Monday, April 28, 2008

On Small Town Audiences (A Reply to Don Hall)

Over the weekend, Don Hall responded to my post entitle "Lot Full," which was a response to his post "Why Nylachi (dc)." My initial reaction was to do what Jess did in reaction and write a post that said, in essence, "That is the kind of provincial bullshit that makes my blood boil." But because it was Don, whose thoughts I often admire, I decided to step away from the keyboard and think about what was behind his comments.
(As a side note, this is one reason that signed comments are more valuable than anonymous ones. Had this been an anonymous comment, I would have probably nuked the bastard without a second thought. And it is that second thought that is valuable, because it encouraged me to think through more thoroughly what points I want to make and fully consider what point Don was trying to make, rather than simply engage in the emotionally satisfying flame.)
So here is Don's comment, which was a response to my assertion that an audience was an audience, no matter where it was:
Certainly, the 99 people in Vermillion are every bit as important as the 99 in the 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.
It would be easy enough to point out that West Side Story originated in New York, and is scheduled for a Broadway revival, and that Greater Tuna ran for over a year at Off-Broadway's Circle in the Square and played to packed houses in metropolitan areas such as San Francisco, Atlanta, Houston and Hartford and eventually was turned into an HBO special by Norman Lear. And a quick glance at the plays running in Chicago right now include Fiorello!, Angel Street, Sweeney Todd, Blithe Spirit, Comedy of Errors, and Driving Miss Daisy -- and those are just a few of the titles. New York isn't much different: Equus, Marriage of Bette and Boo, The Adding Machine, Boeing-Boeing, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Chicago, The Country Girl, Grease, Gypsy. Well, you get my point: you're just as likely to find yourself appearing in revivals of musicals and popular comedies in New York or Chicago as in Vermillion IN.

But since we're talking about 99 people, maybe we mean off-off-Broadway. What shows are playing there? A Little Night Music, two productions of Alice in Wonderland, Antony and Cleopatra, Arcadia, Cinderella, Edward the King, Everyman. Again, a partial listing. And looking through the "new" shows, I see an awful lot in both Chicago and New York that bear a distinct resemblance to Greater Tuna, new though they are.

Alternately, take a look at the productions done by, say, Dell Arte, an ensemble theatre company based in Blue Lake, CA, population 1,135; or Roadside Theatre located in Whitesburg KY, population 1,600; or Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble, celebrating 30 years in Bloomsburg, PA, population 12,375. There are many more examples of small town theatre doing challenging, new, and original work.

In response to Jess's accusation of provincial bullshit, Don responded this morning:
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.
I would like to know just what experience it is that doesn't lie? Because scanning the list of Network of Ensemble Theatres, for instance, turns up quite of few theatre producing "new and original" fare.

So perhaps what Don is talking about are community theatres, which perhaps can be expected to produce more mainstream fare. Fair enough, but I'm not talking about community theatres, but professional theatres. And my point is that as long as professional theatre artists remain huddled in Nylachi, the need for theatre (and it is a need) will be satisfied by community theatre fair.

So the facts don't lie -- there is commercial fare in Nylachi, and there is "new and original" work in small towns. But the underlying assumption of Don's comments needs to be addressed. There are two interpretations one might make:
  • Non-Nylachi audiences are not as "sophisticated" as Nylachi audiences, and not as open to "new and original" work; and/or
  • Because the total number of potential audience members in a small town is smaller, and because "new and original" work (or even more specifically "avant-garde" work) is to the taste of only a small percentage of the theatregoing audience, the likelihood that a theatre devoted to "new and original" work can find an audience in a small town is unlikely.
The former idea is an old one, based less in contemporary reality than in history. Up until the 1930s or so, to live in rural America meant a high degree of isolation. Access to information and ideas from around the world was restricted, and so small towns tended to be self-contained. This led to the reputation for provincialism. However, today we live in a world where no matter where you live you have access 24/7 to the same television shows, the same films, the same books, the same newspapers, the same NPR programs, the same internet information as anyone in Nylachi. But old ideas die hard, and when newspaper reporters are forced by a national presidential campaign to venture outside the Beltway or away from the metropolitan areas, they do their best to seek out images that will reinforce their preconceptions. But those preconceptions are old fashioned and uninformed. What they are actually reporting is not about geography, but rather about class. As the economic policies of the US have increasingly emphasized cities and de-emphasized small town America, as the mainstream media have repeated and repeated the idea that big city life is exciting and the place for smart people, and small town life is boring and for the backward, the nation's young have fled small town America for the cities. This is the source of what has been called the rural "brain drain." Who is left behind are the poor and under-educated, and those are the people that the reporters seek out as representative of small town America. But here's an interesting trend: older college educated workers have been returning to small town America in droves, either for retirement or to raise families (exchanging a long commute for a lower cost of living and better schools) or to pursue high-tech businesses that need only a high-speed internet connection to be successful. Also, environmentally-conscious people have also begun moving back to the country in search of a healthier, more natural, and more self-sufficient lifestyle. All of this means that the options for theatre people are not as constrained as Don would imply.
(Although we might want to discuss whether the poor and uneducated deserve a theatre as well.)
The second argument, about the small percentage of the theatre audience that is interested in the avant-garde, has a certain level of truth. Art on the bleeding edge has always been a minority taste, and being able to find 99 people in a city of three million (or 8 million, in the case of NYC) who have such tastes, especially when a sizable number can be drawn from the community of theatre artists and their friends, might be easier than in a small town. On the other hand, I would argue that the willingness to experience the new and original might be enhanced by the trust that develops as the result of an ongoing relationship between an ensemble of artists and their community. Furthermore, one might argue that the artists' knowledge of their spectators' skill level, again because of an ongoing relationship, allows them to more effectively bring them to the edge of their abilities and challenge them to stretch. I wrote about this in my post "Theatre's Value in Three Words" that was part of the mass blogging on the value of theatre:
"One of the keys to flow is that there needs to be a balance between ability level and challenge. If we conceive of ourselves, as artists, as the creators of flow experiences, then it is contingent on us to know and understand our audience so that we can create productions that challenge spectators to dance along the edge of their skills.
So in actuality, having a theatre in a place that is small enough for you to get to know your audience, far from encouraging mainstream safety, may allow for even broader experimentation than a theatre drawing its audience from the faceless mass of potential theatre goers.
(Another side discussion might be whether there aren't, in fact, many, many theatre people who would be quite happy doing West Side Story and Greater Tuna or other pure entertainment on a regular basis, or the classics done in a traditional fashion, and for whom the murky world of the avant-garde holds little charm. In fact, I would say that the regional theatre movement itself is built on such values, at least to some extent. Are we going to define the success of a business model according to whether it makes the world safe for the avant-garde?)
The root of Don's concerns are probably expressed here:
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.
Apparently, Don is concerned that I might be leading theatre artists down the primrose path, and he is here to balance my "follow the yellow brick road" with the fact that there are "lions and tigers as bears" along the road. I have never said that the creation of a theatre in a small town is going to be easy. In fact, it will be difficult. But doing theatre is Nylachi is difficult as well; it has been ever thus. What I am saying is that it will be difficult in different ways than it is difficult in Nylachi, and that those challenges might be worth exploring. Not for dyed-in-the-wool Nylachi-ites like Don, but for others whose personal pathways don't lead them to the metropolis.

