Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Welcome, New Readers

To all of you who first encountered Theatre Ideas as a result of the protracted debate concerning "geographism," welcome, and I hope you will continue reading now that things have gotten a bit quieter.

I wanted to write a few words about this blog.

Theatre Ideas is based on a single premise: something is deeply wrong with the state of the American theatre, and without radical change it will continue its slide into irrelevance. As Al gore says in An Inconvenient Truth, quoting Winston Churchill, we have passed the "era of procrastination" and are now in an "era of consequences." It is no longer enough to simply "do the work," one must reconceive the context, refashion the business model, revise the purpose, and refocus the values.

This blog is devoted to several principles, which are regularly accosted by those invested, for whatever reason, in maintaining the status quo. They are:

1. Decentralization. We are a nation of 50 states and 300 million people, and it is disastrous to have a single city serve as the clearing house for a national theatre. Regional theatres should cast regional artists, hire regional directors and designers, and be run by regional producers. The shuttle to NY must stop.

2. Localization. Connected to number one above, regionally-based theatres should encourage the development of local aesthetics. Regional theatres should not be like malls -- the same no matter where you are in the country. The choice of plays, the artistic staff, and the experience itself should reflect the place where the theatre is based. The Era of McTheatre must end.

3. Solidification of the Relation to the Audience. If the theatre is decentralized, and if the aesthetic reflects a local aesthetic, then it follows that the relationship of the artist to the community must be a close one. Artists must be a part of the community in which they live, and fully participate in the life of the community. Arts ghettos, where artists huddle together and only speak to each other, but be opened up to let the voices of individual people into the conversation. The Romantic idea of the artist as outsider, as mysterious stranger, must be replaced by the much older idea of the artist as community voice and leader.

4. The Improvement of Society. The theatre must be committed to making the community in which it lives better. The artist must take responsibility for the effects of his or her art on the community, and strive to create art that makes that community stronger, more caring, more inclusive, and more hopeful. The stories we tell about ourselves create our reality. We are homo narrens. We should act like it. The purpose of art is to entertain and enlighten.

5. Revisioning of the Business Model. Theatre is currently made in the same way an assembly line makes automobiles. A small number of people are involved in the larger decisions, and the rest do their own little part of the process. Each production is created in a predetermined, short amount of time, and productions are run continuously until they are replaced by a newer model. It is time to examine other models, whether this be Daniel Quinn's tribes (see Beyond Civilization: Humanity's Next Great Adventure) or some other model.

For additional views, see my interview on the Theatre is Territory blog.

I hope that you will continue to read Theatre Ideas. While occasionally theatre bloggers will descend upon me like a plague of locusts usually in response to any statements that threaten the NYC dominance, normally this blog is a place where new ideas can be considered with commitment and imagination.

Again, welcome to Theatre Ideas.

Scott Walters


Anonymous said...

You really do love a fight, don't you Scott? You, more than any theater blogger, understand and accept the physics of the web: rouse the rabble, drive page views, logic be damned. Showbiz!

I'm a southerner born and bred, and I've lived in Queens, NY for ten years. It is the most ethnically diverse place on Earth: don't take my word for it, take the UN's.
Here's the deal with all of this ballyhoo: making fun of backwaters is as much a pan-cultural consistent as it is to make fun of city folk as effete snobs. Boy howdy, is this whole argument and resulting hysteria a bunch of noise and smoke.

Have you ever heard a Southerner refer to NYC as Sodom & Gomorrah? Or refer to NYC as an AIDS-riddled paradise for criminals and minorities? Let's not forget Jews.

Your war, Scott, is not with New Yorkers. It's with the Southerners. I mean, as far as Southern grotesques go, I'm afraid writers such as Faulkner, O'Connor, and McCullers, to name just a few and each from Dixie, are the ones who fed the entire Southern Gothic genre.

Now don't you tell me about the South, I was raised there, in Virginia and Texas, I'm not a condescending transplant who has annointed himself the Prometheus of the Blue Ridge Mountains and I'm a proud redneck, albeit with a Mexican mother. A thinking man's redneck, natch. But while most of this country's greatest, most original literary and artistic minds come from down there, they were not always loved and or welcomed by Johnny Reb.

Johnny Reb is proud of it's protestant provincialism, and it's never been a fan of those who think... differently. Act differently. Look differently. One of my best friends is a goth girl painter in Atlanta; if you're a goth girl painter in NYC, you're just one of the crowd. This friend of mine is a freak who means it, a glorious creature, and nary a catch up phone call goes by without some tale of verbal abuse.

