Thursday, September 04, 2008

Teresa Eyring's Non-Response

I see from Dennis Baker's post "Response to Teresa Eyring's Response" and Mike Daisey's September 4th post on his blog that Teresa Eyring has responded to letters, including mine, Dennis',  and Mark Valdez's, concerning her previous editorial "How Theatre Saved America, Part 1" published in the July/August issue of American Theatre. I haven't yet received my copy of the latest issue , and since TCG doesn't find it necessary to put the letters section on their website (because, you know, why in the world would somebody want to read anyone else's thoughts?),  I don't know whether Mike Daisey's response was published at all, or even if he formally submitted it (did you, Mike?), but he did effectively rebut Eyring's original article point by point here.  It is a shame if it wasn't published.

Eyring's response, at least as published on Dennis' blog (is that the whole damn thing?), is a non-response, and if it represents the depth of thought of TCG's Executive Director, we are in some serious trouble. She chooses to focus on her choice of title (blaming it on Daisey's influence -- the Devil Made Me Do It) rather than the real issues that Daisey brought up, and that Dennis and I addressed in our letters. The one sentence in which she makes any attempt to address more than the title is peevishly defensive: "I have also written about-and will continue to write about-the troubles and the failures in our system, such as the Feb. ‘08 column on actors’ compensation and underemployment (which received exactly zero discussion in the blogosphere)." So take THAT, all you blogospherians! How DARE you ignore anything she has written? Surely we, like Joe Biden, are a bunch of big blowhard doofusses. Or is it doofii?

Anyway, let's go back and take a look at Ms. Eyring's editorial, which (unlike letters) is posted in the American Theatre archives. The first three paragraphs of this twelve-paragraph article are a Valentine to actors about how important they are to the theatre. She quotes Garland Wright (a director) and Ian McKellan (a Brit) to make her point. (Sidenote: have you ever noticed how many of the articles in Actors on Acting are by people who aren't actors? Doesn't that seem strange to you? At least when viewed in light of the book's title? Maybe there was some monologist doing a show called Actors Under Acting that Cole and Chinoy were responding to...) However, at the end of the third paragraph, she drops all that stuff to ask "what do we find when we examine in broad daylight the current financial realities of the stage acting profession?"

My heart quickened! What indeed? She turns to, that source of all things theatrical, for the answer: "long periods of unemployment, intense competition for roles and frequent rejections in auditions." Get out! Did you know that? Why didn't anybody send me an email? But wait -- there's more: " Because earnings for actors are erratic, many supplement their incomes by holding jobs in other fields." I hope you're taking notes. She then turns to the Actors Equity report for 2006-2007, noting the dismal employment figures.

I'm breathless now, because clearly she gets it: actors don't make much money. Man! How could I have missed this?

And what's the source of this dismal situation? Why, college theatre departments, of course, who continue to crank out acting majors and what's worse they sometimes saddle them with student loan debt so that they have to "head straight for pilot season" (because, you know, the employment figures in TV and film are so much better than in theatre) and skip a career in theatre. Or, "Young actors devoted to the stage often pull together their own companies and pay themselves little or nothing in order to pursue their craft."

But then she gets serious: "Is the situation an irreversible byproduct of market forces? Is there hope for something better?"  Her answer: "In the late 1980s and ’90s, the Guthrie raised the largest endowment the American theatre had seen up until that time and designated as one of its purposes the increase of actor salaries and the support of a large year-round acting company." Now, let's just pause there for a second: what about that "irreversible byproduct of market forces" question? Was that just too damned hard to really go into? Too Big Picture? Well, maybe I'm just being a doofus for even wondering why she brought it up in the first place, just to let it dangle there unanswered. Let's just erase that sentence, sorta like Etch-a-Sketch. Moving on: just how much hope are we supposed to glean from the effort of a single regional theatre that did something ten or twenty years ago? That's the best she can do? But hey, I feel a lot better knowing that there's this one theatre who a couple decades ago actually committed to a permanent acting company and raised some money to do so (say, isn't that what Mike Daisey suggested these theatres do, instead of raising money for new building? Wasn't it that idea that Nichaolas Martin poo-pooed as being uninteresting to donors? You know, the Nicholas Martin that was interviewd in American Theatre last issue?).