But the idea that the audience in small town America is uninterested in anything but low-end mainstream fare simply doesn't hold water.

45 comments:

Laura Sue said...

If it takes the population base of a megalopolis to get 99 people in to see a play, then maybe something is wrong with the play. Don states what we local yokels have known for years: the theater community thinks we're stupid and don't have any taste. Gee whiz. I wonder why we don't go to the theater more?

Dr. Dub, you just keep trying to tell them what just might be true. We are intelligent. We have taste. We love to watch theater presented to us, not at us. We love theater that challenges and touches us. Nobody will believe you, but you just keep tellin' 'em anyway.

Don Hall said...

laura sue -

Interesting.

In no way have I indicated in anything that I wrote that I think folks in non-Nylachi areas are "unsophisticated" or "stupid" or "don't have any taste."

- donny ray

Scott -

Overall, I think your response is well-balanced and I agree with almost all of it. I agree that there are opportunities in less populated areas to create theater. My only hedge is on the idea that anyone - ANYONE - will move their troupe to Idaho and find frequent opportunities to produce new work.

The experience of which I speak is personal. My experience has been that, unless one makes the sacrifice of artistic autonomy to throw the masses a popular bone or two in a calendar year, the new and original has no chance to sustain the organization. Nothing wrong with that trade off if spending time on old Broadway chestnuts and Neil Simon works for you. There isn't anything inherently bad about performing theater that also provides chicken marsala and a choice of iced tea or cola, but in your suggestion to be theatrical Johnny Appleseeds, it might be more forthcoming to indicate that trade off.

Chicago is unusual in that, while real estate is expensive, anyone can put up a solid black box production just about anywhere and have a reasonable expectation that he will receive some press and some audience. My experience indicates that that simply is not the case in non-Nylachi areas of the country in general.

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm....How would Wooster Group, Guillermo Pena, Richard Foreman, Susan Lori Parks, and others succeed in small to mid sized rural America town. Not a touring shows but as local talent?

And how does one answer the following possiblity that small town audiences are capable of enbracing new and original works so long as those works do not exceed their "skill" level (a notion in of itself as offensive as anything proposed by a NYLACHIan) and that the "skill" you speak of is a veiled term for political, cultural, sensibilities?

i.e. new and original is ok but only so long as certain stereotypical yet hard to define conservative constraints are adhered to by the artist.

-dv

Scott Walters said...

While I'm not certain that I agree with you, Donny Ray, I'd like you to explain how those "popular bones" that you feel are necessary for survival in a small market is different than for survival in a large market. And with all due respect, if you believe that I couldn't get 35 - 40 people, which is the top number of people who you report attended your latest show, to attend any show I decided to put up anywhere in small town America, then I would say you are full of it. If that's the bar, it is pretty easily jumped. I would assert that it is, in fact, you who are painting a rosy picture of the Chicago theatre scene.

Scott Walters said...

Sorry, dv it is you who are reading the insult into the skill level content. Every audience has a skill level, Nylachi or non-Nylachi, and it is influenced by any number of factors.

And again, I would ask you, dv, as I did in the original post, whether the criteria for the success of a theatre model is making it viable for the avant-garde? I would say no, but that the avant-garde is not beyond the pale, small town nor large. Although frankly, I don't feel really driven to figure out a way to sell Richard Foreman and the Wooster Group in any market. But you're getting pretty specific in your demands -- apparently it ain't enough to do decent theatre, it is only valuable if it is obscure.

Paul Rekk said...

Scott, you may want to take down that Bloomsburg link, unless you consider a season including You Can't Take It With You, Christmas Carol, Blithe Spirit, and Midsummer Night's Dream new and challenging.

The larger point seems to be a matter of percentages. Of course there's audiences for new and challenging work regionally and for the standbys in NYLACHI. But there is a larger audience base in NYLACHI, so there will be larger houses. That's less important for the popular shit, but regionality faaar more often than not is death for the avant-garde, which may only pull 99 people in Chicago (and any person who feels that fact alone invalidates the work can stay in the sticks and/or at Blithe Spirit).

Scott, your argument that a regional audience can be challenged differently and perhaps more easily is very true, but it only applies to artists who create art for the audience, not those who create art and then find the audience.

All in all, I'm with you on decentralization, but there is a small portion of the theatre community that, in the current system, almost universally requires the large resources of NYLACHI in order to make good of it. I see myself in that small portion, Don's also riding that line if not fully in the group as well.

I don't hate the sticks -- I've spent 90% of my life there. But it don't work for everyone. Of course, this is stuff you already know.

Scott Walters said...

And Don, for the benefit of my readers, perhaps you could spell out a little more the personal experience you are referring to. What experience do you have in offering theatre to small town markets, how long were you there, and did you try to offer "new and original" work or simply assume they wouldn't get it? Inquiring minds want to know.

Anonymous said...

Scott,

In a college town, I think you can get those 35-40 people to see lets say a dada show for one night.

I remember in Melbourne, Fl...a production of Night Mother that was universally applauded by Orlando Sentinel, Florida Today, etc.etc.etc...

Average audience turn out 2 people a night for a 4 week run.

Can you get 35-40 people a night for 4 weeks to come to dada show? Without the boon of the college theatre dept atmosphere?

If that is the case, then why are kids leaving the small towns?

The answer is that no amount of audience in those towns is going to keep those precious little kids in the small town. Many aren't fleeing small houses and Neil Simon productions...they are fleeing the small town itself...that is anything thing we dont talk about so much here.

Even if theatre were suddenly to disappear from the face of the nation...these kids you're leading down the yellow brick bear filled road...most would FLEE the small town anyway.

City living can be shitty...but small town live can be equally shitty.

I know of a puppet organization in a big southern city (I'm not going to name a name). They do an awesome experimental puppet and animation festival every year...and every year they have to turn people away at the door. The show runs 2 to 3 nights and then closes. When I attempted to get the org to do more than 3 nights a week of anything other than children's puppetry...the answer was no out of concern that they couldn't a) sustain the audience or b) could their brand handle anything more than 2 nights of non-conservative art?

The weird thing is Both Scott and Don are right.

-dv

Scott Walters said...

Yes, Paul -- and "Incorruptible" and "Three Days of Rain." And Paul, I've already made the point extensively that small towns ain't for everybody. The point I am arguing, and that Don is denying, is that it isn't for anybody -- that doing theatre in a small market means dinner theatre exclusively. And that is simply wrong.