I could go on for days about the Civil War. It was about economics. It was about slavery. It was about the future. It was also about murdering a perverse aristocratic society that eschewed, how can we say, cosmopolitan free thinking.

New York City isn't a place, it's a frame of mind.

The center of the village. Where all the weirdos and egomaniacs and dreamers go, because most normal folk don't like the weirdos and the egomaniacs and dreamers, and they have to go somewhere.

Also: I've been to Asheville. Nice little hippie town. Beautiful. Also: aren't there alot of folks around Asheville who supported and to this day celebrate abortion-doctor killing fugitive Eric Rudolph? The guy who planned bombings because abortion was part of a homosexual conspiracy? I remember seeing t-shirts in support of that fruitcake there years ago. Were those expressions of local artists subsidized?

Tiny caveat: why do all arts academics invariably end up sounding like tiny little despots? art should make society better? make the trains run on time? serve as thought police? art should do this and do that. is this how an academic justifies his or her salary? and if theater is dying, maybe it should die. that's evolution, baby. lots of Southerners don't believe in that.

Scott Walters said...

Jeez, Devore -- miss the opportunity to tea off in the previous discussion, so thought you'd get it in now?

Yes, there are narrow-minded bigots in the south -- I'm certain there aren't any in the north, that's why we have Mitt Romney, right? The difference is that the North's bigots aren't broadcast regularly as representative of the area.

But here's my question: aside from general pique, was there something particular in this post to which you were responding? Or did you decide to just drop in and spray venom?

Anonymous said...

Hahahah. When I spray venom, Scott, you'll know it, and we'll all know it, because you'll delete the post.

Anypoopers: read my post instead of dismissing it.

Mitt Romney? You mean, the Republican former Govenor of the Bean State who's a conservative, but who kept the bluest of blue states more or less happy? The same guy Southerners hate for being Mormon, because they prefer the loonybird religious nuts in their backyward? Is that the best you can do? No mention of Bill Frist, or Lindsay Graham, or Tom Delay? The South rose again these past six years, and they couldn't even save the Jewel of Dixie from a flood.

All I'll say on politics and the south is this: federally funded naval ship building is Mississippi's number one industry.

Instead of feeding your students intellectually dishonest and weak excuses as to why the South has no cultural market share, perhaps you should address how the South can solve their own problem. Talent drain isn't one of them. I'll always be Southern.

Blaming another region or people for another's dilemmas is a time honored tactic of itty bitty despots.

Scott Walters said...

Devore -- I read your post. And? You are making a case for me about how New Yorkers -- and that includes transplanted New Yorkers, who are often the worst kind because they chose New York -- about how stereotypes work. It comes from using a single example as a sweeping generalization. Why don't you just go back and "do the work," like you said, since you're so superior about it, and quit bothering my readers with your screed. I can match your venom ounce for ounce, Devore, and don't think I can't. I have given up trying to be polite, and trying to explain my positions to people who want to become personally offensive. And yes, that means deleting things if I want to. My house -- you're here by invitation. You want to use your blog to spew, go ahead -- keep it out of my comments box. You're filling the airwaves with static so that thoughtful people can't get a word in edgewise. Got it? I'm not messin'.

Scott Walters said...

One more thing: every time one of you takes pot shots at me, my hit count soars. But you know what -- don't do me any favors. I'd rather have a few open-minded readers than all the know-it-alls who want to tell me that NYC is the seat of all that is good in America.

Anonymous said...

I know your hit count soars. I told you you were web savvy.

That doesn't make it the right argument. Bill O'Reilly gets five million viewers a night.

And one more thing: a know it all elitist in Asheville does not cancel out a know it all elitist in New York City.

Or Jew Jerk Shitty, as a particularly hilarious redneck once told me in Richmond.

Scott Walters said...

Devore -- I didn't say it was the "right argument" because I get lots of hits, I was pointing out that it is you and those who attack me that are spreading my ideas further.

Why don't you just take your anti-southern shit elsewhere. Your next comment will be deleted.

Richard Layman said...

This is interesting because trends for decentralization and localism, while extant, are being crushed by the "reproduction" of various communications and industrial sectors into national markets.

Obviously theater is one. So is music, both at the broadcast level and at the presentation level (live nation).

My area--commercial district revitalization--this is true of most sectors of retail.

