A large group of explorers are cutting their way through a jungle, hacking through the underbrush with their machetes, working with superhuman strength to clear a path to their goal. One of their members breaks away from the group and climbs to the top of a tree in order to get a sense of the landscape. Looking around, he realizes that the group has slowly lost their direction and are heading at a 90 degree angle from where they want to go. "Hey! HEY!" he calls out. "What?" come a voice from below. "We're going in the wrong direction! Wrong direction!" he shouts. The voice from below shouts back: "Be quiet! We're making progress!"
I thought of this story this weekend when I read the editorial by Teresa Eyring in the latest issue of American Theatre Magazine, and an article by Patrick McGeehan in Saturday's New York Times entitled "The Odds Are As Big As Their Dreams." The former is the voice from below, shouting to Mike Daisey and those who agree with him (like me) to "Be quiet! We're making progress!" The latter is a report from the underbrush, one that dramatizes the New York myth in action. I'd like to look a little more closely at the McGeehan article.
It is hard to deny that there is something sort of heroic about this group of theatre people fervently trying to mount an Off-Off-Broadway production of John Osborne's Epitaph for George Dillon, and hoping for a transfer. They are following their dreams, and that is always an admirable endeavor. Their sacrifices reflect determination and pluck: Actor Michael Rodgers, a recent arrival in NYC from California, "is now looking for his third temporary home in three months, having exhausted what he called “the deal of the century” — $100 for two weeks in the East Side apartment of a friend of a friend of a friend." Other members of the cast are in similar situations: "Christian Martin sold his car and his television to finance his move from Los Angeles to a friend’s couch in the East Village. Denise Crosby left her husband and 9-year-old son in Pacific Palisades and talked her way into a temporary apartment in Harlem. Anna Garduño, the lead actress, has been sleeping on a fold-out couch in the Greenwich Village home office of some friends." She raised money for the production from friends. Rodgers is "almost 40," Martin is 32, the director Larry Moss is 60. The actors received $20 for their work, The SM and the ASM got $100 and an $81 Metro card, and the director got nothing, but his devotion to the play is inspiring: "I’m getting nothing. But I’m getting everything. I’m getting to do the play.” McGeehan goes on: "Ms. Crosby and John Cirigliano, another cast member who lives in Southern California, said they had gladly dipped into their savings to finance their appearances in the showcase. “I can say now that I’ve done theater in New York, which gives you some credibility,” said Ms. Crosby...
Credibility. "The quality, capability, or power to elicit belief:"
I just don't get it. The absurdity of this notion would be laughable if it weren't so commonly held. This play is being self-produced and self-financed by a bunch of mostly California actors, but the mere fact that it is being performed in a 100- zip code gives it "credibility"? Where in the world does this idea come from, and how is it maintained? How would it be different if, instead of leaving her family behind, Denise Crosby and the rest of them had stayed in California, had not sold all of their belongings, and produced the show there? Same cast, same director, same play, probably a smaller budget, probably a larger audience, but everything...exactly...the same...except *poof* no credibility. Why? Why is this production, one of approximately 1700 such productions Off-Off-Broadway each year according to the New York Innovative Theatre Foundation study, being featured by the New York Times except to tacitly reinforce the myth of New York City as the "nation's theater capital," the city at the end of the theatrical rainbow where one finds not a pot of gold, but a pot of "credibility." To use a baseball analogy, they all look like line drives in the newspaper, and as long as that newspaper is the New York Times you are granted immediate and automatic...credibility.
The destructiveness of this myth is akin to the one that says that smoking makes you look cool. It is the crack being peddled on every theatre corner in the nation, and the resulting addiction is so total that those addicted can no longer even sense the absurdity of what they are saying: “I can say now that I’ve done theater in New York," because I and my friends uprooted ourselves and bought a production for $20,000, and that "gives you some credibility."
And let's not even go into the likelihood of a play being picked up and transferred to a larger venue where "we can get paid," except to say this is the same kind of thinking that leads people to play the Lotto. All of this is a pipe dream that makes O'Neill's drunks look like cold-eyed realists. But Mike Daisey is wrong, I am wrong, every person who sees the destructiveness of this NYC shell game is wrong, because NYC is "where the work is," right? It is the "theatre capital" of America.
In the climactic moment of Death of a Salesman, Biff begs Willie, ""Will you let me go, for Christ's sake? Will you take that phony dream and burn it before something happens?" It's too late for this group of theatre artists and so many others, but it might not be too late for the young. For Christ's sake, NYC, will you let these young people go before something happens?
"Be quiet! We're making progress!"
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I believe in de-centralization. However there is the paradoxical statement I will make. I make it in the hopes of motivating success.
De-Centralization will not occur at the expense of anything NYLACHIian.
The Myth is too ingrained. Thus the pathway to de-centralization must lie in re-evaluating that which has less value rather than attempting to deflate the standard.
The notion that decentralization occurs at the expense of the NYLACHIian Paradigm/Shell Game/What have you...This is as unrealisitic a goal as playing the lotto for NYLACHIian success. The protestations play into the shell game just as much as the devotations.
"There you go again." Nice to see your anti-NYC rant hasn’t lost any of its steam.
But please, Scott, explain the difference in ambition involved between your need to recently showcase your ideas at the Barrow Street stage in New York and this sad crew of Off-Off Broadway visiting artists.
Read closer your Letter to the Editor in the previous post. Why the reference to your participation in the post-show panel discussion following Mike Daisey's performance? I think you think it "gives you some credibility."
Smoking doesn't make you look cool. Cool people tend to smoke.
Doing a show in NYLACHI doesn't make you cool. Cool people do shows in NYLACHI.
Homer: So, I realized that being with my family is more important than being cool.
Bart: Dad, what you just said was powerfully uncool.
Homer: You know what the song says: "It's hip to be square".
Lisa: That song is so lame.
Homer: So lame that it's... cool?
Marge: Am I cool, kids?
Marge: Good. I'm glad. And that's what makes me cool, not caring, right?
Marge: Well, how the hell do you be cool? I feel like we've tried everything here.
Homer: Wait, Marge. Maybe if you're truly cool, you don't need to be told you're cool.
Bart: Well, sure you do.
Lisa: How else would you know?
So how do we ding the "Location makes you cool" myth?