I have said it until I am blue in the face: you love Nylachi, for God's sake stay there. I'm not trying to lure you from the full lot. But quit trying to diss the other lots that are available.

Don Hall said...

I'd like you to explain how those "popular bones" that you feel are necessary for survival in a small market is different than for survival in a large market.

In Nylachi, you don't have to create anything commercially driven. If the show has any merit at all, there will be an audience of some quantity. In non-Nylachi, sure, I can 45 people to see a DADA show over three performances and then we're done. Everyone in Vermillion that wanted to see DADA just did. If I want to, ask you state earlier, frequently work in the craft of my choosing, I gotta put up some Pajama Game and The Odd Couple or resort to throwing up some wacky Improv show that also serves drinks if I want to sustain the artist lifestyle.

Here is where reality smacks your picture of small town opportunity in the chops.

I go to Chicago and perform in a dark, nightmarish piece about Jekyll and Hyde and get an average audience of 20 people. When I'm done with that show, I still have fifty different opportunities to do similar work on any given week, regardless of the fact that I need a day job to eat.

I go to Camel Hump, WY and perform the same show for 20-50 people over the course of six nights and when the run is over, the only opportunity to perform (hell, to even see) anything more adventurous than How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying to a crowd busy gnawing on veggie lasagna is if I go out an create it myself four months later and only if my day job (also necessary in Camel Hump) can afford to pay for it.

My point? Certainly there are opportunities to practice the work, just not something even remotely close to frequently.

It is as ridiculous to paint the non-Nylachi areas as stupid hicks as it is to paint them as secret enclaves of hungry art patrons.

Anonymous said...

"Although frankly, I don't feel really driven to figure out a way to sell Richard Foreman and the Wooster Group in any market. But you're getting pretty specific in your demands -- apparently it ain't enough to do decent theatre, it is only valuable if it is obscure."

ohhhhh...I'm sorry. You find these guys to be too obscure? Maybe your mission has less to do with location and actually has to do with content then?

Do you teach these guys in your class....or are they too obscure?

Is PS122 just a huddle of obscure artists who really cant make it in the sticks becuase hmmmmmm they suck?

Anyhooo

Well you get pretty specific about your folks like "Roadside" but I didnt just dismiss them or tell you to take them off the table...(see Scott this is where you slip always starts to show during this arguements)

See you call these artists obscure, Scott, but they are actually treasures of the American Stage. You can call me closed minded if you like, but your quote above speaks in direct opposition to laura sue's and jess' assertions.

See, I want to know how you respond to notion that the "skill" you speak of has less to do with the contextuality a audience has with modern theatrical and artistic convetion, and has more to do with politcal cultural tolerance for voices of non-conservative dissent.

The only reason a non-NYLACHI wouldn't be offended at the notion that you as their shaman have to cushion them becuase of their skill is that your ends and their ends are the same dispite the means...which is always a rah rah for the small town and veiled statement equaling "Down with NYLACHI" or "NYLACHIDC" how many more are we going to add?

Down with NYLACHIDCATLSEATTLE and Houston and except for that SXSW fest, man those troubadors are sinnnnnncere!

-dv

Don Hall said...

Re: Personal experience.

Wichita Shakespeare Theater

Hardly new or original but the only way we got ANY audience was to stage it outside, in the park, for free. We tried it in theater space and charged minimal admission and it was a wash.

Fayetteville, AR.

In college, I put together a small group of interested actors and we put up an evening of short Pinter pieces (also hardly new or original). We ran for three weekends and charged $5.00 admission. We had seven people come (this after a massive campaign all over the small city's numerous bookstores and hotspots as well as throughout campus).

The only successful experiences I've been involved in in small, non-Nylachi towns have been when I was in an original Christian musical (which was kind of icky), and productions of musicals written half a century ago.

Perhaps, as laura sue states, there is just something wrong with the work I do, but I seem to do all right in Nylachi. Chicken? Egg?

Anonymous said...

If scott-"whether the criteria for the success of a theatre model is making it viable for the avant-garde? I would say no"

then this

LS-"We love theater that challenges" is nothing but lip service.

To claim to be both accepting of a challenge but unconcerned if not outright hostile to the avantgarde...

cake and eat it too...I guess.

Still interested in an amplication of how an audience's skill is actually not just
a euphamism for their inability to accept challenge...true challenge...

Any that the small town has a need to curtail the avant garde, very mush in the same way you Scott express a desire to marginalize them.

We are all for diversity and challenge in our little town, just so long as you are diverse and challenging in the "right" way...i.e. just so long as you don't exceed our "skill"

-dv

Paul Rekk said...

I guess I fail to see the diss in my stance, Scott. The people in my hometown are not interested in the work that I, under ideal circumstances, would be presenting. To step away from all these hypotheticals and exceptions for a second: I spent the first 21-22 years of my life in George, IA (pop. ~1200). My high school graduating class was 36 people. It's safe to say that I know these people inside and out. There are people who enjoy the community/dinner style theatre. There are people who enjoy Broadway style theatre. There are people who enjoy a little more challenging fare. For the most part there are people who don't give a shit about theatre and only go to see a show if their kid is in it.

I know a handful of people who are familiar with Dada (although few fans). I know one - one! - person who is even familiar with the Oulipo, and he doesn't even live in the same county as George. Niche art doesn't belong in depopulated areas because the niches aren't present in depopulated areas. I could put up a Dada show in George and maybe get 35-40 people for one or two nights. And 75% of them would never come to anything I did again.

But you are referring to Richard Greenberg and a "zany farce" about monks raising money for their monastary as challenging work -- if that's your vision of challenging work, go for it. That sort of challenging you probably could make work in George.

Then again, you could argue that the current theatre setup in George is a community theatre and not a professional theatre. In which case, I'm curious how a professional theatre with a focus on bringing the work to the community is going to be met with different expectations than a theatre by the community. And how those different expectations avoid painting the professional theatre as bringing the art to the people who are too unaware to know they needed it.

Honestly, Scott, I'm with you. But this is my heritage you're trying to educate me on. And you may have lived regionally, but based on the lists you've provided, you've never spent major time in small towns. There's a BIG difference between 120,000 and 12,000. And a monumental difference between 120,000 and 1,200. It can work. But it's not going to be much easier than making a go of it in NYLACHI. There's just an entirely different set of obstacles. And to anyone who is willing to take that on, I fully support them. But most of the Cinderella kids who couldn't cut it in the big city aren't going to cut it in a tribe either.

Scott Walters said...

dv -- I see we've crossed the line from argument to being an asshole. Fine.

