Sunday, October 30, 2005

A Few Questions from Matt Freeman About the New Model

Matt Freeman asks a couple good questions in response to my attempt at a new model for theatre based on church. He asks:

'Another question I have for this new model is "Would it be sustainable to support Equity Actors?"

I think there are two questions here. One is: will Actors Equity support this model? My gut response is: no. Actors Equity is mired in an industrial model of theatre production that was needed in the past, but that has become hopelessly rigid in today's circumstances. It regards theatre not as an art, but as an industry. The effect of Equity on the theatre is a much larger question, and perhaps a later discussion.

The second question might be: would it be sustainable to support actors (and directors and playwrights and designers). I don't know. It might. What I do know is that the current model doesn't provide sustainable support for Equity actors. A review of the annual report from equity shows that most Equity actors are underemployed, and making very little money each year. what makes this unacceptable is that, not only aren't theatre artists making money, but they also aren't having an opportunity to work, and it is only through work that artists improve. If you want the rundown on the bleak 'indie theatre" scene in NYC, read Josh James' post at his Daily Dojo, and to see this isn't just a NYC phenomenon, read Jess Wells' post at Asheville Green Room. The New Model may or may not provide a living wage, but it definitely would provide an opportunity for consistent work.

I also wonder whether there might be a greater inclination for foundations to fund such an endeavor, especially while the model is new.

Matt also notes that I seem "to find the idea of pure marketing a bit distasteful.What is it about simply saying "we need to sell more tickets and here is a way to do it" that makes theater artists, especially the most earnest of us, so incredibly uncomfortable?"

I don't find marketing distasteful, I find it expensive. When I was Chair of the Drama Dept, I handled advertising and marketing for our productions, and each year I found the cost getting higher and higher. In fact, we were spending almost as much money on advertising as we were on the shows themselves! Since we are edu-theatre, it didn't matter that much, but how can non-profit theatres continue to absorb those costs? What I am trying to figure out is an alternative that allows a larger percentage of the budget to be spent on art and artists.

One might consider this a response to SpearBearer Down Left's recent post "Is Theatre a relic?"


Anonymous said...


I think "church model" is an especially revealing and appropriate example that is worth considering. After all, the word "religion" itself comes from a Latin root meaning "to bind together" as in the word "ligament"; religion and theatre are both institutions that, at their very best, should bind people together to deal with life's joyous and sorrowful moments.

This is not what I currently see around me.


Tim said...

Hi Scott,

I'm intrigued by your "Attempt at Synthesis" ideas, particularly because parts of it have been tried before -- and worked. You mentioned that we should think of theatre as an "alliance" or a "guild." How about a "troupe?"

I was a member of an improv comedy troupe. We owned our own theatre space, which was indeed open to the public when shows weren't happening. We taught comedy defensive driving there. We opened the space to corporate offsites. People came in, learned about our shows, came back that night.

Members of the troupe were available to speak at businesses. You could hire us to put on a show at your grandchild's birthday party. You met the artistic director in the lobby before the show. You could mingle with the troupe at the bar after the show. Audience members were loyal, came back a lot, often ended up auditioning for the troupe.

Best of all, we weren't stuck doing improv all the time. We could leverage the recognition we got from being well-known in the community to put on serious stage plays, make films, just about anything. (Not unlike seeing a movie starring Will "Saturday Night Live" Ferrell.)

We didn't try the economic model you mentioned -- but I've always thought more theatres should do more of the sort of outreach you discussed. It creates a community. It brings in audiences. It works.

Think Again: Funding and Budgets in the Arts

Every once in a while, I think I'll post a link or two to posts written earlier in the life of Theatre Ideas that seem worth revisiting ...