Saturday, April 26, 2008

Lot Full

I did my undergraduate work at the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, a huge campus of over 50,000 students. Of course, with that many students, not to mention the faculty and staff of the university, the major problem was predictable: parking. If you got to campus after a certain time, you usually found "Lot Full" signs standing in the entrances to most of the parking lots on campus, and often there were a dozen or so cars sitting in line waiting for somebody to finish class and vacate a spot. Sometimes you'd sit there an hour before there was a space for you.

The point I have been trying to make about Nylachi, and most recently about DC, is that these lots are full. When a lot on the U of MN campus is full, nobody went from building to building trying to get people who had a spot in that lot to move their cars. That would be a waste of time. But if there were other lots on campus that had plenty of parking spaces available, one might go up to the drivers of the cars in line and tell them, "Hey, maybe you oughta check out that lot about two blocks away -- they have lots of open spaces." And then it's up to the line-sitter to decide.

The same is true of the theatre. Don Hall has a spot in the Chicago lot, and for some reason he thinks I'm trying to persuade him to move to another lot, so he feels the need to defend his reason for parking there. I hope that Don and all my Nylachi friends will not take it personally when I say I'm not all that concerned with why you chose Nylachi, why you love it, why you stay. I am not trying to get you to pack up and head for some non-Nylachi place. I am thrilled for you that your Nylachi life is splendid. But to all those young people who are sitting in line waiting for a chance to park, I say, "Hey, there's another lot a few blocks away with a lot of space, you might want to try it out." I'm not telling them they have to go to another lot -- they can stay in line if they want. But they should know that they don't have to.

Don's reasons are perfectly valid. Some of them are about being a consumer -- lots of things to do in Chicago, lots of people to hang out with. My assumption, which for some people may be incorrect, is that doing work yourself is more satisfying than seeing the work of others. My assumption is that having the opportunity to do more work is an important motivator. And if what really revs your engine is competition -- playing in front of an audience in Nylachi is somehow beating the odds, and so more satisfying -- then more power to you. I have the belief, again perhaps not shared by everybody but perhaps shared by some, that an audience is an audience, people are not more important because of where they live, and that there might even be more satisfaction bringing the arts to a community that wouldn't have an opportunity to partake otherwise.

But let me reiterate: if you live in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington DC, or any other large city with a vigorous theatre scene and you are happy there, you have my applause and my blessing to just stay right where you are. And if you are someone who dreams of living in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington DC or any other large city with a vigorous theatre scene and you're willing to wait in line for the opportunity to try your hand, again you have my applause and my blessing to do exactly that. As if you all need my applause and blessing.

But if you are a theatre artist who doesn't want the big city life, who wants a family and a house, who thinks that 99 people in Vermillion IN are as important as 99 people in Greenwich Village, who wants the best chance to work frequently to develop your craft, then I invite you to consider the ideas I am developing.

It's as simple as that. It's another option. It's a choice.


isaac butler said...

hey scott,

i'm really happy you wrote this post! I think I can tell you where some of the defensiveness comes from (at least on my part, I've been trying not to express it so as not to derail your conversations, but since that's the subject of the conversation here, I feel comfortable doing so). Basically, although you state here (and I sincerely believe you mean it) that you don't mean to impugn the reasons why one has chosen to go to NYLACHI, you occasionally do engage in an imputation of motives.

The most obvious example of this is a shorthand you use called The CInderella Fantasy. This phrase implies that you believe the only reason that people move to or stay in NYLACHI is to get famous.

When you use that phrase (or something similar) it hits a real nerve with me, not because you're touching something accurate, but actually because I think it's an unfair and dishonest critique. And it makes me less likely to consider many of the other perfectly good points you might be making within the confines of the same post.

Does that make sense? I swear, if you retire that phrase, you'll get a lot less of people thinking you're trying to say that their reasons for going to / staying in NYLACHI are wrong.


Scott Walters said...

Isaac -- Thanks for the comment! I think I may have used that phrase without explaining my meaning (or perhaps my meaning has evolved over time), and that has caused the problem as well. I think a lot of young, naive theatre artists are drawn to NY because of the Cinderella Fantasy. Once they arrive, they either lose that fantasy as the reality of NYC educates them, and as a result they get more serious about their career (the NYC bloggers, for instance, if they ever harbored the Cinderllea Fantasy at all, now have moved way beyond it); or they give up and go home, deciding that they must not have been cut out for the arts. That latter group saddens me, because without that fantasy and an alternative path for pursuing art, they might have been perfectly happy doing theatre somewhere else. My goal is to provide a viable alternative that offers a different career path. Simple as that.

Don Hall said...

Scott -

I think Isaac is right on the nose with his comment and I applaud your tenacity in the argument - it isn't that I think you are trying to get me (or others in our lot) to move. I do question the accuracy of a basic building block i your premise, though.

You state that by going to the other lot, those looking for space can get "the best chance to work frequently to develop your craft" and I don't see that as the case.

Certainly, the 99 people in Vermillion are every bit as important as the 99 in he Village, but the reality is that of those 99, only about six of the Vermillion crowd is interested in anything beyond the most commercial fare while 80 of those in the Village while come out to see that which is new and original.

Thus, the promise that by moving and setting up shop provides an opportunity to work frequently is a false one unless your craft is limited to productions of melodramas and Greater Tuna with the odd production of West Side Story when you can find the local talent able to handle it.

I'm not saying that the goal of convincing folks to "Go West, Young Man" is not both feasible and noble in intent. I'm saying that the rosey picture you paint of the vast opportunity to work frequently is shaded with a number of limitations you aren't acknowledging.

Jess said...

Certainly, the 99 people in Vermillion are every bit as important as the 99 in he Village, but the reality is that of those 99, only about six of the Vermillion crowd is interested in anything beyond the most commercial fare while 80 of those in the Village while come out to see that which is new and original.

Before Scott jumps on it, let me say that the above is patently ridiculous.

Seriously? Because one lives in a small, midwestern community, they are less likely to "come out to see that which is new and original"?

That is the kind of provincial bullshit that makes my blood boil.

Don Hall said...

It may sound provincial, and you certainly have the right to leap to offended, but experience doesn't lie, brother.

And my experience is that there just isn't the interest in the small communities (midwestern or not). Certainly, there must be some exceptions so don't leap down my throat with your righteous indignation and proclaim that one fringe theater in Asheville, NC constitutes proof positive that the small, rural cats are so into the avant garde that that interest will sustain "frequent work" because that may not be provincial but bullshit it is.

J.D. said...

I love, love, love your parking lot analogy, and I intend to use it frequently in conversation. If (using the colloquial "I") I hold an opinion, it doesn't mean I must necessarily need or want to void everyone else's... it merely means I have an opinion.