How do we throttle the talent flight to the coasts to support the theatre going on elsewhere?
We need to re evaluate the local scenes.
(What do you mean "we" NYLACHIan?)
Ok, so the folks in each area of the country need to find their value to those who want creative endeavor. I think it is possible, but it requires a new step and a new way of thinking about the goals of artists versus the goals of scenes.
You need to find a way to get the camera and the audiences looking at the grasslands, the swamplands, the rocky crags.
Here's the thing...we've been talking about economic stability or market viability as reasoning (whether properly assumed or not) for where the artist sets on to locate themself. If NYLACHI cant sustain the artists within its borders and NONNYLACHI areas cant fully address this issue any better...than what are the true determining factors...
It seems that economy cant be it. If the "kids" think they'll make a mint in NYLACHI... are NYLACHIans responsible for this myth?
All of this seems besides the point if we can locate and focus on the benefits of local artistic involvement.
So long as non-NYLACHIans attempt to devalue NYLACHI rather than revalue there own piece of real estate...they are no different than the person on the ground yelling "Shut Up We are Making progress". Attempting to de-value the other is just as distracting or misinformed as loading up the automobile to make it in NYLACHI.
To borrow from Scott's terminology. Give up on the Dragon. Striving to defeat an "opponent" only legitimizes and already well entrenched entity.
De-centralization will not come at the de-valuing of another.
Don -- Guns don't kill people, people kill people. It is faulty logic all the way around, and your response is pretty glib. If everybody is told they must go to New York in order to work, then it follows that some cool people will go to NY and they will do some work. The part of the equation that needs to be neutralized is the part about everybody going to NY.
Also, the other half of the equation is going unstated (right now): if everybody goes to NY, then nobody stays home and the rest of the country is starved for theatrical entertainment. Is that right? No. Does it help the health and development of the art form? No.
dv -- I disagree: the two go hand in hand. The myth of NYC-as-source-of-credibility has to be weakened and a different ideology has to be created. I try to do both here.
nic -- My reference to the post-show discussion was to make the point that, contrary to what Teresa Eyring said, Mike Daisey not only has acknowledged ensembles like Bloomsburg Ensemble Theatre, but he had a panel that specifically focused on them including the TCG posterchild Bloomsburg Ensemble Theatre.
"The myth of NYC-as-source-of-credibility has to be weakened and a different ideology has to be created. I try to do both here."
Even if that were the case, are the current tactics you're employing succeeding in the first objective?
My concern is that after all this time, we fall back into the patterns already established in efforts to decentralize...i.e.
negative statments about NYLACHI passionate rebuttals and rebukes...
Are there other avenues available to us to further the discussion?
Too often I fear that so many of us on all sides of the issue fall back into a sort of Ibsen's Brand Mentality...
All or Nothing.
Which usually leads to the later.
Less Lightsaber duels...more Jedi Mind Tricks please
dv -- The first step is to establish the facts and to expose the fictions. This post has nothing to do with NYC or NYC artists, it has to do with NYC as the sole source of theatrical credibility. So before we discuss tactics, let's just establish the facts.
So: is there any reason to believe that a NYC address increases the talent of an actor? Using the example from the article: Is Denise Crosby a better actress now that she has bought herself and OOB production?
Don't tell me about what people think, I want to know: is she a better actress because she moved to NYC and took part in a self-financed OOB production?
The first step is to establish the facts and to expose the fictions. This post has nothing to do with NYC or NYC artists, it has to do with NYC as the sole source of theatrical credibility.
That presumes credibility on your part. When are you going to establish your credibility.
If you feel that NYC should matter so little to the people in the article, why don't you host the show at your college, and put them up at your house?
And why spend money to fly to New York to sit on stage if NYC has no credibility?
"This post has nothing to do with NYC or NYC artists, it has to do with NYC as the sole source of theatrical credibility."
Are these elements truly capable of compartmentalization?
i.e. doesn't any credibility NYC has a result of it's artists and it's location within the history of the artform in America?
But perhaps you'll think that is a misdirection....here's another...
Does it make an artist more talented? No...
But, does it make her more credible? She thinks so.
Hence the chicken and the egg crap that leads to the repetition which inspired your vacation, right?
No one is saying she is more talented because of her address, or better...
There is a connection here between talent and credibility that I dont see...
The perception of credibility comes from perceived cash streams, perceived documentation/archiving of the projects existence, perceived distribution of the shows notice on a nationwide platform.
These notions aren't entirely falicitous, they are just outdated... outdated dreams.
"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."
This post of yours today does the former much more so than the later...
So, pretend it isnt me saying it, listen to Buck
I'm not trying to pick a fight with JJames...but I will say...isnt this right in the sort of basket that you dont want to eat from?
Constant rebukes, constant fighting and biting from people angry at you for god knows what reason going back on perceived sleights from years of blogging...
I fear the repetition.
But, dude i dig the Priciples so much...
Peace, this time I really do got to go back to my pina colada
dv -- I appreciate your concern, and what it says about the current issue: that to suggest that we get beyond this obsession with NYC and that credibility might derive from what you do rather than where you do it invites constant rebukes, constant fighting and biting, as you say. The desire to maintain dominance, especially one built on an ideology with no basis in fact but only in image, requires the constant policing of the boundaries and bashing of anyone who dares suggest that the emperor has not clothes. Which does not alter the fact of that nudity.
By the way, I went to NYC to appear on a panel because that's where the panel was. I went because Mike Daisey invited me, and I value what he is doing. Had he invited me to appear on a panel in Seattle, I'd have gone there. The NYC cache doesn't have much power here in NC -- I benefited from it very little. All of which is to say: believe it or not, we are not all fixated on being validated by NYC.
I hear ya, dv . . . I intended for my questions to be honest ones . . . if nyc's theatre credibility is suspect, whose isn't? And how do we know?
Who's the credible theatre god we should be listening to?
And if they are wasting their time, in Scott's eye, why not help them rather than criticize them?
And why come to NYC to participate in a forum on an OB stage if NYC has no theatre credibility?
I think those are pertinent questions to the discussion.
