Saturday, February 06, 2010

TACT: Who Attends NCTC Auditions?

Every year, representatives from my department at the University of North Carolina at Asheville go to the North Carolina Theatre Conference to attend the high school theatre auditions. Most of the colleges and universities from across the state sent their representatives to recruit talented young people who are interested in theatre. We all sell our programs, and many of the private schools make scholarship offers on the spot.

I have been wondering about the demographics of this group of young people, who usually number around 100 plus or minus (this year, it was 84). So I gathered together the resumes of the auditionees and started crunching numbers. What I found is interesting in a lot of ways. What follows is a snapshot.

  • There are 100 counties in North Carolina; the auditionees come from 18 of them.

  • Two counties -- Mecklenburg and Forsyth -- provide 61% of the auditionees.

  • The median household income for NC in 1999 was $39,184; the median household income for Mecklenburg County was $60,608 (2nd in state), and the median household income for Forsyth County was $52,032 (8th in the state).

  • The average median household income for the 18 counties who sent students was $51,514.

  • Of the eighteen counties who sent students, only one was a county with a median household income below the median for NC; the two students from there attended a private college preparatory school.

  • Five schools provided 52% of the auditionees; three of them are schools for the arts.

  • 73% of the auditionees had some sort of arts training outside of high school; for the students who attended the arts schools, that figure rose to 91%.

  • 20% of the auditionees were people of color; of those, 76% were from Mecklenburg or Forsyth Counties.

  • Read more at the Theatre Arts Curriculum Transformation blog: http://www.theatretactorg.

Note: It's pretty bad when you can't get your own blog's URL right. The above URL has been corrected. Sorry!

Friday, February 05, 2010

Announcing a New Blog: TACT

As my readers know, Tom Loughlin and I both are college theatre professors, and we both have come to question the so-called "pre-professional" training track that is focused on NYC and LA. As part of my Center for Rural Arts Development and Leadership Education project, we are beginning the process of conceptualizing a new approach to theatre education, one that is more holistic and realistic. As part of this effort, we have created a new blog: TACT stands for Theatre Arts Curriculum Transformation. (And before anybody says it, I will admit that there is something ironic about my being involved with anything involving tact...)

We have reposted a couple posts from our blogs, and begun posting new material. Here is a sample of the latest, which I have called "A Modest (and Tactless) Proposal":

The buzz word in American education these days, thanks to the totally misguided No Child Left Behind Act, is “accountability.” The Provost where I teach at UNC Asheville says we must create a “culture of evidence” concerning what we do. We all nod vigorously, and then go back to rehearsal. Commonly, theatre professors, when faced with the A-bomb, respond with the intellectual equivalent of putting our hands over our ears and shouting blah-blah-blah at the top of our lungs. Either that, or we open our eyes wide and lisp, “Doctor Provost, we don’t know nuthin’ ’bout no accountability. Why, who ever heard of such a thing being applied to the arts?” And for reasons I have yet to fathom, administrators seem to buy this feigned (or real) ignorance. “Well, you know,” they harrumph, flicking the tip of their ballpoint pen, “as long as you do a decent production of Once Upon a Mattress next semester that we can bring the Trustees to, we’ll just look the other way this time.”

But I just finished reading Outrageous Fortune: The Life and Times of the New American Play by Todd London and Ben Pesner, and the portrait of the so-called profession was just so awful that I can’t maintain my politeness anymore. Plus I’m sick, which makes me cranky.

Anyway, here is my proposal: tie the salaries of theatre professors to the income of their students.


Jay Adams on the Death of Theatre

(h/t Ghost Light): I have nothing to add, except to say this: read a chapter from Outrageous Fortune, then read this, and then tell me what is wrong with the theatre.

Blogging Dialectics

(Sorry for the awkward subject line -- I wanted to use "ecosystem," but after Outrageous Fortune, that word is a little threadbare...)

So RVC Bard posts, Thomas Garvey responds, J Holtham posts an angry denunciation of Thomas Garvey, and Guy Yedwab responds, then Isaac scolds Guy for talking to Garvey, and Guy explains what he was trying to do. There may be pieces of this conversation I am missing; if so I apologize. I'd like to look at the process of dialogue itself for just a second.

