Saturday, August 11, 2007

Creative Capital Foundation

I'm back from the AlternateROOTS annual meeting, which was a truly extraordinary experience. While there, I came across a brochure for the Creative Capital Foundation, which "is committed to working in long-term partnership with its funded artists, providing advisory services and professional development assistance along with financial support throughout a project's life. In addition, the grantees agree to share a small percentage of any net profits generated by the projects with Creative Capital, which applies these funds towards new grants."

Creative Capital Foundation "was established to explore whether venture capital concepts might be applicable and useful in the cultural arena." The foundation funds artist projects in four disciplines: visual arts, film/video, performing arts, and emerging fields/innovative literature. They run on a 3-year cycle, with this year devoted to grants in Emerging Fields, Innovative Literature, and Performing Arts. To apply for a grant, you must first submit an inquiry form. View the guildelines at

"On the inquiry form, you will be asked how your proposed project, in conjunction with a Creative Capital grant, will contribute to your artistic and professional growth as well as how your work demonstrates a bold, inventive, and singlular vision in form and content." Since 1999, they have awarded 199 grants totaling more than $4.7 million, with an average award of $37,000 in grants and services.

I wanted to share this information with my artist friends.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

To Joshua James -- A Hatchet for Burial

I didn't feel it was appropriate to barge into a private conversation, but I wanted to offer this post in response to Joshua's soul searching, and the efforts of many fellow bloggers to offer advice. As one commenter noted, Joshua and I seem to push each other's buttons. It's true -- I know you're all surprised.


Let me offer what "buttons" you push for me, and I welcome the same from you, if you feel you haven't already said it.

There really are only three things, Joshua, but man they set me off. First, while I won't ask you to revisit our debate, I'd ask that you just read through your comments in the post I've linked to above. Here is a list of how you refer to me: "fool," "pig-headed prof," "bully," "thug," "dishonest," and "damn hypocrite." On one blog, you called me "crazy." These are personal insults, attached to me by name. While one might argue that I have insulted NY theatre people as a whole, I think you would be hard put to find anyplace where I have insulted personally any specific person (with the possible exception of you, and if I did, I apologize). But it is hard to maintain equanimity in the face of those words, which seem like "fighting words."

Second, it drives me crazy when you totally misrepresent or misinterpret what I have said, and then insist that I actually meant your intepretation even if that isn't what I said. During the discussion of "red state theatre," Theatre Forte tried to find out where I actually said the things I was being accused of, and you tried to help but couldn't really find anywhere I actually said it, so you just said I really meant it even if I didn't write it. That's not fair. We all cherry pick -- we're not writing a booklength study -- but shouldn't the evidence be representative, and fairly interpreted?

Third -- and for some reason, this one causes a really childish reaction in me -- you have a tendency to do what I call "pound the table." You will assert something and follow it by a variation on the phrase "it just is." Something like: "This is just wrong -- it just is." No argument, nor reason, just an assertion that it "just is." "Your arguments are specious -- they just are." "You're arguing in circles -- you just are."

OK, so those are my buttons. I'm sorry if I knocked you off your "no-Walters" diet, but I'm reaching out not to smack you down, but to see if there is a way to communicate without verbal fisticuffs. Maybe there isn't, and that's OK. Sometimes people aren't meant to talk.

About me. The fact is -- and someone else has already noted it -- about every six weeks or so I lose my cool about something. Whereas I am virtually ignored by the theatrosphere in between those six-week periods, those posts have come to form my blogging reputation, at least among the bloggers I have an on-going relationship with. I share the same feeling you mention in your post -- a sense that a reputation as a thug is undeserved. Nevertheless, in those six-week blowouts, I tend to write in impassioned generalizations that are based more on personal intuition than on hard evidence. It's a fault -- sometimes I just get pissed in a really irrational manner. Iowa 08 set me off more than a YouTube video and blog should have. I could probably go back and reconstruct what led to the explosion -- it probably connected to something else I was reading and thinking about -- but it wouldn't be interesting to do so. Anyway, I pound the table. And I insult huge swaths of humanity. And I make Big Ole Generalizations. And I feel bad about that -- I really do -- and at the same time, I feel a commitment to the kernel of the idea that lies at the center of the tirade: in this case, that there are stereotypes out there, and they are unrecognized and reinforced by people with the power to disseminate images. All of this leads to problems of my own making.