I'd also remark that, according to research I did in grad school, Gary Sinese staged a great remounting of TRUE WEST for Steppanwolf in Chicago in the early eighties to great local acclaim . . . he pushed to bring it Off-Bway to New York and many resisted . . . they raised the money and brought it to NYC and it became a sensation (and launched Malkovich's career) . . . it also gained Steppenwolf an almost international reputation for theatre excellence.
Steppenwolf didn't stop producing shows in Chicago, of course, they're still there and in fact may be the most famous Chicago theatre there is . . . but it's understandable to me how smaller companies look at what they did (as I did in grad school) and strive to follow their example.
What theatre people want are audiences, not just at home but everywhere . . . for example, does the fact that Mike Daisey does his show in NYC diss his home audience, or when he does his show in Maine or Portland or Denver, is that somehow disrespecting those of us in NYC?
To me, I say, of course not. More audiences the better.
So that's why I ask those questions. I could just drive by and yell "Dick" but I ain't, I asked a few questions.
Joshua -- If you would stick to your real question, we'd have a conversation. When you start out with a personal insult, this conversation is over. And I will begin deleting your comments if you continue with the abuse. You have a blog -- I don't visit it.
Scott, what I posed was no different than what you posed . . . you questioned NYC's theatre credibility - I questioned yours . . . how is what I did any more or less insulting than what you did?
Joshua brings up a question about audiences. Here is a question for anybody who wants to respond:
Are 99 people in NYC better than 99 people in Independence MO?
Are 99 people in NYC more deserving of quality entertainment than 99 people in Wichita KS?
Are 99 people in NYC more human than 99 people in Bloomington IL?
Joshua -- I did not question NYC's credibility. I questioned whether the mere fact of a show appearing in NYC conferred credibility on those who are in it. I questioned the belief that appearing in a show in NYC conferred credibility on you as an actor. I questioned the connection between geography and credibility.
Which, of course, has nothing to do with my credibility.
I actually asked a lot of questions, the last and, most important to this discussion, was . . . you questioned NYC's theatre credibility - I followed up by questioning yours . . . you accused me of personal insults . . . how is my question any more or less insulting than yours?
Respectfully, I'd really like an answer to that question.
In answer to your professorial redirect and rephrasing of my audience question (actually, your audience question is completely different from mine):
I think the audiences in Iowa and KS are just as important as the audiences in NYC, but here's something you left out . . . many of the people in theatre audiences in NYC are from Iowa and KS and NC and all sorts of places . . . they are no more or less important here than they are at home . . . folks just seem to like to come here and see shows, for some reason.
I just want to connect with my audience, who are from many places . . . that may mean I go to them (like the shows I've had in Florida, or like Mike going to Denver) or it may mean they come see me here in NYC (like you came to NYC to see Mike's show).
That's my view. Now about that credibility thing?
Scott, we cross posted, so you responded with your credibility thing right when I reposed it.
I just read it. You wrote:
"I did not question NYC's credibility. I questioned whether the mere fact of a show appearing in NYC conferred credibility on those who are in it. I questioned the belief that appearing in a show in NYC conferred credibility on you as an actor. I questioned the connection between geography and credibility."
You know, it sure SOUNDS like you're questioning NYC's credibility, even though you say at the beginning of that paragraph that you are not . . . it sure sounds like you are.
And as someone who once worked in network casting and still have connections and friends that do, one thing I can tell you is that appearing in a show in NYC, even a small one, does give an actor credibility for major casting directors. Absolutely.
So does appearing at the Guthrie, or the Itiman, or ATL, but NYC casting people see all shows in NYC and it does enhance an actor's credibility to appear in one, I can tell you that from personal experience.
At least two friends of mine landed representation and later network gigs through small shows of mine they did in small houses (fifty seats) that ran only a couple weeks . . . opportunity they may not have had doing a show in KS.
Now some actors don't care about network TV, it's true, and only want to do theatre. But most of the actors who come here would like to do both and that's one reason they choose to move here.
I know another actor who did a small showcase I was involved in, ran 3 weeks, which led to him being cast as Angel in the Broadway production of RENT and he later toured with it and was thrilled to see the world and do theatre at the same time.
My best friend just did a revival of a rather famous show in Boston, where it got raves, and it's now coming back to Broadway this fall. He'll be acting in it.
Now was it terrible that they went to Boston first? Were the audiences there more important than NYC ones?
not at all - they had a space and a company that wanted to do the show there. They did it, and it was so well received they decided to bring it back to broadway so more people could see it. More people from many places, because NYC seems to attract tourists, for some reason . . . therefore they have an opportunity to reach more audience members by bringing it here, since they tend to flock here.
Me, I loved the theatre I did in Iowa, I did. I love a lot of the theatre people I know here in NYC, and some of them are the same people I knew in Iowa.
Joshua -- You are hearing what you want to hear, not what I am saying. And is is so often the case, we are arguing in circles. Your last post in which you described all your friends who benefited from being in a NYC show shifted the discussion from actual credibility to perceived credibility.
Credibility: "The quality, capability, or power to elicit belief." My question: is the actress a more credible actress (more capable of eliciting belief) because she paid for a production in NYC? Has her talent changed in any way? Is she a better actress because of it beyond simply the addition of experience in front of an audience?
I agree with you: in the current system, the mere appearance in a NYC show confers benefits. The question is whether the current system has any objective basis for conferring those benefits.
The second, and more crucial in my opinion, question is whether the current system strengthens the theatre in America, or weakens it. I would argue the latter. Would you argue the former?
I think the way to dissuade folks from migrating to NYC (cool or uncool) is to do better work in the sticks.
Chicago (which, while in the NYLACHI discussion is unfortunately lumped into the NYC vitriol) is gaining increasing credibility as a viable alternative to New York because the Chicago artists are stepping up their game. If the folks in Wichita want more credibility, then better work* is in order.
* better work being either work that challenges artists to get it on or work that brings in the houses or either - however the work that brings the cool people is the former.
I just wrote a long, passionate defense of my views and response and for some reason, when I hit post, it disappeared.
I can't recreate all of it. So sad, it was quite the pamphlet. Fuck!
I won't rewrite it. Just a few highlights.
Is an appearance on NYC stage a measure of credibilty for an actor? In a way, yes. Appearing on any stage is. Appearing on a New York Stage is.
Is getting a job as a Professor a measure of credibility? Sure it is! are you a different Professor than you were before you got tenure? No, but it is a measure, in one way, of your capabilities. Look at it that way.
in the end, I agree with Don.