My mission, even though you choose not to accept it, is to allow theatre people another alternative to Nylachi. I don't care what shape that theatre takes -- that's for the artists and their audience to decide. I personally don't like Richard Foreman, the Wooster Group, or Dada because I personally value art that communicates meaning, so I wouldn't promote them, nor will I use them as the yardstick to measure success. I do not accept that a metropolitan audience is somehow intrinsically more interested in Dada than anyone else. Could I run a Dada show to 35 - 40 people a night for a short run? Sure, if the production was as good as the one Don did apparently was, I think I could sell that many tickets. People are interested in good theatre no matter where they are.

As far as the rest of your tirade, you are making a huge leap and I suggest you leap back. First of all, Foreman, the Wooster Group, and Dada are not "voices of non-conservative dissent." There is about as much political content in a Richard Foreman show as there is in Legally Blonde. All of them are experimenters in artistic formalism, and if there is dissent there, it is pretty arcane dissent, dissent for theatre and lit majors. So get off your soapbox, this isn't red state / blue state bullshit. And I am probably further to the left than you are ever likely to be.

Second, and I would like to say this clearly, so that I don't have to say it again because I have said it about a zillion times already: I have no interest in saying "down with Nylachi." You can stay there until hell freezes over for all I care. What I am invested in is geographical diversity, and a breaking of the Nylachi hegemony as far as culture is concerned. And if that gets your undies in a bundle because it is necessary for you to think that the Nylachi is the center of the theatrical universe, well too bad.

As far as "cushioning" the audience because of their "skill," you need to give that one up right now, because I have said nothing of the kind. I believe that a theatre artist and his or her audience should know each other, should have an ongoing relationship. I think that my choice of material, and my choice of artistic means, should reflect that relationship. As in any healthy relationship, it isn't all about one person. It ain't all about me, and it ain't all about them. It is an exchange, a conversation. Theatre artists like you get all bent out of shape when the whole conversation isn't about fulfilling YOUR desire. "I've got a vision." Well, I'm sorry, but I think the phrase is "We've got a vision," meaning me as an artist and you as an audience member. It is about us. And if you think that having respect for your audience is a sign of insult, then you are more screwed up than I can ever imagine.

Don, as far as having "fifty different opportunites" to do another show after one of yours closes, true enough. On the other hand, if you have your own theatre, you close one show and move on to the next, and it is a show of your choosing. Sounds like artistic control to me. Furthermore, if you perform in rotating rep as I suggest is most efficient, you never close a show, you just keep performing. And that sounds like opportunity to me.

Don Hall said...

On the other hand, if you have your own theatre, you close one show and move on to the next, and it is a show of your choosing.

Scott -

If I can only run each show for a maximum of six nights before I've tapped out the potential audience in Camel Hump, do you honestly propose that I produce some 60-65 shows in rep over the course of a year to the same 40-45 people in town until I die of a heart attack? Great life you're proposing there. Nice price to pay for artistic control.

Aside from that snark, I will say that while utopian in concept, the reality your pushing (geographical diversity in culture) is so completely unrealistic you might as well be trying to convince me that if someone moves to a non-Nylachi area, they will greeted as liberators and given bowls of chocolate and garlands made of cash.

I have no beef with your desire to decentralize things, although I'm not entirely certain why you feel it is important beyond that you have a general distaste for Nylachi. My one and only point to make (and I'll make it once more and get back to work) is that you need to think this model you're promoting through a bit because I'd submit that, instead of being the same or easier to create new and challenging original theater in non-Nylachi, it is measurably more difficult and with far fewer artistic rewards.

Scott Walters said...

dv -- no, I'm sorry, but defining "theatre that challenges" as narrowly as you are just isn't acceptable. There are many, many things that challenge, and not just the formalist wing.

Don -- I'm sorry, but a bunch of college kids doing one production of Harold Pinter, even with a media blitz, is hardly experience that is relevant to this discussion. How long has it taken you to build up WNEP's audience? It's about an ongoing relationship, whether you are in Chicago or in wherever. Just because you offer something doesn't mean people have to accept it. Clearly, Harold Pinter was important to you, but did you know your audience well enough to know whether it was valuable to them? Or doesn't that matter? Is there any reason for that audience to trust that what you offered was going to be worthwhile? Or is it just enough that you did the show and so everybody else oughta just get in line? You do one uncommitted production in college, and that's evidence to characterize the whole of smalltown America.

Paul -- You know, my examples of Blue Lake CA and Whitesburg KY were specifically chosen to indicate that even places as small as that were open to new work, not that everybody ought to confine their efforts to towns of 1200. There are a few steps between 3 million and 1200, right? But clearly Dell Arte and Roadside connected to their audience, cared about their relationship to that audience, and made an effort to communicate with that audience. That's my point. And that's my model. It isn't that you just transplant the Wooster Group into Blue Lake. The Wooster Group reflects its surroundings -- it is a specifically downtown Manhattan theatre. I think all theatres should reflect their surroundings. I don't think theatre should be interchangeable. A theatre in Blue Lake ought to be different than a theatre in Manhattan. Not better or worse, just different, unique, LOCAL.

Scott Walters said...

Don -- I have been thinking through this model constantly for a long time now. My suggestion is that you spend a little time using your imagination so that your idea of reality has room for change in it, because when you start using words like "unrealistic" what you are saying is "not what exists today" and "I can't imagine it myself." Neither of which is a valid reason to reject anything.

In the same way that you can't figure out why I would propose decentralization (and for some reason feel that it is a personal kvetch on my part), I can't figure out why you have such a need to debunk my efforts, unless you harbor a similar kvetch against smaller towns. By the way, just so that you don't miss it, I was being ironical: I don't think you have a kvetch against smaller towns, nor do I have a kvetch against big ones.

Don Hall said...

Gee whiz, Scott.

You asked what my personal experience was just so you could dismiss it as irrelevant. OK.

I think the Readers might find it interesting what your experience in producing theater is - both in Nylachi and on the outskirts. I figure if my personal experience is irrelevant to the discussion, then yours must be relevant, yes?

Anonymous said...

"I see we've crossed the line from argument to being an asshole. Fine."
LOL!
Now...that's entertainment!!!!

I'm sure if we were in the room together you'd throw that beer right in my face!!! You told me I could get itchy...

If you don't see political content in a production of Emperor Jones by Wooster Group especially remounted in this year, if you only see formalist experiementation...then no one can Help you.

If you think Susan Lori Parks' plays don't have political content or tell stories?!!! Then no one can help you...

All kidding aside, I must have hit a nerve...However, thanks for letting me know that no matter how left I go, you'll be there to one up me!

"I have no interest in saying "down with Nylachi."

See, but when you criticize a branch of work with historical precendent that exists solely in/and because of those places that its current inhabitants are building upon as irrelevent or too obscure...you might as well be saying down with NYLACHI.

What I hear between lines is..I got no problem with that town or the people there. My problem is with the art that can only exist in those areas...So you take the easy road, you de-value those forms unique to that locale...

Again, take away the art...and those kids you're saving from their own warped ambition still flee the small town.

