1. Artistic directors are concerned with keeping artists in the theatre; they need to constantly renew their commitment to making their theatres homes for artists.
2. Theatres and artists alike need to find creative ways to address the chronic undercompensation in the field.
3. Theatres need to build better long-term relationships with artists and find ways of integrati9ng them into the ongoign life of institutions.
4. There is a need to invest in the future of the art form and the profession by taking responsibility for the training of and access for future artists and nontraditional artists, including minority and women artists.
Sound familiar? So why, in twenty years, has so little happened in this regard? Here were the assembled leaders of America's regional theatres -- what many would regard as the most powerful people in the non-profit theatre world -- and yet, do we see any progress? It leads me to wonder about leadership in this so-called "industry" -- should TCG have taken this report as its priorities following this gathering? Is publishing a book enough? Is there another group who should be taking leadership roles? Because we all know what happened after this assembly, right? The same thing that happens after most conferences: we all return to our normal context, and we might be a little inspired for a while, but very quickly we are sucked back into the day-to-day struggles of life and we lose sight of what was inspiring and we just keep keeping on. So how do we stay focused? How do we enact change?
As I dipped in here and there in the book, and also looked at the appendix where there were "highlights" from the various topics, it occurred to me that the book is almost totally concerned with problems. The group will acknowledge that doing X is something that would benefit the theatre, then what follows are the reasons that get in the way of X, and few but the most minor suggestions are offered. Here's one designed to address #1 above: "Providing convenient and attractive housing for guest artists, equipped with fu8rniture, telephones, television, even fresh flowers." And another: "Actively welcoming artists into the theatre community by greeting them at train stations or airports, organizing group parties, hiring company managers sympathetic to the needs of artists, and encouraging volunteer groups to create their own methods for making guest artists feel at home." These represent 2/3 of the "highlights" for that particular problem!
The highlights of #2 read like the table of contents for recent blog discussions: "Artists express deep frustration at not being able to make a living or maintain a life while doing the work they love in the theatre;" "Artists increasingly view theatre as a young person's profession; for people under 40 whose financial responsibilities are modest;" "theatres are troubled by thge difficulty of getting and keeping commitments from actors;" "geography and distance work against theatres located away from the commercial production centers where actors feel they need to be based to have access to other work;" "the disintegration of the resident acting ensemble of the '60s and '70s may have reinforced a feeling of insecurity on the part of actors entering the profession;" "while a growing number of artistic directors are attracted to the goal of creating resident companies, most agree that the current economics of theatre conspire against permanent ensembles of sufficient size."
Some of the solutions they propose: "employing more artists...on a year-round basis..." "setting the goal of raising fees for guest artists..." "exploring new incentives for artists to choose work in theatre over higher paying work in film and television, such as establishing and maintaining exciting collaborations among artists;" "taking collective action whereby a group of theatres pool resources to support a writer, director, or designer on a year-round salaried basis" (notice the absence of actors in that list); "creating new structures for larger, looser networks of artists than are currently identified as 'ensembles'..." "reevaluating compensating arrangements for playwrights..." "encouraging larger institutions with more resources to increase salaries as much as possible in order to allow artists to also accept work at smaller theatres with fewer financial resources" (this one made me laugh); "seeking outside paid employment for actors -- commercial work, voice-overs, teaching, docent tours, advertising connections -- to supplement their salaries and connect them with the community..."
Some of these ideas are more interesting than others, and most shift the responsibility to others. Which seems to be the major problem with this book. Instead of talking about what they could do as artistic directors, and accepting accountability for taking those actions, these artistic directors laid out the to-do list for everybody else in the organization -- primarily the trustees, because if there was only more money... (When I read discussions such as these, I am constantly reminded of D. H. Lawrence's short story "The Rocking-Horse Winner": "There must be more money. There MUST be more money."
It is a disappointing book for just that reason. There seems to be little acceptance of responsibility, little recognition of one's personal power, few examples of specific commitments. It was like a 17-day pity party: "Gee whiz, it sure would be better if we did a few of these things, but how can we do that and keep doing things exactly the way we've always done them?"
Mike Daisey has revived this conversation amongst the TCG artistic directors, who apparently circulated his Seattle essay amongst themselves and huffed and griped about it for quite some time. "Naive," they said; "just let him try to run a theatre sometime, then he'll see" they said. With absolutely not recognition that what he was saying is simply an echo of what they had said twenty years ago. In effect, he was asking them, "So, did you ever DO anything about these issues?" The answer, obviously, is mostly no. Rather, over the twenty years since The Artistic Home was published, what has happened, apparently, is that the AD's have decided these problems are intractable, and the best thing they can do is put a few fresh flowers in the guest artist's apartments and make sure they have cable TV.
It leads me to contemplate the Buckminster Fuller quotation that is written to the right of this post, and recognize why my efforts have been more focused on creating a new system instead of reforming the old. There just doesn't seem to be the will to change anywhere.
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