I know of a few small groups who brought shows here and put them up, just like the people in the article, and they succeeded and got acclaim.
I know just as many who put up a crappy show and it failed, and it would have failed in NC or KS or whereever.
I know a few talented NYC writers and actors who picked up stakes and moved to Chicago because Chicago has such a killer rep as an awesome theatre town. I know you consider Chicago to be one part of the theatre axis of evil, but people go there, even though there are less TV and Film opportunities, because cool people are there doing cool work.
If you began doing super cool work in NC, people would flock there.
No, I don't think the American Theatre system is perfect, far from it. I probably just disagree with you on the cause of the problem . . . you see three cities are the main ill of theatre in America - I would probably agree with Daisey that it's administrators who expand their roles and salaries and build buildings at cost to the artists -
And to that end, would you call yourself an administrator, Scott, or one of the craftsmen?
Because I don't see you doing what we do, which is all right, but I really don't see you understanding what we do.
Okay, I hope this one won't get lost when I post.
Um, credibility to who? To elicit whose belief? Independence City? Broadway producers? NYLACHI artists? Scott Walters? Me?
No one is going to get them all, so I think the first step for an artist is to determine for whom they want to be credible. Which means that yes, in some cases, a NY production will provide credibility.
In some cases.
OK, NOW we're having a conversation.
Don, your point is well taken, and I don't want to lose that when I make the point that is going to follow. Ultimately, and I say this to Joshua as well, the most important thing is the work itself -- the actual plays on the stage.
Now, the point I want to make, Don, is to draw your attention to the underlying assumptions of your comment: "I think the way to dissuade folks from migrating to NYC (cool or uncool) is to do better work in the sticks...If the folks in Wichita want more credibility, then better work* is in order." In case you can't see it, the assumption is that the work in "this sticks" is not very good, or not as good as in New York. Let's stay focused on the original post, which is about an OOB showcase. That bar is pretty damn low, Don, given that a lot of the worst drek I have seen in a theatre has been in OOB showcases. Surely the work at, say, the North Carolina Stage Company here is Asheville, a LORT company, is far superior than most OOB showcases. Yet the actress in the article wouldn't say she was more credible because she appeared in one of their shows. The fact is that there is a lot -- a LOT -- of incredible theatre being done across this country, outside of the NYC myth.
This is where my comments about TCG come in, because it should be there responsibility to seek out that work and let people know about it, so that the general assumptions that work in "the sticks" is somehow inferior to what is in NYC. "August: Osage County" was an AMAZING show, but it wasn't amazing because it was in NYC or even Chicago; it would have been just as amazing in Wichita, but it would have closed after its initial run with little notice because nobody is covering Wichita.
Joshua is right: appearing on any stage is a measure of credibility. And there is wonderful, wonderful work in NYC and Chicago. Shit, "August: Osage County" was the best show I've EVER seen. But there are wonderful shows elsewhere as well, and I think they are due some equal time.
Joshua mentions getting a job as a professor being a measure of credibility -- yes, it is. Like the theatre scene, there are certain programs that are assumed to be more credible simply because of their history, and the teachers whop are there are assumed to be better because they are there. But it isn't so. Many of the first generation of Steppenwolf were trained at Illinois State University in Normal IL by Cal Pritner, Jean Scharfenberg, Ralph Lane, and John Kirk. They created a great many excellent and eventually famous stars. Now, take a look in all the books that purport to tell about the great acting teachers in America and what do you find: the vast majority are NYC teachers, and there certainly is no mention anywhere of these four. Why? Because they are not in a major metropolitan market. Yet I would hold the students of these four up against any acting teacher anywhere.
This is unjust. When I was a student in the 70s, Megan Terry was regularly mentioned as one of the major playwrights. Then she went to Omaha to run the Omaha Magic Theatre and nobody paid attention to her anymore. Did the move to Nebraska make her any less talented or original than she was when she was working OOB? No, she just stepped outside of that very narrow spotlight.
We need a greater awareness of what is happening across the country, and we need to get beyond the idea that if it is worthwhile it will come to NYC.
Oops! I neglected to answer Joshua's question: I am neither an artist nor an administrator, I am an advocate and a public intellectual.
I pretty much agree with everything you just wrote and I encourage you re-read the DV's earlier comments.
The problem here has nothing to do with the actors or the producers or the playwrights. The problem is in (drumroll):
...nobody is covering Wichita.
Why is there credibility to be gained in NYC? Because the New York media is a worldwide industry and you can read the New York Times in Kalamazoo, MI but not the other way around. Actors want to be seen and heard; playwrights want lots of people to hear their words.
If your advocacy is to have any affect whatsoever, you might think about advocating directly to the Wichita Eagle & Beacon and get them to cover local theater more aggressively. The fact is Joshua , Paul, Bob and I could all move to Wichita together and set up shop and George Clooney is still going to get more coverage than our crazy avant theater stuff - hell, we could be a whole year of nothing but classics and we'd still get less coverage than the Truck Show.
And that's not regionalism, brother. That's fact.
Convincing artist's to stay put and work the homegrown angle isn't practical because the problem isn't the theater in those towns (The fact is that there is a lot -- a LOT -- of incredible theatre being done across this country, outside of the NYC myth.
). The problem is wth the media coverage of said work.
Work on the local affiliates of NBC or the hometown papers owned by the conglomerates - that's your target. Bashing the work done in New York simply isn't a pragmatic approach to getting your agenda functioning.
It's what we learned in 2004 - it isn't good enough to just hope people will vote against the bad man. You gotta have someone or something for them to vote for.
Don -- I would like to ditto your first line: "I pretty much agree with everything you just wrote." (In other news, the Pope is Episcopalian!)
A big part of the issue IS coverage. Truth be told, my impression from living in Bloomington-Normal IL (home of the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, Illinois State, and several small theatres) is that the local newspapers actually do cover the theatre without too much begging. Unlike in a major metropolitan area, whose newspapers have a lot to cover (theatre and otherwise), there are fewer things competing for space in the local news page, and it is easier to get attention. And for the theatres themselves, that is probably enough to do the job.
