The first point [Mike Daisey makes] that is somewhat worrisome is a certain exceptionalism that attaches to theatre artists in contrast to other artists in the US and elsewhere. I doubt that Mike means to slight artists in other fields like painting, sculpture, dance, music or poetry, but it might be said that the same pressures seem to apply to them. Any of these are time-intensive disciplines when it comes to the study and practice of one's art. Are we also to guarantee working salaries and health insurance for them, simply on the say-so that they're artists?
I think it is possible to set up a system that supports artists without getting into the question of policy-making regarding which artists are going to be supported. I don't think Daisey is proposing a complete overhaul of the regional theatre movement, but rather a re-commitment to its original values and intents. For instance, if regional theatres committed to some form of ensemble structure that would provide more than a one-and-done contract for artists, it would help a great deal. This requires little more than a rearrangement of priorities. An even simpler improvement that would leave artists better off would be if Actor's Equity, SAG, and AFTRA joined forces, so that weeks of work in any of those unions contributed toward the minimum number needed for health insurance. Obviously, most actors currently piece together theatre, film, television, and commercials, yet these are disconnected as far as health insurance is concerned. I'm certain there are other solutions -- Daisey proposes, for instance, fundraising for the creation of "endowed chairs" for performers, much like endowed chairs in academia -- that can make substantive contributions to providing a more humane and stable life for theatre artists.
I also would draw a distinction between the performing arts and the non-performing arts -- the business models are much different, and they each require different efforts. While all artists should band together in order to insist on greater respect for artists in general, I doubt that a one-size-fits-all solution is possible. That said, I was talking to my nephew-in-law over the Fourth; he is an orchestra conductor, and he told me that the same problems exist with symphonies as are in the theatre. So those art forms that share a common business model might benefit from banding together. That said, Mike Daisey's piece is about a subject that he knows best, and is a work of art, not an academic study. If it were an academic study, most artists wouldn't read it because they'd think it was "too boring." Daisey has dramatized a situation, which is serving as the starting point for a discussion. It is unreasonable to think that he would provide the solutions as well. Each and every one of us, artists, administrators, and academics alike, need to shoulder our share of the responsibility for provoking change.
The best way to make sure that the status quo is maintained is to make the issue so complicated, the scope so wide, and the solutions so abstract that nothing can happen. We must resist the attempt to make this focused discussion flatulently philosophical. This is about ethics, and about economics.
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