Friday, January 09, 2009

Dennis Baker Reinforces Daisey's Point Thanks to Leonard Lopate

Dennis Baker, who is possibly more tenacious than I am about the necessity to make artists part of a community, posts about a recent WNYC Leonard Lopate show (link provided), which talks about Suzan Lori-Parks at the Public. Good stuff, Dennis!

Mike Daisey on Community

Over on Mike Daisey's blog, he is taking the time to respond to a critic who seems to almost willfully miss the point. I'd like to draw attention, once again, to what seems to me to be Daisey's major point in How Theatre Failed America: the need for stability in the lives of artists. [emphasis in red]

"Daisey believes that the gorgeous new buildings American theaters are constructing have trapped them into uninspired, ultraconservative productions."

Once again, my concern is that the emphasis on buildings and real estate traps theaters into not creating artistic ensembles that draw strength from their communities, which then in turn weaken the art form by outsourcing acting and not giving necessary stability to the artists that could actually be the backbone of those theaters. While I do think this kind of corporate thinking in many cases leads to bad productions, I was very clear in scene three that often it does work—many individual productions are excellent, when individual artists make things work, regardless of the environment they are in. This is not only a flattening of the piece—it is just not what I'm speaking about.

"Freedom from expensive surroundings is no guarantee of theatrical quality."

I never implied that it was. Many terrible plays being produced in cheap venues constantly, certainly.

The error here is conflating an absolute of "theatrical quality" with my intentions. I'm interested in a fundamental shift in how the regional theaters of America conceive of themselves, and a value change that involves foster and supporting artists within their cities to create work. It's my belief that local connection and continuity plays a large part of the tissue needed to make things work.

Do we need theatrical quality? Absolutely. Of course we do—that's obvious. HOW we achieve that end, and what kind of theater we have in this country to make these productions happen is the concern of my monologue. Once again, the piece does not slavishly concern itself with the kinds of theater being performed—the concern is that the living moment and experience is happening, AND that it be working toward environments where communities can form to actually care and foster that work.

Why is this such a difficult concept for so many people to understand? Why is it so difficult to imagine that stability and continuity might actually lead to better art? Why is it that every football fam (and I count myself one) knows that the amount of time their offensive line has played together is the most important factor in the number of wins their team has, but theatre people regularly fret that spending more than six weeks with the same people will lead to creative stagnation? It is beyond comprehension. Read any book by a sports coach, and you will see how important it is to championships that players play together over time. Take a look at the number of World Series that the New York "Revolving Door" Yankees have won while Steinbrenner fires and hires coaches and players every twenty minutes in a quest to have a team made up of "stars."

It is about continuity. First and foremost, more important (dare I say it) than even talent. Because talent grows with experience together, and experience grows with time.

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 ...