The issue is coverage for the profession, so that theatre artists (current and in training) are helped to become aware of the options available to them. This is why I tend to push on American Theatre so much, because they are really the only theatre magazine with a national outlook. That said, maybe the focus should be on the creation of another national theatre magazine (or website, at least) that explicitly has the focus of discussing theatre beyond the 900 lb gorillas, whether those are in NY or Chicago or LA or they're the Guthrie and the Goodman and the Folger. Leave American Theatre to do what it does, and instead create an alternative that showcases the efforts elsewhere.
The beneficial aspect of this is that it accomplishes the goal without the perception of Nylachi-bashing. To some extent, this is what Theatreforte does (what has happened to Theatreforte? Nothing new for almost 2 weeks!). Perhaps there need to be talks of an expansion...
Thanks to you, dv, and Joshua for helping me to see from a slightly different angle/
Maybe the social media explosion will help dilute some of the power of the New York coverage if we can really make it gain traction. Be the Media is an interesting place to think about this.
It’s not just press coverage. It’s audience. There is a limited audience for theatre nationwide. What cultivated theatre audience there is, resides principally in Nylachi. We can change that to some degree with local and national PR and press, but please no more pies in sky on this point.
If you examine the finances of the ensemble “success stories” that Teresa Eyring points to in her American Theatre column, you will see that local box office represents only a small percentage of their income. Now this is where press and PR really come into play. National press gives the ensemble the “credibility” they need when they apply for grants and funding. It gives them credibility and status when they approach local and national moneyed individual donors. The artists themselves need not believe in the supposed credibility and status this national press bestows of them, but they do need it in how it represents them to the dominant culture.
Working with rat theatres around the country I have come to enjoy the creative, political, and ethical challenges of fundraising. To my mind, those challenges are intricately entwined to the nature of the theatre being produced. I prefer rat theatre before institutional and regional theatre because it is politically, ethically, and creatively more challenging. It is produced with or without money, with or without the credibility or status of the dominant culture.
Working now with funded German theatre, I appreciate our American rat scrambling for funds to produce to an even greater degree. It’s the job of theatre as much as government to entwine art into the larger culture… or not. For me, depending on the aesthetic of the particular production, it may be more valid to remain as subculture, cool and obscure as jazz culture once was. Other times the production might demand the credibility and status of the larger culture. But then it’s my job to demand it, same as any bastard son would do. I don’t want it automatically bestowed. In a world where 6 million children die from malnutrition and hunger each year, I am already too privileged by my American birthright. So fuck the 99 people in Wichita KS. They need to manage the ethics and politics of their privileged American leisure time on their own terms. If they would rather attend a Tractor Pull instead of theatre, that’s their God Given American Right. And if they believe that the Tractor Pull doesn’t receive the credibility and status it deserves, they need to do something about and quit whining. So too us.
Nope, can't agree with you about the limited audience nationwide. People who move to Nylachi don't suddenly grow a theatrical interest organ as they enter the city limits. What you mean is that there are more people in a huge city to draw from. True enough. But interest is just as strong no matter where you are -- people are people.
Scott, it seems most of your readers (or at least commenters) are living in those big bad cities. And Laura just moved away. However, from what I can discern, only one is (possibly) from a major city.
I can't help but wonder if there is a correlation.
Tony -- Yes, one of the ironies of my blog life is that most of my commenters are Nylachians!
I'm unclear what correlation you are speaking about, though. Am I being obtuse?
Not Nylachilans. People who now live there. Big difference.
People who grew up in those areas and ,according to most of your writing, now know nothing about where they lived because they chose to move away for whatever reason.
Hence both the vested continued interest and the sometimes anger from the suggestion that nylachi is such an evil place and those living there know nothing about the rest of america.
Just as "People who move to Nylachi don't suddenly grow a theatrical interest organ as they enter the city limits." People who've spent most of their lives in the sticks don't suddenly become ignorant about the rest of America, once they move to a bigger city.
You seem to take a "you're with us or against us" tact which often seems counter-productive to the end goal of a decentralized American theatre.
I'm saying that there's more to it and there's probably a deeper reason why those nylachians pay attention, and get put off.
Scott-- Yes, people are people, but everyone is schooled by their unique culture. And by the way, the Tractor Pull is a form of theatre. So what I meant to say was that there is a limited audience for the Tractor Pull theatre aesthetic. You may disagree, but I think it would be difficult to acculturate a Nylachi audience to such a degree that they would learn to appreciate Tractor Pull theatre.
OK, clearly I need to ask for help. Tony, how is it that I address the idea that New York should not serve as the uber-arbiter of theatrical culture without it being perceived as "nylachi is such an evil place." Because I have never, ever intended to say Nylachi is evil, or that its artists and productions are bad, or anything like that. What I have tried to do is say that, for an art form that is local and not mass in its very core, the focus should be more widely distributed.
So help me with that.
As far as your point about adopted Nylachians, that is true. There is a certain self-selection that occurs. Many people move to the big cities because they want to live in a certain way, and that is totally cool. But they often carry certain baggage with them, certain wounds or angers that perhaps drove them to NYC. I know that I am not the best person to talk about Racine WI, where I grew up, because I found it not in synch with my own preferences. On the other hand, there are people who grew up with me that love Racine, have stayed there, and wouldn't think of going anywhere else. And they are the ones who ought to speak for that town, not me.
Nick, let me ask you something: do you really think that the non-metropolitan areas as a whole are into Tractor Pulls? And if this is something confined to non-metropolitan areas, why do so many tractor pulls occur in domed stadiums in metropolitan areas? Why is it that the biggest concert that Garth Brooks played was in Central Park? Also, do you think that all those people, many of whom are college educated (the Raleigh-Durham in NC, for instance, has the largest number of college-educated people per capita of anywhere in the United States -- not NYC, not Chicago, not LA), haven't learned about literature, drama, and the arts? There is no such thing as Tractor Pull theatre aesthetic -- it exists only in the stereotype-dominated part of a NYer's mind.
I think there's a couple of things:
"De-Centralization will not occur at the expense of anything NYLACHIian." Just like you've said about "yes, and."
There are a lot of people who won't believe it until they see it. Once an idea has been proven to have at least a chance of success, people flock to it.
Maybe post examples of all the great theatres that are not in a major city. They are out there. And why their work is interesting. Look at The Purple Rose in Chelsea, Michigan.