NYLACHI doesn't have to be the center of the theatrical universe, I wish it wasn't...but I don't think you'll except that as sincere...your tirade at me above has displayed that.

"As far as "cushioning" the audience because of their "skill," you need to give that one up right now, because I have said nothing of the kind."

I can't give it up Scott, becuase that is all it is...that is all it breaks down to...

"Theatre artists like you get all bent out of shape when the whole conversation isn't about fulfilling YOUR desire. "I've got a vision." Well, I'm sorry, but I think the phrase is "We've got a vision," meaning me as an artist and you as an audience member. It is about us. And if you think that having respect for your audience is a sign of insult, then you are more screwed up than I can ever imagine."

Aint it truth Scott, the other guy, whom ever he is... is never nearly as sincere or heartfelt or purposeful as oneself, the other guy has no idea about how an audience wants to be approached or valued or assessed...

r u really going to win anyone over this sort of "asshole" comment? Anyone other than a previous convert?

It is always the other guy who is selfish, auteuristic and subsumed in a selfish vision...never oneself........what's that I smell? Self Decpetion sir...self deception.

The sad thing to my mind here is that despite your proclaimed ambivilence to NYLACHI, you consistently display aggression or dismissal of the elements and things that would make those scenes and cities unique in a decentralizaed utopia of which you dream.

Don't you think that speaks volumes?

If the climate in this small towns is so ready for a challenge, then what is the rumpus? If I need to give up the "skill" intrepretation then you need to give up the whole..."Im trying to save the kids" line. It smacks of self-decpetion to me.

"Don -- I'm sorry, but a bunch of college kids doing one production of Harold Pinter, even with a media blitz, is hardly experience that is relevant to this discussion."

uhhhhhh...aint these the same college kids you are telling to stay in small city?...It seems to me that more so than any other example...this one is the most relevant to the conversation...but since it doesn't fit in or support the primrose path...you once again dismiss it as irrelevant?

I also find it pleasantly ironic that one can accept a challenge only so long as they don't have to adhere to another's definition of "challenge"? And if one fails at said challenge they merely dismiss the idea as formalist, or non-narrative drivel, or without merit...I suppose "We" don't have a vision..."You" have one "I" have one...you keep it up with all that "we" talk...kemosabe (pun intented Mr Lefterthanthou)

That is provincial. It borders on xenophobic.

-Asshole signing off!!!

;)
dv

Scott Walters said...

Don -- My Nylachi producing experience would be relevant if I was using it to say that producing in Nylachi was impossible. Then you would be right to say "have you ever done it?" And then I'd have to say, "No" or "yes, I produced a show once and it tanked," and then you'd have a right to say,"Geez -- one show and you're ready to pronounce something impossible?" You can't generalize from such a small sampling size!

My producing experience. I ran my own summer theatre in my home town starting when I was 17 years old complete with city funding. I ran it for four years, during which time we did a new play we acquired through the Milwaukee Rep, Arthur Miller's "All My Sons," Frank Gilroy's "The Subject Was Roses," Clifford Odets' "The Country Girl," John Dos Passos "USA," James Lee's "Career," and Noel Coward's "Private Lives." In Minneapolis, I did an independent production of Henrik Ibsen's "Master Builder," and was two days away from having my own theatre when the city condemned the building (leaving me with a hundred movie theatre seats stuffed in the basement). I was Associate Artistic Director of the Illinois Shakespeare Festival for several years. As Chair of the Drama Dept at UNCA, I was the producer of our annual season.

The Director said...

Don said:

"Chicago is unusual in that, while real estate is expensive, anyone can put up a solid black box production just about anywhere and have a reasonable expectation that he will receive some press and some audience. My experience indicates that that simply is not the case in non-Nylachi areas of the country in general."

I don't disagree with you. In fact, that has been my experience as well. However.. I think the point here is that it shouldn't have to be that way. Nylachi(dc) shouldn't be the only places where anyone can put up a black box show and expect a reasonable amount of press coverage and audiences.

It IS that way, but it shouldn't be.

Anonymous said...

Please note that the production of Adding Machine runnning Off-Broadway is not a revival, but a new musical adaptation transferred to New York from Chicago's Next Theatre.

Scott Walters said...

dv --

"See, but when you criticize a branch of work with historical precendent that exists solely in/and because of those places that its current inhabitants are building upon as irrelevent or too obscure...you might as well be saying down with NYLACHI."

No no no!!! I am perfectly happy that Wooster Group exists! It just doesn't have to exist everywhere. The thing that makes the Wooster Group powerful is that they reflect their community. They fit perfectly into the downtown NY scene. But they are not universal -- nothing is. I am delighted to see NY, LA, and Chicago as unique -- they unique, which is not to say that they are universal or transferable.

And yes, Suzan Lori-Parks is very political, which is why I didn't talk about her. And I also think she transfers well, by the way -- Topdog/Underdog was done here in Asheville to strong houses.)

Don's experience with Pinter in Arkansas isn't relevant because it was a one-and-done production promoted through traditional media channels. There was no attempt to build an audience. So you can't dismiss the idea of a non-metropolitan theatre through one production of Pinter done by college kids, for God's sake. Now, if Don had stayed in Arkansas and spent the same amount of time building an audience as he has spent developing the WNEP audience, that would be something else entirely.

Here is what I wrote in a side email flurry with Don: "what I am looking for is a group of artists who want to learn by doing -- who feel that being in front of an audience, no matter whether it is reading a short story or in a full production of Hamlet, is a way to develop their talent and fulfill their need to create. I don'[t want purists, and I don't want snobs. I want people who are blue-collar, lunchpail types who don't feel superior to their audience because they have a BA in Theatre. I want them to live in the community, coach a Little League softball team, and work out at the Y. I don't want theatre to be a rarified thing that exists "over there," but something that is vibrant and immediate. I want them to feel as if the plays that are done speak directly to their lives and experiences and inner selves."

One of the major factors in this model is a new relationship between audience and artist, one that is based on a relationship between equals. I think that is crucial for a theatre in a smaller market. And for me, Richard Foreman just isn't that guy! He doesn't care about the audience, allhe cares about is getting his vision out there. And that's great -- it is his right, and he has done it long ago that he has developed his own audience that waits for each new production. But that ain't what I'm proposing.

Anonymous said...

Well...

I'm molified

(sigh)

-dv

Sarah McL said...

Ohh, I love a good dust-up in the theatrosphere! God bless you, Dr. Walters, for riling everyone up.

nick@ said...

Thanks Scott, Don, and all for the conversation.

Best to have trust funds or endowments or a good day job when producing theatre in either NYLACHI or Camel Hump, WY.

Roadside Theatre earns only $40,000 of its $1.5 million yearly budget from box office. So the theatre needs 96% of its income from someone/somewhere other than Whitesburg, KY. Both Dell Arte and Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble are schools probably more than theatres. And they both tour their productions outside their towns. So the populations of Blue Lake, CA and Whitesburg, KY and Bloomsburg, PA are not the actual “communities” supporting these theatres. The Noh school of BTE has little to do with the residents of Bloomsburg, PA.

