friend. As Fugard pointed out in MASTER HAROLD...and the boys, the future must first be imagined before it can come into being. And that's hard, Paul -- real hard. Because it means imagining something totally new. It is much, much easier to just follow the path everybody else has already created. Then you can just "act," and dig the groove a little bit deeper.

devilvet -- You wrote: "I don't believe that any justification is necessary for 'thinking' so long as some 'doing' eventually happens, , and I believe that the thinkers are responsible for either metamorphosizing into or finding the doers." Two things: the keyword is "eventually" -- thinking happens first, thinking happens thoroughly, and action happens when it is ready to happen effectively. Second, Marx wrote Das Capital and never took action himself nor felt compelled to find others to take action, yet his ideas shaped the 20th century. Sometimes, thinkers think -- period.

Nevertheless, I agree with you -- as I said in a previous post, I'm almost fifty and something needs to happen soon. But -- and this is a HUGE but -- it can't happen in a half-assed, sloppy, ill-conceived manner. I don't know how many comments I've read on this blog from people who refute the idea that there should be an ongoing ensemble by telling me about some bullshit ensemble they were once a part of that split up because of ego or whatever. Every time somebody fails at something, they don't think it failed because they hadn't used enough brainpower and foresight to make it work, but they blame the idea itself. "Well, if ensembles were a good idea, mine would have worked." This is idiotic, but how people think. So those people who, for instance, think that a couple weeks of thinking about theatre tribes are enough and now its time for some A-C-T-I-O-N are W-R-O-N-G, because they will C-R-A-S-H, and sooner rather than later.

Devilvet said...

"So does a propensity to think more lead to a propensity to act more? And to act in a more thoughtful way? I think it does."

This a tough one for me to swallow. Becuase after doing the blog thing for three years (writing and reading) I feel that we sort of hit these cul-de-sacs of conceptualization.

But maybe your right. However, I need to see the smoke to know there is fire? A catalog of failures would be more enabling of success at this point...IMO

We got this sort of picture in our heads for this DIY bike, and we read and write alot about how to make and carry out instructions...but I don't see photographs of the DIY bike anywhere. Even a photo of a failed attempt at the bike...instead I think we focus too much on that picture we have in our heads, I think we imagine the wind in our hair...we are really good at convincing others and ourselves that we are somewhere we aren't (it's one of the things we are good at doing).

Is that really the wind in our hair, or is a fan behind the black curtain and a well made sound cue?

Maybe it gets down to this...we are damn good at dreaming...now I yearn for more about our failures and successes at the goals we've been shaping slowly over the years, be they better more effective marketing, qualitative results of online networking inniatives, wider diversify of national advocacy...

Are we too comfortable sometimes living in the hypothetical. We of course risk failure everytime we step on the boards, but we are goal setting more than merely stepping on the boards...in those newer goals are we risking as well, are we failing now, studying the failures and/or successes?

Many, maybe even most of us want it...please point to it...and keeping pointing to it...and welcome the invitation and challenge to the value...a challenge means at the very least even without consensus the idea isnt being ignored.

How about that? We arent ignoring each others ideas...we are just saying more please...more please...

Not just more ideas, but more flesh on the ideas we have already proposed.

And, (here I will sound a bit combative) I think this analogy to wanting more action as a result of our ideas and the iraq war is absurd.

The notion that those of us who want more action in the realm of the arts and the goal setting we share... are somehow Little Rumsfields is well at the risk of offending (since...yes I am a little offended by the analogy)... ridiculous.

Scott Walters said...

Most of the time, Bob, we imagine the wind in our hair, don't think about the design of the bike at all, and then try to go riding on some cobbled-together contraption that falls apart as we head down the hill.

If we had spent three years blogging about a single something, then maybe we'd have something by now. But we haven't. We have spent three years gossiping, for the most part, chatting, free-associating. The fact is that for the past 3 months, I have stayed focused. And as a result, I have all kinds of people demanding that I stop talking about it and just do it. Well, the bike ain't finished, and I ain't climbing on just because some people wanna say "Whatsa matter, you scared or something?" Right now, I've designed the frame and maybe a wheel -- still a long way to go.

