Saturday, April 19, 2008

Defining Local

The theatre tribe idea is predicated on an artistic version of localism: "a range of political philosophies which prioritise the local. Generally they support local production and consumption of goods, local control of government, and local culture and identity. Localist politics have been approached from many directions by different groups. Nevertheless, localism can generally be described as related to Regionalism, and in opposition to Centralism." Here is Asheville, as in many communities across America, there is a strong "Eat Local" movement that surfaces in a strong system of farmer's markets and Community Supported Agriculture (or CSA's). This is a movement that also opposes the invasion of Big Box stores in favor of supporting local businesses.

Recently, I found myself at the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) website, which has descriptions of how to determine what is a local business. "Sometimes determining which businesses are local and independently owned can be difficult," they write. "How about a locally owned McDonald’s franchise? How about an insurance agent with a national company and a local office? Many businesses participate in cooperative marketing, offer exclusive lines, and have all sorts of other business agreements." In answer to these questions, they offer the following series of questions:

  1. Is the business privately held (not publicly traded)?
  2. Do the business owners, totaling greater than 50 percent of the business ownership, live in your local region?
  3. Is the business registered in your state, with no corporate or national headquarters outside your region?
  4. Can the business make independent decisions regarding the name and look of the business, as well as all business purchasing, practices, and distribution?
  5. Does the business pay all its own rent, marketing expenses, and other expenses (without assistance from a corporate headquarters)?
Looking at these questions, what jumps out at me is what makes a regional theatre so different from most other businesses. If you run through these questions, I think all regional theatres would be able to answer "yes" to every question, and thus claim the mantle of a local business. But what sets them apart from a traditional for-profit business, and what makes it so necessary that we make a clear definition of Localism" as it applies to regional theatre or what we are trying to create, is not ownership and control of decision-making, but rather the workforce itself.

In order to define a "local theatre," we might refocus question #2 on the fulcrum point of the issue:
"Does the artistic staff, totaling greater than 50 percent of the artistic staff, live in your local region?"
To my mind, 50% might be overly generous -- I would prefer a much higher number, and in the case of a theatre tribe I'd want the number to be 100%. But it would be interesting to find out what percentage of a regional theatre's artistic staff are residents of the county in which they are working. Where are they registered to vote, for instance?

A quick tour of the actors in the Guthrie's Midsummer Night's Dream, for instance, would reveal what seems to be an admirable number of Minneapolitans in the cast, many drawn from the Univ of MN / Guthrie BFA training program, which would win my applause. Their production of August Wilson's Gem of the Ocean is a presentation of local Penumbra Theatre's production, which seems also to include mostly local actors. Kudos to the Guthrie!

It is difficult to get information about the Goodman's actors -- I found no links to castlists or actor names. However, there is an "Artistic Collective" that "is a diverse group of outstanding American theater artists who make Goodman their artistic home," which includes Robert Falls, Frank Galati, Mary Zimmerman, et al -- all of whome seem to live in the Chicago area. Their link for auditions says that they have annual auditions in Chicago and "frequently" in NY, and they tell in-town actors that "Goodman holds out-of-town auditions infrequently, and the need for actors outside the Chicago area depends specifically upon the demands of each individual production." Perhaps most indicative is that auditions held outside the Chicago area are "by invitation only..." So it is difficult to make a judgment.

I encourage you to do your own research concerning a theatre of particular interest to you. Is it a local theatre?


Tom Christoffel said...

Hi Scott - Your post questioning about local and regional theater is interesting. It is an example of what I call "regional community." It is going on all over the U.S. and the world. A link to this post will be in the April 23, 2008 issue of Regional Community Development News. It will be on-line April 24 at Please visit, check the resources and even consider a link. Regional theater is often associated with the Creative Class ideas of Richard Florida. Cheers. Tom

Laura said...

I don't have any hard numbers, but in my years in Chicago, my impression was that most Goodman actors were local except for the star-stunt casting phenomenon, such as Stacy Keach as King Lear. I actually would not look so much to the established year-round urban theatres, because I think they use lots of local actors. It's the theatres in towns that only have one or two theatres, and often primarily only operate summer stock seasons, that seem to me to do an inordinate amount of "importing." I'm now in small town central New York state. There is actually kind of a lot of theatre in the region. But most of the acting is done by imports from New York City who are living here only for the length of the show. I have actually heard theatre managers here complain about working with extremely talented local artists because the fact that they have lives makes scheduling really inconvenient.

Markus said...

Good Job! :)