None of Scott’s theatre producing adventures in Tiny Town would have ever earned him a middle class income unless he also secured endowments or government funding. Forget about providing for an entire ensemble of actors. Of course likewise Don’s Dada adventures in NYLACHI. But I think Don knows and practices the reality of that. I am not so sure Scott does. Nothing wrong with his proposals and ideals, but if he is sending his students out to Tiny Town to make a living at theatre, he is no different than the teacher sending his students to NYLACHI to stand in those cattle calls for actors.

If were a young guitar picker starting over again, I would head to Nashville, not in search of fame and fortune, but to measure my art and find kinship, community with likeminded guitar pickers... a band, a tribe, and fellow travelers to run with. As song says:

Well, there's thirteen hundred and fifty two
Guitar pickers in Nashville
And they can pick more notes than the number of ants
On a Tennessee anthill
Yeah, there's thirteen hundred and fifty two
Guitar cases in Nashville
And any one that unpacks his guitar could play
Twice as better than I will

The first community will always be one’s peers, those creating the work with you. Once you have found the essence of your tribe, my experience is that NYLACHI is no better or worse than BumFuck Egypt for producing theatre. I have worked with theatre ensembles from around the country and the world. Every city, large or small, presents its own unique challenges. If you employ the art form as your method for exploring your life, not as a function of securing a career or making a living, then the world's your oyster.

Ben said...

I doubt very much that anyone is going to care what I have to say after all of this, but...

I'm an actor/director/producer from Tiny Town. In my experience, 90% of Tiny Town residents would rather see The Music Man than The Pillowman. They're not stupid, they're just conservative...90% of them.

Ben said...

Also, this has little to do with the "signed comments" discussion. No matter what Don Hall writes on your blog, you have nothing to do with his future employability. Mr. Hall has no reason to post an anonymous comment.

NGale said...

With a pop of about 380,000, Tulsa may not be Tiny Town, yet I imagine our citizens share the core values and beliefs, likes and dislikes, with our Tiny Town brethren.

You are all talking of percentages and a "pitiful" attendance of 99. If we had 99 for our performances we'd be ecstatic. We play to houses of 5-30 typically; Tuna gets the 99-200 house at the professional theatre down the street. Your percentages, as has been discussed, are flawed for many reasons.

Ben, I would agree that 90% would rather see "The Music Man." However, I would argue that that percentage remains the same whether in rural America or in NYLACHIDC. The question becomes, what is the other 10% doing? If we're talking about a town of 1,200, that 10% constitutes 120 people - quite a large assembly for a small town... If you're talking NYLACHIDC, that assembly becomes +150,000. In either location, that's quite a tribe.

Don, we are guilty of throwing our audience a popular bone to survive as a theatre, but our popular bones are far from "mainstream fare." We have built a relationship and trust with our audience, something I'm not convinced any of the NYLACHIDiCks have attempted in their laboratory or field tests. We said long ago that we were committed to our community and that we were in it for the long run. Our initial slogan was, "If you can make it here (Tulsa), you can make it anywhere." You can have 50 different opportunities in any city, rural or urban, to do similar work to that of your Chi-town theatre if you get off your ass and make it happen, but you _will_ need a day job to eat. Yes, you'll need to produce 60-65 shows in rep over the course of a year to the same 40-45 people in town. Which makes me wonder: do you have the passion for your art, or are you just a lazy whiner? "Nylachi(dc) shouldn't be the only places where anyone can put up a black box show and expect a reasonable amount of press coverage and audiences. It IS that way, but it shouldn't be." <-- Wholly incorrect. Perhaps it's time for you to mount Pinter as an adult, in a non academic environment, and see what happens.

DV, if you have a trust with your audience, they will take risks you never thought imaginable. Pay your dues, stick to your artistic guns, then produce your Dada fare. They will come. "We've got a vision" is exactly correct; that vision can be as much Dada as Tuna once you have earned someone's trust.

Nick, "If you employ the art form as your method for exploring your life, not as a function of securing a career or making a living, then the world's your oyster." Amen and amen.

Anonymous said...

"We have built a relationship and trust with our audience, something I'm not convinced any of the NYLACHIDiCks have attempted in their laboratory or field tests."

This is Awesome Ngale...and it helps me and other NYLACHIDicks understand that...wait for it...

You are so much more sincere than us. If only we had realized that YOU can talk with an audience, while we merely PREACH or SHOUT at them...and that you not knowing bunk about what I do can ascertain that I somehow behave in a distrustful manner with the few people I am blessed to have come to my shows...It is nice to know that (thanks to you post) that the reason Don and I and others came out to NYLACHI is becuase we dont have what it takes to make it in tulsa tinytown...well thanks for condescention..it relieves me to see that self righteousness is not the solely a citybound perrogative.

I'm sorry to be combative here, but don't I have as much a right to feel my blood boil when some midwesterner tells me that the problem with my kind (NYLACHIans) is that we are disttustful, lazy, and too auteurishly self involved compared to our folks who live in locales where I guess the extra trees makes them people more in touch people...?

Why is this position any different in quality to something said and then intrepreted as provincial by my bud Don Hall?

Ngale, I'm not exactly sure how you intent your post to come off, but if you dont know who you are talking to, then your hard earned nuggets of wisdom (like telling me to pay my dues...wow!)risk not being so wise rather self righteous.

I'll admit that I sometimes jump to conslusions...I always like reading a post like ngales though...it shows me that such behavior is not limited to the concrete jungle.

-dv

Scott Walters said...

dv -- You are experiencing in Ngale's post what Ngale and others in smaller markets around the US experience every day. Their talents are questioned, their commitment is questioned, the value of their efforts are questioned, and their work is dismissed. And my experience has often been that it is Nylachi artists who squeal the loudest when the shoe is on the other foot. Non-Nylachi artists are held to a higher level of civility while Nylachi artists regularly make off-handed comments that cut just as deep if not deeper. Yes -- pot, kettle, black -- and we're all cooking together.

Anonymous said...

Non a higher level of civility...just an equal damn footing Scott.

"And my experience has often been that it is Nylachi artists who squeal the loudest when the shoe is on the other foot."

This blog of yours shows that not to be the case my friend. No one, but no one squeals louder that you

(oops maybe I shouldn't have used the word squeal...I mean when the Non-NYLACHI says it...it implies whiny complaint, but when the NyLACHI sayd it he is attempting to categorize using "Deliverence" as contextuality)

You only hear my squealing as louder becuase you view your position to be relatively more justified.

The grass is always greener and the kids are always less behaved in the other dudes lawn.

But why does that excuse you calling your neighbors wife a whore when you get mad...but when he does the same...he crossed the line?