And I'm sorry the Iraq analogy offends you, and even though I think it is a good example of too little thinking and too much action, I will withdraw it if it offends you. But the point still stands: unless something is thought through thoroughly, it usually is a disaster. When they invented the iPod, they not only had to visualize the basic concept, but they had to engineer the whole thing FIRST, before they started manufacturing things that didn't work.

Devilvet said...

"So those people who, for instance, think that a couple weeks of thinking about theatre tribes are enough and now its time for some A-C-T-I-O-N are W-R-O-N-G, because they will C-R-A-S-H, and sooner rather than later."

Well is there a compromise? I am not saying you have to metamorph into Stalin (heh heh)...but there has to be a way to A-C-T and R-I-S-K before it comes into being. Why? Becuase It is not going to finally emerge fully formed like Athena out of our heads by just T-H-I-N...you get me.

We havn't been talking for a couple of weeks scott about this, it has been more like a couple of years...I dont know when the word "tribe" first appeared here...but I think it was the amplification of your thoughts from years back...NYLACHI was still NYLACHI in your mind and on your blog before you typed it that first time couple months back
.

I wont discount your caution. Is part of it tied to your identity as a mentor, a concern for the kids in your class? Again Iwont discount it...but I have to, I hope to speak in counterpoint to it.

But, as a director...my paradigm of action means eventually we have to stop the table work and start the blocking...

Do you agree that eventually (god please in our lifetimes) someone is going to have to risk something other than a bruised ego to enable our dreams (not just tribe, but betterment/matemorphisis of our lot?

p.s.

"I don't know how many comments I've read on this blog from people who refute the idea that there should be an ongoing ensemble by telling me about some bullshit ensemble they were once a part of that split up because of ego or whatever. Every time somebody fails at something, they don't think it failed because they hadn't used enough brainpower and foresight to make it work, but they blame the idea itself. "Well, if ensembles were a good idea, mine would have worked."

This is something we could think about...how to create a space for belief for those once or even thrice burned (we are going to need their votes)...but I would argue/debate that scott you should not be too hasty in what to me appears to be a dismissal of their common experiences based on lack of "brainpower". The reasons for these failures are manifold, sometimes it is poor planning, some times it is fate, sometimes it is merely a matter of a series of bad reviews in the press...we need to recognize that I think.

How about this...what can do to enbolden those once, twice, thrice burned to catalog with specificity their failures so as to have a list like edison's list of all the things that wont work in the lightbulb? Eventually we have to run current through something. i know this metaphor opens me up to allusions about electrocution, but the alternative is staying in the dark.

You know? BTW I think the best thing about our frsutrating back and forth is that maybe someone out there reading it will either take the risk, of move it forward...I think there is room for both the thinking path and the doing path...

I'll try to stop shaking my finger, it is hard though...and this sort of challenging is essential I believe.

I'm trying to help. I really am.

Anonymous said...

The value of your theoretical thinking would be vastly increased if you would tussle harder with the practicalities of actually creating theatre in the world we live in.

If you, as you say, hope to see change manifest in your lifetime, then incorporate into your thinking the economic, social, educational and political conditions that exist in the present.

Devilvet said...

Scott,

I hope you know I am not questioning the value of your path...again I think it is going to require a plethora of tactics, thought, action, and (risk).

To think that anything worth achieving doesn't have casualities, I think isnt true unfortunately.

I don't think the call to act, is always a call to mindlessness, or a call to violence, a call is the disregard of others goals and humanity...In that analogy resides too much fear for me...

If I waited until it was safe to make the moves I have in my life, I might well have nothing. I might welll have never risked producing my own shows on shoestring budget in a storefront, yada yada yada...

In counterpoint to your call for caution, I think it is important to remember that security, risklessness are not achievable...

At the very least Scott, I would wish that all the voices calling for action would enbolden you in that so many people are desirious of the vision you paint...

It is more about wanting it in our lifetime than watching others fail to validate previous regrets in our own lives.

Planning Yes
Action Yes
Risk Yes
Failure Sorry But it will occur
and then
a step closer, a spliting of distance between now and tomorrow.

Blah, enough (gulp) rhetoric from me

Devilvet said...

Anon,

To Scott's benefit he has taken some theortical steps in that regard in a few previous posts. I'll let him link to them if so chooses.

Scott Walters said...