I joke that the more I learn about this, the more I become an intellectual Marxist.

But the thing here is the concept of retail trade areas, brought over to theater.

As more and more places open, because neighborhoods and cities see the arts as a revitalization driver, the market gets atomized, and it becomes harder to draw audiences, and more public funding is required and demanded.

Some places do a good job fostering such an environment, like Arlington County, VA. DC, where I work, has a completely adhoc, unstructured, very political process. Still more institutions open (Atlas, Dance Theater of Washington) as others are failing (Source, Lincoln) and others expanding (Arena, Shakespeare).

If the market is becoming bimodal, part national and part hyper-local, can it work for the fields of cultural production?

Intellectually and economically.

I don't know, but they are important questions and important ideas.

Unknown said...

I agree with a lot of what Scott has posted at the top, but I would add that I don't what to see what is just an expression of my community. I want to see what are the expressions of other communities so I can understand them better. My understaning of Pittsburgh is certainly enriched by August Wilson's cycle, for instance.

Art is not only about celebrating community, of course. It's also about challenging the community's actions and values.

One of the other purposes of art is to transcend the barriers between communities -- to help the people here understand better the people there.

I like a mix. I like seeing what the Brits are up to. I like the best of Broadway craftsmanship. And I like going to a storefront and seeing stories specific to that neighborhood. I don't feel I have to choose between them, any more than I want to have to choose between a big-city newspaper with the ability to print stories by a variety of foreign correspondents and the city-specific alternative papers that tell me the stuff that the NY/LONDON/LA TIMES will never cover.

Anonymous said...

Scott, I just stumbled onto your blog today through a yahoo search for "MFA Directing". I'm 24 and I'm currently applying to programs (including Illinois State). I'm from Louisiana and I'm trying to get out of the south without going to New York or California. What you have to say is very enlightening, and I appreciate your point of view, and the people who offer intelligent responses. I so wish I could take one of your classes. I hope you continue to contribute to the community. Thank you for sharing your ideas.

Stage Right said...

Can't tell you how much I subscribe to your concepts here. It's something I've been trying to evangalize on myself.

I'm a blogger from the center/right political spectrum within the theatre community (yes, there are a few of us!) and I have been blogging at Andrew Brietnbart's Big Hollywood.

Now, I admit, my posts are filled with some broad strokes and some parody and some heat, but part of the reason for my posts is to be entertaining, not just analytic.

If you can look beyond some of my more inflammatory language, I hope you can see that how I expand upon some of your concepts into the political realm might have some merit.

I take your concept of regional theatres being truly regional and therefore needing to reflect the sensibilities of the regions in which they reside and take that idea to one of its natural conclusions: that those theatres will then start producing product that better represent their community's political and cultural points of view as well.

I am not one of those conservatives who decry the funding of the arts. Instead I implore my fellow conservatives to not cede the cultural ground that they have in the past and instead to proclaim that these theatres that we are funding belong to us too. And we represent about half of the subscribers or ticket-buyers and we deserve a little more representation and respect in the programming and content at these theatres.

I also post thoughts at my blog: Stage Right
. I will by expanding on these ideas in the weeks to come and I hope to have your thoughts on the matter.

Jazlean said...

Hello there.
I'm just a 17 year old stumbler you could now is procrastinating her prep for her drama exam, I may seem insignificant but I'd just like to leave a note and move on. :P
I live in Australia (that big funny shaped island in the southern hemisphere)and I find we have a similar issue.
All the talent from Western Australia (the very uncreative names chunk to the west side)is going to Sydney and the east coast, or off to America (eg. Heath Ledger - RIP)... it's occurring across all our arts and the talent drain has left Perth, which may be the most isolated city in the world with the title of "dullsville". It's sad. Local talent should be able to thrive and grow in it's area rather than with the mind set "I can only get big or improve if I am elsewhere" something has to change to bring the culture back to the little people. Theatre already has enough competition with films, nightclubs, pub, and late night shopping. And that is assuming they want to go out. Productions in Perth if they tour here are expensive and not everyone can afford it...
*sighs* okay I've said too much. Just hi, I understand, your blog seems interesting. Have a good night..or day rather (stupid time diff).

Scott Walters said...

Welcome, Jazlean! Glad you found the blog (go over to http://lessthan100K.wordpress.com for more on this topic). Yes, this centralization of talent is crippling anyplace that isn't a major metropolitan area, and it is not only not good for the smaller places, but not good for the profession or for the artists.

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 ...