For the record, I don't think you're a thug. In fact, I think a couple hours over beer and pizza talking with you would be a pretty good time. But you are tenacious and stubborn, and so am I, and those characteristics prevent either one of us from walking away from an argument.

My preference would be that you and I share a virtual handshake and receive absolution from the rest of our acquaintances, who don't like it when we fight. From your perspective, it may be too soon or undesirable. But there it is. It's an offer.

If an apology is expected from either of us, then we're screwed. The agreement, I think, should be to go on. And maybe detonate a blogging version of the MIB memory erasers...

Thanks, Matt and Don

Two wonderful bloggers, Matt Freeman and Don Hall, have each written excellent posts about aspects of my "Welcome, New Readers" post below. I value these posts very highly, because they lead further consideration on my part. Fine tuning.

On a sidenote, I must admit to being a little puzzled by Matt's expectation that one of my ideas was not "revelatory." Revelation seems a tall order for blog posts, which are by their very nature rather informal and off-the-cuff. My intention in writing my post was my realization that, as a result of the geographism debate, many new readers had visited my blog, and I felt it was important that I outline my general orientation. Unlike many blogs, which have an orientation based on responding to day-to-day events, mine tends to be a bit disconnected from such things and instead I spend much of my time pondering, well, theatre ideas. And I found it a good exercise to try to distill those ideas into a few short paragraphs. Sort of an "executive report" for my blog.
The main point that Matt makes, and one that does, indeed, serve as a point of separation for us, is my belief that there is something deeply wrong with the state of the American theatre. To make a sweeping generalization solely as a means of summary, Matt think it has a bad cold and I think it is coughing up blood. Matt wants to give antibiotics, I want to do radical surgery. Matt believes in the evolution of the theatre, and I believe in the revolution. They are two very respectable positions, positions which are mirrored in many other discussions from politics to religion to psychology.

To a large extent, arguing such basic premises is fruitless, since an entire edifice of thought rests atop those foundations and to remove it would lead to the collapse of everything else. For every statistic that I could offer that would illustrate the impending doom, Matt could offer another that would indicate the patient is "feeling better." What is most valuable, it seems to me, is that readers understand the two orientations, so as to better understand individual posts. For instance, knowing Matt's foundational premise, one shouldn't be surprised or impatient when he looks at marketing as the solution to some of theatre's problems. Similarly, knowing my foundational premise, one shouldn't be surprised to find an impassoned, John-the-Baptist-like fervor.

Beyond the basic premises, I would quibble with Matt's insistence that "theatre is already inherently local." If I can tease out the unspoken part of this sentence, I believe that Matt feels that, because theatre takes place in one place shared by actors and audience members, it si by definition local -- as opposed to mass media, in which the actors are not in the same place as the audience. But, perhaps predictably, I would argue otherwise, and I would do so bydrawing an analogy to restaurants. When I eat at a McDonalds, the food is cooked by a local cook, served by a local waiter, and eaten in a building that resides in my community, but it is not a local experience. The food at a McDonalds in NYC tastes the same as the food here in Asheville. When I visit NYC, I seek out NYC food that I can't get somewhere else -- and there is plenty of it. When I have out-of-town guests, I take them to restaurants that reflect Asheville, not, say Applebees.

My point is that I would like a local theatre to be like a local restaurant -- to reflect something unique about the place where it is. That's what I mean by local. Something like local flavor. When the regional theatres all perform the latest Pulitzer Prize winner in the year following its NYC premiere using actors, a director, and/or designers imported from NYC, that is the McDonaldization of theatre.

Matt also worries about using funding incentives for certain things, which "seems to be indicating mission statements." Don also raises the hoary image of "censorship" in a different context. It seems to me that these worries don't recognize that such mission dictating and censorship aren';t already happening. That the gradual shrinking of cast size, for instance, and the rise of one- and two-person shows simply arose from the artistic preferences of individual artists. But surely not. Economics are already dictating what can and can't be done and said on the stage, large-cast shows like Angels in America to the contrary. But we tend to like our economic hands invisible, and resist a conscious stating of values. I would argue that I like to know the rules of the game, and who created them, before I play. And I don't think that making an artistic value explicit constitutes censorship, but rather an opportunity for artists to actually resist and oppose, unlike the way it is today, where we gnash out teeth about a "system" that never has a face, phone number, or address.

