Thursday, February 14, 2008

It's Beginning to Happen...

...can you sense it?

Don Hall feels it. And he's calling for action.
Mike Daisey feels it.
Nick Keenan feels it.
Nick feels it.
Travis Bedard feels it.
Matt feels it. (Note: Well, maybe not. See comments.)
Isaac feels it.
Adam feels it.
The Director feels it.
Mr. Excitement feels it.
Butts in Seats feels it.
Tom feels it.

No matter what you feel the answer is, there seems to be great agreement in the theatrosphere that the current system is broken. We may look back years from now and see Mike Daisey's performance as the tipping point, the moment when the desire for change really started to gather momentum. Or maybe, as Don says, we are all being infused with Obama's sense of hope. I don't know. All I know is that, instead of talking about tips for staying afloat in the current system, there seems to be a willingness to acknowledge there are problems and start considering alternatives.

Don is promising an "Off Loop Freedom Charter" for the Chicago theatre people. Others in New York are trying to make changes to the Showcase Code. I am trying to describe a regional "theatre of the tribe." Each alternative will be different, but they are the same in their desire for change.

But Don is right: "We can celebrate the truth of Daisey's article, we can cheer him and stand in cyber-solidarity, but nothing - NOTHING - gets any better if we don't get up off of our asses and do something to change a broken and corrupt paradigm. Changing our model of behavior - shifting the entrenched paradigm - is a task that will not be easy. We all know what is wrong here, folks. It's time to catch some of that Obama-fever and dare to hope and make some changes."

It's time.


Freeman said...

I think you're assuming my position a bit here, Scott. I linked to Mike's posting to see how people felt and got a series of responses, some of which are supportive, some of which are nuanced.

I think there will always be a call for a change in the status quo. I'm not in love with the blaming of regional theaters.

From my position, far outside the trenches (just doing my off-off plays and working to be heard), it seems that treating non-profit "institutions" like the enemy is simply blaming some of the few organizations that still bother to put money into the theater for not being good enough. It's letting the perfect become the enemy of the good. It's also blaming the victims in a lot of ways.

Could things be better? Yes. But I'd say that most intitutions (corporate culture or otherwise) give a damn, try their best, and have a basic financial problem. Unless we come up with another way to fund them, they're going to need to fund themselves.

The fact of Obama is that he's gotten millions of donations online from small donors. I'm one of them. I've given him less than $100. But there have been over 400,000 people who have given to his campaign (I believe). In New York, we complain about $18 tickets for showcases. We don't put our money where our mouths are, and in this argument, money matters. Unless we are a part of the financial solution, or have a truly sustainable new model that will not effectively remove theater from public discourse or send it even further away from the public mind (what I fear from some of the suggestions)we're sort of just blowing smoke.

How many of us are actively giving to non-profits in order to free them financially? Have 400,000, even 200,000, even 2,000 people given $2000 to Seattle Rep this year? Is their budget being covered by their donors? Or, in order to pay Equity actors, union rates, playwrights, directors, set designers, marketing and PR people, etc... do most large institutions have to chase corporate grants, cultivate subscribers, finagle sponsorships?

Sometimes I think we equate artistic decisions or financial constraints with a sort of corruption. In fact, it's corrupt that almost no candidate, Democrat or Republican, has included the Arts as a part of their platform. It's disgusting that a defense budget of more than $600 billion dollars just hit Congress and the NEA received just under $125 million. Not even $1 billion to subsidize the Arts in the country! That's outrageous. That's hardly the fault of regional theaters, who are running on skeleton crews and facing uphill battles at every turn.

In this cultural landscape, with so many disadvantages, the last thing we need is to start eating one another. We should be looking for ways to support and supplement our institutions while they're still alive. That doesn't mean, of course, we can't work outside of them or do different things. That we're beholden to the regionals. I just don't see them as the enemy to be torn down. They're hanging on by their fingernails as it is.

Scott Walters said...

Matt -- In a family with an alcoholic, there often is a tacit agreement among the family members to not acknowledge that this is so. Many do so out of the most loving of motives: they don't want to hurt their loved one's feelings. And so the alcoholism continues, often with abuse as a result. The reality is that denial is a form of enabling.

Everyone loves regional theatres, and OOB, and Off-Broadway, and hell some of us even love Broadway. But to fail to acknowledge the problems, and that the problems may be systemic and not simply lack of money, is to enable the abuse of artists to continue. And make no mistake about it, the system currently abuses artists.

You ask whether we have contributed to a regional theatre. Well, artists contribute to this system by giving their time and lifeblood for subpar pay, q migrant lifestyle, and a brutal system that uses their talents and then tosses them in the street when they are no longer needed. Aside from Broadway, perhaps, there isn't a theatre in this country that doesn't balance its books on the backs of artists.

And if we look at the sheer waste of talent that the current system propogates, with 80% umemployment and an average of 17 weeks of annual employment for the average Actors Equity member, to not acknowledge the flaws is almost criminal.

There are many of us who don't believe that simply adding more money into the mix will help. I guess the link I provided was more about the comments you received on the issue than your own personal stand. I will amend the post in order to draw attention to your concerns.

Freeman said...

Scott -

I am acknowledging that problems exist, I simply see them in a different place.

I'd ask you'd refrain from characterizing my disagreement with this position as somehow an enabling of abuse. That makes honest discussion very difficult, because I'll wind up personally defending myself, and not my position. Let's avoid that sort of extreme rhetoric.

I stand by my position, I'm sure you'll stand by yours. I respect that.

The system does not abuse artists. It simply doesn't have the financial agility to sustain itself and pay artists what they wish they could.

We need to stop talking in terms of us versus them, especially when "they" are "us." We need to look to the actual problem, which is far larger than the artistic direction of any given regional stage.

RebeccaZ said...

Scott -

I've been a long time reader and I'd like to pose this question to you ... what sort of action are you willing to take, other than writing in your blog about what everybody else should do?

You're a great cheerleader about "change", don't get me wrong, but how are you going to act upon this need for change? What will you do to make a difference?

And, writing about this stuff, while a great start, is not the answer I'm looking for. Feel free to point me in the direction of past blogs where you talk about action you may have taken, but it just seems like a lot of conversation.

Rebecca Z.

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