But alas, my raised hopes are almost immediately dashed by a single clause in the very next sentence: "While the Guthrie’s acting company is no longer fully intact..." So, see, that one time back twenty years ago when actors could have ongoing employment -- that didn't really work out. (Say! Wasn't that what Mike Daisey was saying in his performance? That once there was a commitment to permanent companies, but now...not so much?)  But don't despair, because "many of [the former Guthrie company] members still reside in the Twin Cities with families, homes and continuing work in the theatre community—including at the Guthrie." Wow! You mean you could cobble together a bunch of part-time jobs to put food on the table and a roof over your head? Imagine that! What a deal! That sounds way better than being part of a permanent company!

But if that prospect doesn't ring your bell, you can always apply for a "Fox Foundation Resident Actor Fellowships, administered by TCG, [which] provide support both for actors to further their professional growth and for theatres to deepen their relationships with actors. In that program’s “extraordinary potential” category, which is focused on early- to mid-career artists, grantees can use up to $10,000 to pay off student loans." Wow! That's way better than talking about that whole "irreversible byproduct of market forces" thing, and all that business model stuff. Who needs a reasonable wage when you can get a one year grant? I'll bet those fellowships will vastly improve those Actors Equity numbers in no time flat, and that $10,000 for student loans? Gee -- that oughta do it, huh? Let's see, how much does Yale charge a year? "The tuition fee for 2007/2008 is $25,735. A reasonable estimate of costs to be incurred by a student attending Yale School of Drama and living off-campus in the 2007/2008 academic year is between $39,135 and $40,435." So that 10G oughta cover a little over two months of expenses! SIGN ME UP!

So there you have it -- an in-depth exploration of the "current financial realities of the stage acting profession." Because the rest of the article doesn't say anything. The next paragraphs talk about how LORT theatre provide 36% of what little Actors Equity employment there is, but don't get too excited about that because "theatres on average continue to experience declining working capital and difficulties in maintaining audience levels. Under these circumstances, the fundraising priority tends to be generating enough support to meet basic costs—and perhaps even to maintain stability." I hate to be nit-picky, but just why aren't artist salaries considered "basic costs"? And why doesn't the desire to "maintain stability" extend to them? (Gosh, wasn't that what Mike Daisey was asking?)

Well, let's not talk about all that stuff or we might get depressed. After all, we should focus on the Good Stuff, right? We don't want people to think we actually have a problem. Because after all, "Actors’ Equity’s visionary new executive director, John Connolly" is on the job, and he must get it, because he was once an actor himself! So let's get excited about John's visionary ideas that will surely save the whole damned stage acting profession! Ideas like: "How to ride the wave of opportunities offered through new technology-based media platforms" -- because on-line and stage acting are pretty much the same, right? And then we could "better utilize old technology—such as videotape—to promote, disseminate and celebrate the work of theatres and actors." Because what we need is more celebration, not more money. And then there's that "ever-increasing interest in international dialogue and exchange," because why work at home when you can tour the world? And then we could "collaborate on building a stronger national arts policy" -- there's a new idea! Why didn't we blogospherians think of that? I guess that's why I'm just a small-time academic, and John Connolly and Teresa Eyring are visionary Executive Directors.

Eyring concludes this deeply visionary and inspiring article: "Along with AEA, innovative funders and TCG theatres nationwide, we look forward to a productive investigation of these and other topics aimed at enriching actors’ lives and work." As long as they aren't like Mike Daisey.

You know, I'm really glad Ms Eyring drew my attention to her article. I don't know why we blogopherians didn't spend a couple weeks digging into all the innovative red meat she offered up for us. Why, I alone could have spent a month chewing on that whole Guthrie thing in the 80s and 90s. Really, I just oughta shut Theatre Ideas down and let Teresa Eyring do the intellectual heavy lifting she is obviously so capable of doing. Actors of the regional theatre, I hope you feel honored to have a visionary like Teresa Eyring working on your behalf. This whole unemployment thing oughta be a thing of the past in no time flat now that she's on the job. A new Golden Age of American Theatre is in the works.


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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Big Blowhard Doofus

According to CNN, at a Maine delegate breakfast in Minneapolis, Karl Rove called Joe Biden a "big blowhard doofus."

In keeping with the high level of Rove's discourse, Biden's campaign sent out a news release to the press quoting Biden as saying:

"Fatty fatty two by four, Can't get through the White House door" and "I am rubber, you are glue; everything you say bounces off of me and sticks to you."

Calls to Karl Rove for comment were not immediately returned.
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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 ...