Don devotes his post to my principle #4. Let's start with a definition of hope. For me, it is a belief that things can change for the better, for me and for others. I think anyone or anything that undermines hope and promotes despair allows the darkest aspects of humanity the upper hand. My belief that artists should be committed to making their community better is a universal principle for me that applies not just to artists but to everyone. I think that is what it means to be a citizen and a member of humanity. But I am not speaking primarily, much less solely, about politics. I am not advocating a steady diet of "issue oriented" theatre, God save us. But I am saying that we should embrace our moral responsibilities as members of humanity.

As I said in Don's comment box, he raises an issue that really gets me where I live: pure comedy. I love it. I love Laurel and Hardy, Burns and Allen, doorslamming underwear farces, Monty Python, the Marx Brothers -- well, you get the picture. And I must confess that my principles sound pretty solemn. How can I still watch these things?

But you'll notice that I say entertain and enlighten, and entertain comes first. That is really important. Theatre has to keep an audience's attention riveted (not just casually stapled) before anything else can happen.

I have been trying to find a story I read -- and I think it was in the screenwriting book Story, but I can't find it -- about an obscure movie about a director of idiotic movie comedies who suddenly decides what he is doing isn't worthwhile and he sets of to do "important" movies. All kinds of stuff happens that I can't remember, but the punch line of the film was him coming upon the barracks of a group of oppressed workers or inmates or coal miners or something -- guys who had a really shitty life, at any rate -- and hearing laughter drifting out their window. When he drew closer, he could hear the dialogue from one of his idiotic comedy films that was the source of the laughter. (Note: Thanks to Paul Rekk for identifying this film as Preston Sturges' Sullivan's Travels -- hardly an "obscure movie," as Paul points out, but one unknown to me. The end of the film is described as follows: "Incarcerated in a prison work camp as the end result of his misadventures, and as part of an audience of chain-gang convicts watching a screening in a Southern black church of a Walt Disney cartoon (starring Mickey Mouse and Pluto), he retains one final ability - - to laugh. He succeeds in understanding that his attitude toward the poor had bordered on patronization. He finally realizes the uplifting power of laughter, and decides to return to his true calling - the making of entertaining comedies to entertain rather than to edify.")

There is value to the community in the lifting of spirits. Laughter makes people better, too. And it gives them hope.

I would like to emphasize that I don't think either Matt or Don are somehow "wrong" in their beliefs -- I believe in the truism that sometimes the opposite of a profound truth is another profound truth. And I like to be upfront with the profound truths that underlie my writing.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Attending AlternateROOTS Annual Meeting

Just as a heads-up, I began attending the annual meeting of AlternateROOTS yesterday, and it will go through Sunday. So posting may be more sporadic than it has been the last few weeks. Great organization, AlternateROOTS, filled with generous, open artists committed to social activism. The annual meeting's theme is "The Artist as Citizen," and the organization explores the intersection of art and activism.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Great Post

Thanks, Isaac, for this link -- connects to nearly everything in my post below, and to this one:

Read S. P. Miskowski's "Hick With a Master's Degree" -- and from what I've read, read her regularly! But start with "Starving the Local Artist."

Nicely done!

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

Monday, August 06, 2007

Wrap-Up: Southern and Rural Stereotypes

While there are many who feel this conversation has gone on long enough, I think what has gone on long enough is certain bloggers' obsession with small aspects of my initial post to the exclusion of the larger idea, which has been virtually ignored or, alternately, dismissed as "not a problem" by those that it does not affect.

Over the course of the past week and a half, I have, with the "aid" of my fellow bloggers, fine tuned my original ideas. It was my belief that that was one of the valuable things about the blogosphere -- that ideas could be honed through discussion, and thus improved. Apparently not the case. Whatever is written first represents your most important statement on the subject, and before you are allowed to continue you must first "apologize" for perceived offenses to the Blogging Big Brothers who will descend like a swarm of buzzing locusts and fill your comments box with about a million questions and a lot of table pounding. This is especially true if the work "New York" is used in terms anything less than adulatory.

