Monday, July 14, 2008

Revisiting the Principles

Over at Don's place, in the comments to his latest post, Don is expressing amazement that my definition of community sounds like "niche marketing" to him, and that what I am advocating with theatre tribes is what everybody has been doing already. Perhaps so -- maybe I don't get out much.

For clarity's sake, and taking advantage of an opportunity to try to express my "vision" succinctly (which takes practice, believe it or not), let's return to the list of "Principles" that are listed on the right side of this blog, and try to describe what each principle means.

1. Decentralization. This is the idea that there should be professional theatres and theatre artists spread across more of this nation, that no few cities should be seen as the ultimate arbiter of quality or legitimacy, and that there should be a concerted effort to spread information concerning the work of theatre artists wherever they are.

2. Localization. This is a belief that artists should be long-term, active members of their community, and that their theatre should reflect a relationship with that community. Community it defined as those people who share proximity with your theatre that you consider the desired audience. Theatres are not expected to appeal equally to every member of the community, although the larger the circle of supporters the more likely a theatre will be sustainable.

3. Sustainability. This is an umbrella term that covers several different concepts. First, that a theatre should follow environmentally friendly principles. Second, that the business model should not require such a degree of commitment from its members that they are unable to lead full, rich, and secure lives over the long term. Third, that to whatever degree is possible, theatres should rely on generated income rather than contributed income. Associated with this is a business model that is collective, egalitarian, entrepreneurial, self-supporting, and self-supportive.

4. Mutuality. This is an outgrowth of localization: that the relationship between artists and audiences should be dialogic, supportive, challenging, open, and personal. Part of this means facilitating opportunities for all participants in a theatre event to interact with each other. Part of this means re-visioning the role of the artist as being less an elite outsider and more an integrated member. Part of it means creating opportunities for the community to actively support the theatre artists.

5. Education. This is the belief that the way theatre artists are educated must be changed in order to develop the skills, the values, and the goals that will support a more entrepreneurial, interactive, goegraphically-diverse, sustainable, and community-oriented theatre.

Each of these values separately have little that is new. In fact, there are historical precedents for every principle, and likely there are contemporary theatres that embrace several of them. I believe that the entire set of principles bundled together in one theatre is more rare, although I suspect that there are examples.

Note that there is nothing in those principles involving content. It is irrelevant whether a theatre is mainstream or avant garde, classic or contemporary, comic or serious or musical. Indeed, I would suspect that a successful theatre may mix and match, and include other art forms as well. What is important is that a way be found to intentionally engage the community through your work.

As it stands, that is the general description of the overall model. There are details that change and evolve, but the fundamental choices are those described. Whether it is new and original is less important to me than whether it works, and whether it can accomplish the goal of creating a decentralized, localized, sustainable, community-oriented theatre system across this beautiful nation.

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John said...

I completely agree with this vision and think we should strive for these ideals.

I do have one question/concern.

We're in a system now that is supported more by contributed income rather than earned/generated income. But even then, ticket prices are way too high and people still don't get paid what they should. How then can we move to this vision AND shift to more support from earned income rather than contributed (that is without significant gov subs)?

Scott Walters said...

John -- I think that is one of the biggest challenges, and it involves a lot of rethinking of what we do and how we do it. Too much to talk about in comments, but if you are interested, join Theatre Tribe (click on badge to right) and introduce the discussion there.