Guy writes:

But suppose a troll lands a bomb at you and you decide to argue back -- after all, you can simply ignore them -- what is the point in arguing? What was the point of that furious post?

1. You want to convince Garvey to change his mind
2. You want to convince your blog-roll readers that Garvey is wrong
3. You want to have some sort of public catharsis by screaming at a wall

Isaac things I'm advocating option number one, but I'm not. I agree that it's pointless. But if your goal is number 2, I think you're much better served by a sharply written post that focuses the anger into tearing your opponent's argument apart, rather than just spewing anger. The spewing anger route might get an "amen" from your own choir, but like it or not there are going to be people on the fence who'll miss what you have to say because they're put off by the anger.

If you're going for option 3, then I probably have already spent too much time talking about the post and I'm tired.

This isn't just about 99 Seats. This is about how we debate major issues in this country. [ital mine]
Like my blogging friend Guy, I think debate has become too rancorous, too bi-partisan, too simplistic, too high volume. Like him, that is why I appreciate No-Drama-Obama. But at the same time, in this case and others like it, I think the overall blogging system worked. Here's why.

At the center of this debate is J-99 Holtham's angry drubbing of Garvey, a rant of admirable intensity and Mametian vocabulary. Does this rant further the discussion of race in any way? Wouldn't we be better off trying to have a calm, rational discussion? If 99, RVC Bard and Garvey were the only ones talking, then I'd say there wasn't much point. But what makes the blogsphere a powerful instrument for social change is the wisdom of crowds.

What 99's explosion said to me, more than anything, was: "Ouch! I'm bleeding over here, and the pain is really, really bad. Did you know that, all you blog readers?" The other thing it said was: "You crossed a boundary, and I need to bare my teeth and let you know you can't get away with it." Those are really good messages. The first reminds us that we are talking about really deep, painful issues, not just intellectual concepts, and that there are human lives involved. The second reminds us that we can't expect the people who are in pain to just grin and bear it while we, who haven't experienced what they have, tromp all over their broken limbs-- sometimes, they will bite back.

But what happens next is what works in the blogosphere: the major players stake out their position in dramatic ways, perhaps even extreme ways, and then others come in and sort things out. They clean up the blood, examine the records, and try to understand what caused all the violence and bloodshed. Without the extreme expressions, there is no reason to do the work of moderation. It is a process, one that relies on everyone to participate and do their part. I don't happen to think that marginalizing Thomas Garvey is a particularly good idea, but I also don't happen to think that politeness is always a virtue. We in the theatrosphere have a tendency to lapse into a politeness sometimes that belies the severity of the situations we are discussing. I'm not encouraging gang warfare, what I am encouraging is the dialectic process of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. We can't just jump to synthesis and skip the clash that makes it viable.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

LaMoine McLaughlin on TheatreFace

If you want to learn about how the arts function in smaller communities, go to Theatre Face TODAY at 2:00 EST for a conversation with LaMoine McLaughlin, director of the Northern Lakes Center for the Arts in Amery, WI. If you want to find out about Northern Lakes Center for the Arts, read his wonderful article "Let Art Begin at Home: the Amery Story." LaMoine has been leading his organization for over twenty years in a city with fewer than 3000 people. What's his secret? Find out today at 2:00.

UPDATE: I didn't realize that you needed to be a member of TheatreFace in order to receive an invitation. My apologies to those who tried to log in and were turned away. First, I encourage you all to join TheatreFace, which is run by Jacob Coakley who is the editor of Stage Directions Magazine. Second, I am going to try to get access to the transcript of the discussion and make it publicly available.

Michael Kaiser: Tone Deaf

In his Huffington Post article two days ago entitled "Where Are the Arts Important?", Michael Kaiser does his damndest to counter "the claims of too many politicians that the arts are the province of the elite in big coastal cities like New York and Los Angeles" and the argument "that investing in the arts only affects a very small, very rich, and very concentrated segment of our population." He goes on to admit (because how could he not) that "many of our largest arts organizations are in large Northeastern cities and that these arts groups have raised their ticket prices so high as to make them unaffordable for many," but nevertheless, "the arts play a vital role in virtually every community across the nation. It is not simply rich New Yorkers who care about music or dance or theater. People of all backgrounds and income levels are involved with the arts across the United States."