All of which is to say that I will not be allowing, in the future, bloggers to turn the discussion of ideas into discussions about perceived personal offenses and individual styles. This blog is called "Theatre Ideas," not "Theatre Owies." As a step in that much-to-be-desired direction, I will no longer be accepting comments from Joshua James, who seems to feel the need to badger me personally, and worse to badger those readers who would like to share their ideas in my comments box. As much as I would like to, I am going to resist the temptation to refute all the misrepresentations Joshua has made of my statements all over the blogosphere. To do so would be to take him ore seriously than he deserves. Suffice to say his voice will not be heard on this blog anymore. I have been loathe to take this approach in the past, because it seemed sort of rude and unsporting. But after the last ten days, I have come to the conclusion that thats why gives us a delete button.

Below you will find a breakdown of the larger idea into its constituent parts.

Executive summary
: Stereotypes about the south and rural areas are perpetuated through the stories (film, television, theatre, etc) we tell ourselves about ourselves and through the stories that we DON'T tell ourselves about ourselves. Stereotypes are destructive if they are not sufficiently balanced by other images.

Read on for a more thorough explanation. After this, something new -- if not an entirely new topic, then at least some new variation -- will follow. I will not continue to bicker in comments about past posts, personal offenses, or critiques of style -- those who wish to do so should go to Mac's of Joshua's blogs, where I'm certain their will be much rejoicing -- they probably can benefit from the traffic. I will use the delete button until this is policy is observed.

To the hundred of readers who have been visiting this site daily, and are now thoroughly tired of the verbal fisticuffs between me and a few very persistent commenters, I apologize, and hope to have the opportunity to shift your attention elsewhere very soon.

    The argument

1. Contemporary southern and rural experiences are under-represented in the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves (film, television, theatre).

2. When southern or rural experiences are portrayed, the focus is often on subject matter or characterizations that reinforce a stereotype.
  • Definition of stereotype
    • an exaggerated image
    • of a subordinate group
    • created and perpetuated by a dominant group
    • repeated throughout the culture without significant balancing
  • Examples of stereotypes of the South
    • Racism
    • Incest
    • Violence
    • Stupidity
    • Backwardness
  • Examples of stereotypes of rural areas
    • Narrow-mindedness
    • Stupidity
    • Lack of imagination
    • Lack of education
    • Insularity

3. Under-representation magnifies the stereotypes, because they are not countered or balanced by other images. Thus, images that might, under different conditions, be viewed as harmless comic exaggerations, for instance, are made to carry ideological baggage since they are one of the few representations of the group.

4. Many of these stereotypes have longstanding historical roots
  • The southern stereotype has roots in the propaganda of the Civil War and its aftermathThe rural stereotypes come from a longstanding historical conflict between City and Country

5. Stereotypes reflect the structure of and struggle for cultural dominance in a society

6. While the perpetuation of stereotypes can be actively and willfully undertaken, more often it is done unthinkingly, reflecting the fact that the stereotype has passed into the national vocabulary as harmless and based on truth

7. Stereotypes are not harmless
  • They undermine self-esteem
    • People, especially young people, become ashamed of where they live or the way they talk, for instance
  • They lead to prejudices that can play out in discrimination
    • For example, unwillingness to cast actors with a regional accent unless the part is specifically from that region (reflecting a belief that a "universal," "transparent" accent reflects a northern norm)

8. Stereotypes are not "based in truth" -- they reflect a normative judgment and exaggeration based on the perceptions of a particular dominant group (in another context, the stereotypes about African-Americans as they appeared in minstrel shows, or the stereotypes about Native Americans based on European sensibilities, reflected dominant white culture's judgments of the minority culture)

9. Stereotypes, and the prejudices that result from them, are often the result of lack of information
a. Many people do not have personal contact with people from rural or southern America that might balance stereotypes

10. In lieu of personal contact, the information they receive about these groups comes through the stories they see and hear
  • Representations in the news media
  • Representations in film and television
  • Representations in theatre

11. These media are centered in the large urban areas of New York and Los Angeles
  • Film -- LA
  • Television -- LA and NY
  • Theatre -- NY

12. Those who live and work in these media in NY and LA are unlikely to have regular contact with people from the south or from rural areas, and thus are prone to subscribe to the same stereotypes as the rest of the country

13. Because they have access to the megaphone of the mass media or the stage, those who live and work in the media in NY and LA are able to broadcast those stereotypes to the nation
  • Television shows
  • Films
  • Plays that tour
  • Plays that are widely acknowledged by the mass media, and that garner additional productions around the country

14. Thus, the stereotypes are reinforced, and the cycle continues

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 ...