(Wha DV? where's that come from)

-dv

Ben said...

Scott's got this one right. Take, for example, my hometown's Guthrie Theater. They regularly ship in Nylachi actors when there are plenty of actors in town who could do the job just as well. They use many local actors, but never ALL local actors. It's as though the production wouldn't be up to Guthrie Standards if they didn't have at least a couple Nylachi bios in the program.

I'll admit -- it stings quite a bit.

Anonymous said...

Ben,

It the sole argument were Non-NYLACHI artists for NON-NYLACHI theatres...I agree.

But there is always a lot of additional baggage that gets heaped in it. Scott, might feel that the NYLACHIans are bringing all that baggage...to that I would response with IOWA-08 (who remembers that shit storm...that had nothing to do with decentralization of talent) or this wonderful notion that it takes a small town artist to honestly assess audience "skill" and genuine "trust".

I agree with decentralization, but there are alot of other things here that i think are off and worthy of spirited back and forth.

-dv

NGale said...

Wow, you guys are quick on the posts with this one... I'm up for the challenge.

DV, I love boiling blood as much as you... The quote you cite regarding relationships and trust was referencing NYLACHI attempts at theatre in a B-market, not NYLACHI works in their home cities. And I stand by my assertion that IN GENERAL, theatre works tested in smaller communities by NYLACHIans are just that - tests - and, by the very nature of their laboratory tryout, are prone to failure. Again, my nuggets are specifically in reference to a small town and/or B-market - somewhere you are not.

I see my position as neither more or less provincial than either you or Don. In fact, I think my arrogance and snobbery can rival anyone I dismiss as NYLACHI snobs. I am self aware, and I know I'm an ass. And I know I bust my ass to keep 100% integrity in what I do. One of your statement I cited was, "...do you honestly propose that I produce some 60-65 shows in rep over the course of a year to the same 40-45 people in town." It finishes with, "...until I die of a heart attack? Great life you're proposing there. Nice price to pay for artistic control." I get your sarcasm, but again, yes, that is exactly what I would propose if that is what it would take for you to continually produce works that meet your standards. If you think that to be too high of a price, then I suggest you are either lazy or dispassionate. If the passion and drive is there you will do what is necessary...

I don't think it takes a small town artist to assess audience "skill" and trust. However, it does take someone who is entrenched in that culture. I would not tell Chicago what to do with their theatres after a paltry year of assessing the audience, nor would I accept a NYALCHIan's assessment of my community with such little exposure. Such an assessment would be more of a conquest or conversion rather than a genuine trust-based assessment and recommendation.

Anonymous said...

Alright!!!Ngale...I like your tone suddenly so much more!

Couple things though...again not to support your own ascertian to being an ass, but there is alot of mixing up me with Don Hall here. I'll just attribute it to the volume of commentary, but in the interest of a better informed dust up...I want to point that out.

I hadnt picked up that you were refering to NYLACHIans testing material in nonNYLACHI areas. I had connected what you said to Scott's ascertions about certain NYLACHIan artists being merely formalists who wouldnt know a genuine human emotion if it some how got stuck in their dark emo mascara lined eyelashes.

Rest assured dont let Scott fool you!!!!We NYLACHIans believe in skill and trust but suddenly we become doubtful when others use those same terms as notions that are lacking from our art and/or character. It suddenly makes us wonder if from a sematical point of view if we are all actually on the same page regarding the mere definition of those words, espceially when they are used as tool to devalue us.

I not sure, maybe even doubtful that it is Scott's or Laura's intent to devalue folks like myself, but regardless of intent that is the result.

Everytime one of "us" (gulp and ugh) use a term like mainstream or traditional or even old hat...it would seem to anger then...to me these terms don't have the same sort of disregard as obscure or unthoughful and uncaring...etc...etc that Scott throughs at my compatriots.

I use those terms as a short hand for basically narrative/artistotlean dramarturgy.
I dont see them as nefaious or evil or usurping of my attempts at creating culture.

But, if Scott can accuse NYLACHIan of being whinier than he...Well, if thems the rules I can say that Non-NYLACHIans always seem to be more aghast more offended at the mere existence of (for lack of a better term) the avant...

I almost can hear a twisted sort of community pride in that Scott lives in a town where that sort of thing cant sustain itself economically (disregarding the reality that most theatre can sustain itself economically as Nick pointed out)...a certain sort of pride that he lives in a city where he can read about Guillermo Pena but thank goodness he doesnt have to worry about having to see it.

(ok see where this fresh hell takes us)...

-dv

Don Hall said...

ngale -

One of your statement I cited was, "...do you honestly propose that I produce some 60-65 shows in rep over the course of a year to the same 40-45 people in town." It finishes with, "...until I die of a heart attack? Great life you're proposing there. Nice price to pay for artistic control." I get your sarcasm, but again, yes, that is exactly what I would propose if that is what it would take for you to continually produce works that meet your standards. If you think that to be too high of a price, then I suggest you are either lazy or dispassionate.

That was my comment. I know that you're busy working the theatrical magic and creating relevant and substantive theater out there in OK, so I'll excuse the fact that you're having a hard time with names and quotes and things. You've earned it, brother. You've paid your dues for sure.

And based upon your assessment and standards then you are right on the nose - I am a lazy, uncommitted, dispassionate artist. I have not paid enough dues nor learned enough to make it in Tulsa. I am, in fact, nothing but a lazy whiner.

Scott -

This isn't really about the region is it? This is about the content of the art and a chip on the collective shoulder of artists who decided to avoid the cities, isn't it?

Ngale said...

Sorry Don and DV for the quotable mixup... Don, I create nothing relavant nor substantive; I simply hope to entertain. Yeah, I'll call anyone a lazy whiner if they will not pay the toll to attain their goal... Nothing personal.

As an aside, Don, I think you're on the money regarding the model existing, sans Fedfunds, in community theatre. The whole NYLACHI/non-NYLACHI debate, in addition to the idea of decentralization is, in my mind, bunk. _All_ of it. For me, the role of the NYLACHIans is to keep doing what they do in their own metropolis, and, as an extension of that, empower those in smaller communities and B-markets. Just as I see the good Tuna does for Faustus in Tulsa, I see the good that NYLACHI theatre does for theatre in Nowheresville. Keep doing what you're doing, just tell the weary Tiny Townsians that they, too can do it in their own community. The 10% that might take the risk is more than enough to support non-mainstream fare in a small city. Providing, of course, everyone holds a day job. Remember, tourists in a major metropolitan city are more likely to take a chance on entertainment than they might be in Tiny Town. Expose them to it. Let them leave your Dada door with the notion that they had no idea what they just saw, but they kinda liked it. And let them go home to Tiny Town, where they now might be more adventurous with the Tiny Town Players.

Scott Walters said...

Don -- What this is "really about" is made pretty clear in my next post.