And as far as credibility, yes, for many many people in the current system of theatre doing a show in NY adds credibility. Just as a major regional theatre on a resume adds credibility for those who want so badly to work in that system. Foolhardy, yes. Real, yes.
Most people who move to the major cities to add credits or get famous leave or quit. But young people especially go because there is something established there. I don't think it is accidental that most of the theatres I know of outside the major cities were not started by kids.
Those who haven't quit or left are there because that is where they want to live and work. Not really that much different between them and Independence.
I just think it is not Nylachi vs. America. If a truly decentralized theatre is going to live, it will not grow out of the regional theatre system. It will not grow from tearign nyc and Chicago down, it will have to grow on it's own and try not to repeat the same mistakes.
Tony -- Agreed! My main goal is to tell a story about non-metropolitan theatre that makes it a viable option to those kids getting ready to leave college. To stem the flow of fodder to the big city so that the only ones who are there are those who really want to be there, and so only those who are in Wichita (or Independence, or Racine, or or or) are those who really want to be there. Right now, I think the siren song of Nylachi is the only melody being heard, especially with so many regional theatres casting out of there. I'd like to add another option to the theatrical iPod.
Thanks for the insights, Tony.
Scott says: There is no such thing as Tractor Pull theatre aesthetic -- it exists only in the stereotype-dominated part of a NYer's mind.
Nearly 170 languages are spoken in this city and 36% of its population is foreign born. So to which stereotype-dominated Nyer's mind are you referring?
For all this NYer knows, there is no such thing as a Tractor Pull. I spent my first 18 years growing up on an Illinois farm. I have never seen a Tractor Pull in my life.
But I have been to baseball games. Every Sunday in the summer my family and other rural families would gather to watch my father, uncles, and other men play baseball in a make-shift baseball diamond they had built in an open field. So in that culture I grew up playing Little League and trading baseball cards.
Scott, do you have a problem with the notion that my family and I would have had no use for theatre back then? Or do you believe that somehow theatre would have added something essential that was missing from our rural lives?
Nick -- I don't think every person in the world wants theatre, and I don't think it would be a failure if I didn't lure your family into one. However, had I a theatre in rural Illinois (where, by the way? I grew up in southern WI and spent many years in Normal), and if I were doing my job, I would spend time trying to create something that might be of interest to your family. And I don;t think that would be an old Broadway musical, either, but perhaps something attuned to whatever interest and values I found specific to that area and that particular audience. I think one of the lessons of "Invitation to the Party" is that you must be intentional about who you want to coax into your theatre. If I were in a rural area, and I really wanted my theatre to include farm families, I would do my best to listen and learn, and then create something that had a chance of speaking to them. Listen and learn being the key
If there is no such thing as tractor pull theatre... when I think we need to create it. I think if we got actors to perform in tractor pulls...oh man...can you imagine Waiting For Godot starring Lucky the Tractor???
Now if you could tie narrative to tractor pull, the way in which they tie narrative to exhibition wrestling event...you'd have something quite excellent that might get me to rent a car and go down and see. I'm talking about epic sort of F.T. Marinetti approaches...
BTW didn't a company in austin do a production by Ruth Margraff with motorcycles and stunt asthetics?
Wouldnt that be daring? Wouldnt that pull focus? Oedipus performed as a tractor pull...you pull the headlights out at the end simultaneous with the blinding of the eyes and the motor oil hits the mud in buckets...
This sort of playful daring do is just if not more essential to decentralization. This is a new reality.
Scott said: If I were in a rural area, and I really wanted my theatre to include farm families, I would do my best to listen and learn, and then create something that had a chance of speaking to them. Listen and learn being the key
And if you listened and learned that our community was happy and fulfilled with our Sunday afternoon baseball game, what would you do? I would hope you would move on with your theatre, instead of guilting us into supporting you in some way.
Well, of course -- if there is no need, there is no reason. That said, one of the first things I might do is try to get included in one of the baseball games, if possible, or at the very least be a regular spectator. I'd want people to know me as a guy, not an "artiste." I'm a guy who likes a beer and a brat, plays a decent second base, and oh yeah he also does plays. I'm not into missionary work, and I don't think a community without a theatre must somehow be saved from itself, nor do I think theatre provides some magical quality that transforms people into something they're not already. I think people like stories.
But why do they need someone from the outside to come on board to tell them stories? Why can't they do this themselves? Of course, the answer is that they do, sometimes in theatrical form, sometimes not. Unfortunately, this is where the mission starts to sound more like finding a home for artists who don't want to live in NYLACHI, in which case I wonder why they left home in the first place.
Also, as someone who has seen Hamlet, Garth Brooks, Stomp!, and tractor pulls in my rural American childhood, I can say that they all brought in an audience, but Garth Brooks and tractor pulls did have a much larger and more enthusiastic audience. And there is totally a tractor pull aesthetic. It's very similar to the figure-8 races and demolition derby aesthetic and actually isn't too far removed from the rodeo aesthetic, either (which I have not been to, but had plenty of opportunities).
Paul -- You are assuming they come from outside; they might easily be young people who love theatre but want to do it in their home town for a living. That is the ideal, at least. And yes, they do tell stories, and sometimes what theatre artists do is gather those stories and retell them on a stage (see Appalshop, for instance). I have no investment in telling what our culture considers high art (e.g., Hamlet), only in providing a different option for people who love theatre and who want to do it somewhere and somehow different than NYC. Again, this isn't missionary work, and it posits a much humbler view of the artist than is perhaps popular with some.
By the way, I don't consider those to be "aesthetics," but rather activities. A person can go to the rodeo, then go home and listen to Bach while reading Wendell Berry. I think people are multifaceted.
I can't imagine that theatre artists are having extreme difficulty being heard in their own hometowns -- if there's only one thing I know about rural America it's that they're fiercely protective of their own. Making a living being heard in their own hometowns? Well, that's a different story. And has very little to do with decentralization.
And I was simply relaying a summation of the given circumstances and expectations at a rodeo, tractor pull, etc. I was in no way demeaning those activities -- I've partaken many, many times. Of course people are multifaceted. But no one shows up to a tractor pull dressed to the nines.
