Thanks to all those who explained their viewpoints concerning art as a job -- I think I understand better now. The more I read, the more a pattern started to emerge -- one with which I totally identify.
RZ/GreyZelda wrote: "I know that Don, Tony and myself feel like we do have lives that accompany all of these things. We're living in it, I guess ... my friends, husband, etc are all a part of my theatrical circle and I've met most of them through theatre. The only difference from the utopia you describe is that we're creating art (all with our own theatre companies that we all helped found, mind you) and making money during the day through an alternative source, aka "the day job". Maybe that'll change someday, but it's what's working for a lot of us right now. We're thankful for the jobs we have because it helps fund our work a lot of the time."
devilvet wrote: "The fact that I have a day job that provides me a salary in the high forties empowers me more to make theatre than quiting that job and selling t-shirts with my brand on it. Or trying to find a way to construct and market a class or workshop to sell to corporate America."
And Don is in a similar situation -- he's forty with his own company, a spouse who works with him on shows, and a good job that pays him well. All three of them are established, and have lives they enjoy.
On the other hand, many of those who seem most enthusiastic about the model I'm working on are just out of undergraduate or graduate school, and are often working day jobs that are not challenging or using their abilities. They don't have much stuff yet, and they're trying to figure out how to get a chance to do their work.
All of which is to say, the theatre tribe model may be a model for young people! Full disclosure: like RZ, devilvet, and Don, I have my life well established: I have a job that I love, and a life that I love as well. For those of you who have asked me whether I consider myself an artist -- no, I don't; I am a teacher who does theatre as an extension of teaching. For those of you who have asked why I haven't gone out and created a theatre on this model myself, the reason is that I am a teacher who has worked really hard to get my life exactly how I want it. I'm not an artist wannabe. I'm Obi Wan, not Luke Skywalker. In archetype-speak, I am the Mentor, not the Hero.
But even if I were an artist wannabe, at this stage of my life, if I had a job I liked reasonably well and a lifestyle that suited me, I probably wouldn't start all over. But when I think back to my 20s when I was struggling as a freelance director in Minneapolis while working a miserable job in a restaurant supply company and renting an apartment with crumbling plaster, when I had few major expenses and not a lot of debt -- well, the possibility of a theatre tribe might have been pretty attractive.
I don't think theatre tribes are a universal solution to what ails theatre. I'm not proposing that everybody chuck what they're doing and do this instead. If you are happy where you are and doing what you're doing, then for God's sake don't abandon it all to follow this circus. This bus ain't for you.
Back on February 27th, Joe at "Butts in Seats" posted about a listening tour that Building Movement did in 2004 that looked at young people in the non-profit sector. One thing they noticed, he wrote, is that "the younger generation is interested in balancing their lives rather than devoting so much of themselves to the job as their predecessors have done. Both also discuss the eagerness of the younger generation to participate in substantive decision making and responsibilities." I have noticed this as well. For the past couple years, I have noticed a trend in students on this campus -- not just in my department, but across the university. They are much more focused on the local, on their communities; they are much more interested in achieving a balanced life that includes a variety of people and experiences; and they want to contribute to what they are doing in substantive ways. For this generation, the generation that turned Ishmael into a cult classic (it was only a few years ago that I was seeing stenciled images of gorillas scattered around Asheville on the sides of buildings), an occupational tribe might be a better model than the one that those of us who are older are used to.
Remember, as a college professor my main concern every day is with young people. When I think about the health of the American theatre, I don't think in terms of the all-star cast of Long Day's Journey Into Night on Broadway, or even Mike Daisey's 41-year-old Seattle actress; I think about young people in their 20s who make the trek to NY, LA, or Chicago not because they want to, but because that's where they think they have to go. Every May, when I sit in my regalia and applaud another half dozen of my students who are going out into the world, I worry about how their talents are going to fit into the current system. I know that my colleagues and I tried to educate artists, and I worry that what the system wants are trained entertainers.
And so I decided to try to create an alternative, a way for intelligent, committed young people to band together and create art while maintaining control, as much as possible, over as many aspects of their lives as possible; that would allow them to achieve balance, and contribute to their communities. It's a New World Order much different than what George H. W. Bush imagined, and much different than those of us in our 30s and 40s comprehend. I think when you are in your 20s is when you should be practicing your art as much as possible, trying things out and learning how the magic of theatre works. Being in front of an audience, hearing your words spoken by actors, figuring out new ways to design, direct, act, and write. It is my hope that the theatre tribe model might be a way for young people to acquire this valuable experience, and live a life they find satisfying.
But it may not be a good model for people like me, Don, RZ, or devilvet. Moses never actuallt set foot in the Promised Land, but he pointed the way with a vision. I'm no Moses, but in some ways I'm doing something similar.