Ngale -- While you may consider the decentralization argument "bunk," I am assuming you don't mind if I go on with it, right? From my perspective as a college professor, I see on a daily basis how pervasive the Nylachi myth is, and I think there needs to be some balance. It helps if there is a financially viable alternative, which is what I am working on. Unlike you, I am not willing to conceded the dayjob yet.

Mike Dailey said...

Wow.
Wow.
Great conversation.
I hate to get 'off the subject' by getting back to some of your core values...but, alas, I will.
I feel there are two things about your tribal plan that need help/fleshing out to succeed.
(As a CHI-guy, I will skip my many Chi-biased views for the moment and try to, ya know, be part of the solution)
1. Creating the regional new work. After reading a lot about connecting with the community and all that good stuff I am in agreement that creating work with and about the smaller cities/towns your are proposing could be fascinating as an artist and very attractive to your potential audience. The only problem here is that it assumes that one can just do that. Our theatre education system teaches most of us to make theatre productions happen(as actors, directors, designers, etc,) but not how to make plays from scratch. Without looking at your course listings over there in NC @ Ashville I would hope/assume this is a skill your providing to the students there, since I think its a pretty strong way to make that artist to community connection you've made reference to. I mean, who needs more plays about 'Life in NY/Chi'? Not me, really and the irony would be that if you were in Peoria and made some good plays based on the lives and times of Peorians...I bet theatres in Chicago would love it as well and describe it as being so 'Fresh'.

2. The commune thing. I feel like all this stuff about small towns and big towns and the arty stuff skips over one of your basic tenants of your tribal ideal that is much more potentially troublesome. Pooling of income and dividing it up 'fairly' among the company members. I don't find your idea of creating a more vibrant cultural life in smaller cities/smaller towns to be utopian, but I do find this pooling concept to be a stretch. This is where Don's comments about needing outside funding comes into play. This is where, even if all your ideas about the art/audience side come about, I can still see the company members needing to find at least a part time office job or a couple shifts behind a bar. Maybe its because my parents were hippy-ish, but this is the part that sounds like it would make sense over a couple bong hits listening to a Dead bootleg, but would create a lot of problems between real live people all trying to survive off a single source of income, with vary different ideas about what is 'fair' and what is 'needed' to live a happy life.

Scott Walters said...

Mike -- Welcome to discussion central!

First, let me clarify: while I value plays that are by and about the community itself, I see that as only an option, and only a partial option. I don't necessarily see the repertoire being that much different, although I would LOVE to see a residential playwright who provides plays for the company. However, the type of theatre being done in a specific theatre is not my concern. However, your point is well taken: the change must happen in education, not just "on the ground." I have begun to try to integrate these ideas into my own department, but you also need to realize that I have to do that within a context where my colleagues may or may not share my commitment to this model. I can do what I can within that context, and I can try to disseminate the ideas to other departments as well.

As far as the financial model, I know it sounds hippie-like, but actually it is historical. The salary-based model is barely 100 years old. Commedia troupes, for instance, shared income, as did Shakespeare and Moliere. However, I am looking a bit more closely at Shakespeare's model, which involved the primary artists buying shares in the theatre and distributing income according to the number of shares they hold. The overall object, however, is to make everybody stakeholders, not employees. There should be no situation like we have at NYTW, where the board and AD and MD simply fire the staff.

NGale said...

"It helps if there is a financially viable alternative, which is what I am working on. Unlike you, I am not willing to conceded the dayjob yet."

If I am paid by my theater, then theatre _is_ my day job... I am currently employed outside of the Arts, but in a field I enjoy - what is the difference? Sell yourself here or sell yourself there? The income is shared just the same. That is getting us waaaay off-topic, though.

"While you may consider the decentralization argument "bunk," I am assuming you don't mind if I go on with it, right?"

Think away, think away... I find the idea fascinating. My skepticism is in no way an admonishment or indictment of the idea. Encouraging folks to stay in their community (or return to, in the case of students) is exactly what I espouse. Encouraging small town thespians to risk DIY theatre is what I both practice and preach. However, encouraging wanna-be NYLACHIans to find a different parking lot is completely different...

Scott Walters said...

I'd like to revisit this, since I didn't have a chance to do so at the time that Nick posted it:

"Roadside Theatre earns only $40,000 of its $1.5 million yearly budget from box office. So the theatre needs 96% of its income from someone/somewhere other than Whitesburg, KY."

Not really. You are mixing different pieces of information. Roadside Theatre is part of Appalshop, Inc., "a non-profit multi-disciplinary arts and education center in the heart of Appalachia producing original films, video, theater, music and spoken-word recordings, radio, photography, multimedia, and books.
Appalshop's education and training programs support communities' efforts to solve their own problems in a just and equitable way. Each year, Appalshop productions and services reach several million people nationally and internationally." What Nick has done is used the budget of the whole organization and the ticket income of the theatre. However, over the years in Whitesburg, that company has grown a substantial endowment that provides a considerable amount of interest income each year. In addition, because of their various activities, they receive a substantial amount in grants and contributions (as, for instance, a public radio station would). Because of their commitment to the community, they charge very little as far as ticket prices are concerned, choosing instead to provide the community with performances at low to no cost.

So yes, ticket income is not a huge part of their income flow, and that is because they have garnered considerable public support through donations that has allowed them to be less concerned with income. In other words, Appalshop stands as a testament to what can be done when a company commits itself to a community, has a strong mission, and persuades others of the value of that mission.

I suspect if you went back to the 1970s, when Roadside and Appalshop were in their infancy, you might find a different story -- although they did come into existence when there was government money available for expanding the geographical and economic reach of the arts. Nevertheless, at the time they performed in tents that they would take up into the hollers around Whitesburg to perform their shows. Anyway, as a result of their hard work, a commitment to a community, and a strong mission their financial security has been enhanced. Visit their webpage and see all the things they provide for their community: http://appalshop.org.

John said...

Holy fuck, that's a lot of comments.

Just skimmed them, of course, so apolgies if this point has been made.

As a theater artist and producer working regularly in New York City for going on twenty years now, I can assure you that the work done in this city is no better, no worse and absolutely no different than the work done on the other side of the George Washington Bridge.

Nor is the audience any smarter, more sophisticated or more adventurous than an audience in St. Louis, upstate Vermont or Phoenix, Arizona.

There are more theaters in NYC than most places in America.

There are more people in NYC than most places in America.

That's the only difference.

And while I appreciate the elegance of the whole Nylachi formation, it's a dried ball of bullshit at the end of the day. It crumbles if you try to do anything with it.

I'm talking about the formation only, not all of the great plans and strategies and debates that the the formation has created.

But, come on. You're going to put Los Angeles theater with New York theater? And then add Chicago theater?

We ain't no different, my national brothers and sisters. Swear to god. What works where you are will work where we are and vice versa.

Sorry to come in late and sorry not to read every comment above, but holy fuck that's a lot of comments.