Bob, buddy, it's me -- you don't have to keep telling me how much you are trying to help. I know, and I'm not getting mad at you. We're sparring, and the sparks may cause new ideas to catch fire. If you didn't have good intentions, you'd pop in with a couple sentence dismissal like anonymous.

Anonymous: go to http://tribaltheatre.pbwiki.com and read the 100+ pages of ideas, all of which are based in current economics. Then get back to me. If, however, you are suggesting that I just tinker with the status quo -- that would be like telling the inventor of the iPod that he ought to just make a better tape recorder. So no.

Bob -- I'm not suggesting we wait until it is safe in order to act. I am suggesting that we wait until the conception is complete. Think of this in terms of a grant application. If I went to, say, the NEA and said, "Hey, I have this idea for making small regional theatres more sustainable," they'd say, "Great! How you gonna do that?" And I would say, "Well, form an ensemble (or tribe) of people who have the skills needed to create theatre, go to a smaller city/town, build a theatre out of a Del-Tec, create ancillary income by creating theatre-run businesses, have tribe members take out only the money they need --" And the NEA would go, "Whoa! How you gonna do all that? What kind of ancillary activities? How are you going to pay for that Del-Tec? How is the theatre going to be run?" And I damn well better have good, solid answers to those questions, or they're gonna roll their eyes and show me the door!

Devilvet said...

You want more time to plan fine...how about I give you a year?

You can be Sir Gawain. I'll be the Green Knight. We'll meet on chosen ground in 12 months and try to chop each others heads off.

Hows that for wind in your hair!?

(heh)

Tony said...

Here's the thing that is the biggest stumbling block for me on the idea of tribes (and I've seen how theatre du soleil works in person.) Money.

Who's gonna pay for it? And how does that go along with your call to stop being so much of the beggars that arts organizations are.

I know your ideas for once it is up and running, but how do you get to that point?

Action and funding aren't necessarily separable.

Scott Walters said...

Tony -- Well, let me start by turning that question around: who pays for it now? I suspect most will answer: the artists. That may still be the case here, but the way that the artists pay for it may be different.

I am starting to become convinced that the center of the tribe concept is entrepreneurial thinking. I think the money comes from a series of different directions: theatre-run businesses (e.g., consulting, teaching, catering, whatever), space rentals (if you have a nice space, you can rent it for business gatherings, etc.), sustainable food (if your theatre has some land, growing your own vegetables), barter, community adoptions (i.e., having community members "adopt" certain members of the company for supper once a month or something), other creative ideas, and, yes, grantwriting. While the goal would be complete independence, the lighter the grant footprint the better.

As part of my development of this, I would like to build a foundation that provided seed money and consulting for anyone trying to put the ideas into action. Part of the thinking process involves figuring out funding issues -- yet another reason why we are not ready to put this play on its feet yet!

Devilvet said...

It appears to me that the most successful notion is the teaching idea...Here in CHI there is redmoon, 500 clown, piven, second city, and on and on...but something about that model needs more if it is going to economically sustain more than the artistic and managing directors.

Scott Walters said...

devilvet -- nothing stands alone. None of it fully supports a theatre and all its members. I actually think that the consulting thing has more potential than the teaching. Workshops in team building, collaboration, presentation skills, diversity, consensus -- all demand big bucks from corporate and educational America.

Like I say, though, this part of the plan needs much more development, and without this part of the plan, none of the rest of it gets off the ground.

Devilvet said...

Ian,

"and that voting is the most basic unit of – wait for it – civic engagement"

half jokingly...if you prove to me that your company's content or execution makes more people vote...then I'll make out with the next supermodel who walks through that door...

Voting is great...it that is what your company does then say that and save the term(gulp) "civic engagement" for the ladies at the bar. Seriously though, theatre that makes people care enough to vote would be so much more engaging a marketing idea than the words (gulp) 'ciment' my new abbrev in hopes that I can keep this chicken bone down. it might seem sillier or too on the nose, but as a vehicle for communicating intent and value "Theatre that'll make you vote' is better than 'ciment'

(heh)

Slay said...

Well .... I just ... gulp ... stopped by to say that I sent an email to Jim O'Quinn. Thanks, Scott.

Scott Walters said...

Slay -- Good for you! Of course, now you'll never work in regional theatre again, but it was a courageous gesture! ;-)