Paul -- O didn't think you were being demeaning. And hardly anyone shows up to the theatre dressed to the nines anymore, either! *L* And if I had a theatre, I wouldn't want people dressed to the nines, which is a subtle way of emphasizing class differences.
Making a living is a piece of decentralization. If you think you can make a living in a non-Nylachi town, then you might be more inclined to do so than if you think it is impossible. I don't think it is impossible -- any more impossible than it is to make a living doing theatre in Nylachi.
"Many people move to the big cities because they want to live in a certain way, and that is totally cool. But they often carry certain baggage with them, certain wounds or angers that perhaps drove them to NYC."
That is one MOTHER of an assumption, Scott, that people often move to a big city because they are damaged (and by damaged, I mean wounds and anger).
It's also impossible to challenge, because damaged people have moved to NYC.
But I can point out that oftentimes damaged people DON'T move to big cities, but stay in rural areas (at least I know some damaged folk in Iowa who distrust cities.)
I just want to point out, this kind of talk is what begins conflicts. I appreciate that you want to highlight theatre that happens outside of big cities . . . I'm all for that, since I've had work done outside of big cities as well (and I'd note that ATL does a good job of getting mainstream media to cover their Humana Festival) . . . but why must you tear down the work folks are doing in NY and Chicago in order to hold up work down outside of it?
Can you not, as an advocate, just say these people over here (in NC or KS or wherever) are doing wonderful work and not enough folks are talking about it!
If you did that, I would probably rarely fight with you. I'm not a big fan of NYC myself, but I know and respect many people who work in the arts here and they all deserve respect for what they've accomplished. It's no disservice that it happened it New YOrk, it just worked out that way.
I know you have said, "But I'm not crapping on NYC" but it often reads that way to me, when you use words like "nyc myth" or "lack of credibility" or "people move there because they are wounded or angry" which are, in my mind, rather gross generalizations and more than a bit disrespectful to those of us working in the fields in those cities you castigate with the label NYLACHI, which in itself is a bit demeaning . . . Chicago and New York City are very, very different cultures.
Don't even get me started about LA.
But a lot of cool people move there to do cool work, and big media covers it, which can help artists reach more people. I did great work in Iowa that was covered by the local papers. No one knew about it anywhere else.
MATT & BEN gets a rave in the big papers here and it's done across the country as a result.
In the end, we've exchanged many a name and insult, and it'd be nice not to have to do that - but there are many things that get thrown out casually, by you, that spark it for me . . . I highlighted a few above. I didn't move here because I was damaged . . . I moved here because I thought I was in love with a woman who lived here. I wasn't, nor was she, we both found out, but I did find I loved theatre here. At least for awhile. I especially loved a lot of the theatre people I worked with, which is why I get uppity with you when you make generalizations about them as you did above.
And I'd just like to add, as a farm boy growing up, I've been to many a tractor pull. Too many. It is theatre. Just not my kind of theatre.
Joshua -- Did you read the sentence that followed, where I talked about Racine? What I mean is that if you are moved to leave a place, it probably indicates that you value the place you're moving more than the place you left -- that the new place more fully reflects who you are. And so you are less likely to be able to fully appreciate the left place -- as I am less inclined to say glowing things about Racine. I struggled over the word "wounds" as way to express the idea of unmet needs. I had unmet needs in Racine, a factory town, and in my neighborhood, which was filled with people who were not hostile to the arts or learning, but who weren't much motivated either. So I felt isolated. Looking back, I know that there were parts of town, parts I didn't know much about, where I would have been more comfortable. But I left before I knew it, and never went back. So as a spokesperson, I lack the proper...warmth for the place. I was driven to New York and then to Minneapolis in an attempt to find a place where those needs could be met. That's all I meant. Not that you go limping into NYC, but that you go seeking something you didn't find at home.
Where we have gotten ourselves, Joshua, and where we need to get ourselves out of, is a place where we interpret each other in the worst possible way. If there are two ways to interpret a post or comment, we choose the most negative. That's where we are -- I'd prefer not to be there.
I have nothing against tractor pulls -- I just don't think that theatre in a rural area is compelled to adopt it as an "aesthetic" any more than painters must adopt landscape painting because there is corn everywhere. That said, I would love to experiment with a tractor pull aesthetic for a show.
Scott, I did read it, and I understand how you feel about Racine, that's something I would not dispute with you about.
Where the dispute comes in is you using that particular event from your life to explain why folks move to New York city and how they are wounded or angry . . . that was and still is a gross generalization.
I said it as a way of bridging this communication gap we have . . . I supplied that as an example of why I get uppity (I also supplied other samples) with you. There's no interpretation needed it, it either is a generalization or it isn't. We're not speaking Latin, Scott. Nor am I.
Words are said or they aren't. But when they are" They mean what they mean.
I'm not taking you in the most negative light, I'm pointing out that you are making negative and, what I consider to be, unfounded generalizations about people I hold dear. There's no interpretation for that . . . you said those things, I objected to them (and I'd say I objected much more civilly than I have in the past) and now you're saying I'm misinterpreting you?
I would urge you to reread what I wrote. I state that these generalizations are what gets us started . . . there's not interpretation . . . when you say NYC success is a myth, that's what you are saying . . . when you say NYC lacks credibility, that's what you are saying. When you say people often move to NYC because they are wounded or angry, that's what you are saying.
I disagree and feel it is unfounded. I fail to see how I misinterpreted what you've written. And I'd note that other folks seem to have interpreted it in the same way.
And I wasn't assuming you accused me of limping into NYC all angry and whatnot . . . as I pointed out, it's not about me . . . I'm defending all the great theatre people who live here that I have worked with who moved here to live their dream and often find it realized.
On a personal note, when in grad school I claimed that NYC was the last place I would go, for many of the reasons you have complained about in the past . . . then I met a girl . . . and that's how that story goes.
For me, it gets negative when you deny you said what you said, or that I didn't understand your perfectly clear meaning . . . I'm not misunderstanding you, that I've ever been able to tell (and I've had friends reread some posts to make sure) I'm disputing many of your conclusions.
As I noted, if your mission is to highlight the great theatre work that happens outside of NYC and Chicago and LA, I would never have an issue with you.
And so I ask, can you not accomplish that without tearing down the work that cool people I know DO accomplish in those cities (and those cool people include most of the people, like Don, that you often exchange ideas with) . . . can that be done without insulting what people do in "NYCHLA"?
Thank you, Joshua. I believe this conversation is ended. If you have more to say, please email me.
Thank you, Scott - A bit surprising, as that the conversation has not ended, as far as I can tell . . . I left a question at the end of my last comment.
If you care to answer it, I'd prefer it publicly, on this string. You are the public intellectual.
If not, if you prefer to end the conversation, then there it is.
The conversation is ended because we are repeating old patterns that I'm sure have tried the patience of my readers.
Your question is a "have you stopped beating your wife"-type question: to answer it is to admit that I have been "tearing down the work" of others and "insulting" them, which I do not acknowledge. But I will rephrase the question: can I promote an alternative model of doing theatre without reference to the prevailing model? No. No I can't. It is impossible to advocate decentralization without referring to centralization, and it is ineffective to promote the strengths of an alternative without discussing the weaknesses and blandishments of the dominant model.
And it is Nylachi, not NYCHLA.
And now: going dark.
Thank you dark.
Stand-by Cue 1: Comment moderation.
"De-Centralization will not occur at the expense of anything NYLACHIian." Just like you've said about "yes, and."
There are a lot of people who won't believe it until they see it. Once an idea has been proven to have at least a chance of success, people flock to it.
Maybe post examples of all the great theatres that are not in a major city. They are out there. And why their work is interesting. Look at The Purple Rose in Chelsea, Michigan.
I think this is at the heart of a lot of the discussion and the quote from Buckminster Fuller. There soon will need to come a time to move from the deconstruction of NYLACHI and move to looking at the theaters who have started implementing the changes we are talking about. In hopes that their experiences will inspire more students who want to break away from the current ideology that it is a viable option.
That was my point with the letter to AT. Asking them to use their influence to bring these theaters to a national audience in hopes of showing more people that this work is being done, should be done and can done in more places in the future. Thanks Tony for sharing one more.
Just wanted to chime in real quick, even though this "ended".
Scott, I totally agree about this credibility thing- credibility is something that is earned by the work that is performed, not the city.
If these people are hoping to mount a production in NYC with the hopes of it suddenly being a legitimate artistic venture, then that's because they haven't lived in this city long enough.
There's a lot of s$%@ theatre in NYC, but the opportunities to work in better theatres, and to not be stuck in some artistic wasteland exists in major metropolitan areas like Nylachi and some others.
For myself, NYC is where "the work that I don't want to put on myself, yet get paid some nice money" is. Film work, regional theatre work, commercial work. It's a lot of opportunity.
Hearing about these actors who want some recognition and credibility is a sham to everyone in the industry It's a self promotion tool aimed at all the people who don't understand the scene that will somehow give a s^$# once they hear the magical words "new york city".
Thanks for the comment, Anonymous. I suspect -- and I could be wrong about this -- that the credibility this person achieves via a NYC production is something she takes back home to CA, where she thinks it will open doors. And the sad thing is that she is probably right. (Of course, if the show does happen to be picked up for transfer, that's anbother story.)
I think one of the things about which I haven't been as clear as I should be is that the theatre tribe, non-Nylachi orientation requires a DIY mentality. It is built on control of one's own work, rather than being hired by someone else. That idea doesn't appeal to some people, and they probably shouldn't consider it. A tribe might also do commercial work, for instance, by creating its own studio to film local and regional commercials in-house, which would involve selling those services to area businesses. Given the rapidly decreasing costs for digital cameras and editing software, I could imagine a tribe also creating a pseudo-TV series that it posted to YouTube to see what happens. For those with a DIY mentality, the possibilities are endless, and endlessly exciting.
I'd agree that a person has to be more of a self starter in a smaller market. Being a self starter in the first place is what's necessary, putting it out there (oh God, I just used The Secret in this post).
The truth is, there's enough work for everyone in any city. People don't believe it, they think there are these few jobs that everyone is fighting over, and that is true to some extent, but looking at the profession that way is the best way to make someone stop wanting to even work. There also exists the ability to find alternate avenues to "work" and ultimately, it's the work that makes this fulfilling, not the money- I always see the income as the added bonus.
I think in Nylachi and other metropolitan areas, the chance of finding more like minded artists exists than in smaller communities, so that a company has better odds of coming together. With a bigger city comes more hassles, etc., but these actors putting on this show are proving that it doesn't matter. If they weren't hoping to have this show picked up and actually lived in the city, found a more affordable space, a shorter run, and were working towards growing into a stronger company, that would be amazing.
Honestly, at the end of the day, if there was a city to make their dream of getting picked up happen, it would be NYC. Just working with Larry Moss may be the most exciting part of the whole thing.
I saw Magis Theatre Company put on C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce, they had an off broadway theatre, had great reviews in The NY Times. This was the best show I saw in 2007, it was brilliantly acted and conceived, IMO. The core company came from Columbia's MFA program and left that place with a "company" mentality. I believe there are many MFA alums there with companies. Seeing that makes me believe that the time and effort is worth it, and they're more realistic about monetary issues.
In the end though, lets be honest, The Times ran this story because of how extreme it was. I consider this to be a rare circumstance in self producing. I truly believe that nowadays this is a minority view from actors who have spent more than 5 minutes being a part of the profession. It makes for a good article, it inspires the artists, it's kind of a fun read. If these people feel they're better artists because of it, let 'em have at it.
The paragraph of yours that jumps out at me, and that I totally agree with, is this one:
"I saw Magis Theatre Company put on C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce, they had an off broadway theatre, had great reviews in The NY Times. This was the best show I saw in 2007, it was brilliantly acted and conceived, IMO. The core company came from Columbia's MFA program and left that place with a "company" mentality. I believe there are many MFA alums there with companies. Seeing that makes me believe that the time and effort is worth it, and they're more realistic about monetary issues."
I am starting to come to the conclusion that teaching young people in college the skills needed to produce as a company will encourage what one might call "informal ensembles" at the collegiate level to stay together and continue their work. My commitment is to spread theatre more widely through the US landscape, and I think the semi-permanent ensemble is the most likely way this will be accomplished.
This group of people, if they have the desire to work together, I wish would have stayed in CA, not left their family and sold their last article, and kept producing together, focusing on the work as an end in itself, rather than as a means to achieving other career goals.
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