So far, so good. Nothing particularly insightful here, nor surprising. The representatives of those large arts orgainzations in large Northeastern cities regularly like to assert the universal interest in the arts whenever they are promoting their own agenda, which usually involves Hoovering up more than their fair share of the arts funding pool. But after tossing out this ringing generality, he feels compelled to provide reasons why this love of the arts is true.
  • Over 7000 people have been coming out to listen to him speak on his 38-stop "Arts in Crisis" tour (and buying the "Arts in Crisis" souvenir T-shirts, no doubt). There were 400 in Kalamazoo, MI alone and 750 in Kansas City! (Maybe we ought to do a little math here. If Kalamazoo and Kansas City provided 1,150 attendees, that means the other 36 stops provided 5850, or an average of 162 people each).
  • And then, and more importantly, there are all those famous people who, you know, came from other places! Why opera singer Leontyne Price came from Laurel MS, and ballet dancer Ethan Stiefel came from northern Wisconsin where his dad was (gasp) a prison warden! Twyla Tharp came from Portland IN and Terence McNally came from Corpus Christie TX. Why, he concludes breathlessly, "the list goes on and on!"
Please, please stop. I'm getting all goose bumply. Imagine: famous people weren't all born and raised in New York and Los Angeles, which is just living proof that "the arts affect every region of this nation."

But hold on a second. Kaiser is mentioning Leontyne Price because she didn't stay in the south, but traveled north to become the first African-American prima donna for the Metropolitan Opera in...New York. Ethan Stiefel was the principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre in...New York. Twyla Tharp began with the Paul Taylor Dance Company and also worked with the American Ballet Theatre in...New York. Terrence McNally moved to...New York in 1956 where he became known for his productions on and off Broadway in...New York.

These are not artists who stayed in their community, or even in the states or regions where they were from. They are artists who were extracted from their communities in the same way that coal is extracted from the mountains of Kentucky and West Virginia and transported elsewhere for consumption. And what Kaiser wants us to do is applaud all the warmth that that coal is bringing to New York while the originating communities shiver.

In a political context, this is referred to as "exploitation colonialism," "the policy of conquering distant lands to exploit its natural and human resources." It is an extractive industry, removing resources (in this case, talent) for export to other areas to serve the elite power structure. If Kaiser was hoping to persuade those damned politicians who believe "arts only affects a very small, very rich, and very concentrated segment of our population" with this argument, I guarantee it will have exactly the opposite effect.

Do not expect the pillaged to praise the pillagers for the beauty of their riches. If you want a democratic society to support the arts, distribute the money democratically. George Hunka sent me a link to his blog, which includes a clip from the British TV show Yes, Prime Minister. The parallel between Kaiser (or for that matter, Adrian Ellis) and the unctuous head of the National Theatre trying to blackmail the PM into a larger share of the arts funding pie because, well, it's the National Theatre, is just too clear. And the PM's suggestion for how to deal with the situation reveals the underlying power play of a centralized arts economy.

If we want the arts to be valued nationally, then we need to decentralize and deurbanize, and we need to stop the arts equivalent of mountaintop removal.

UPDATE: So I posted a link to this post on the HuffingtonPost site. It is a moderated site. According to my tracking software, someone from visited at 11:21. Four hours later, there remains a single comment on Kaiser's post -- mine is not it. Which leads to the question: does HuffingtonPost only allow people to agree with Michael Kaiser? I'll keep you updated about the comment...

UPDATE 2: Apparently, they don't like links at HuffPost. I pasted in a couple paragraphs, and it was immediately approved.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Lyn Gardner on the Oxbridge Connection

If you remember back before the Outrgaeous Fortune blog-a-thon, there was a fairly heated discussion about...Outrageous Fortune... and the evidence that a whole lot of playwrights were being filtered through the same handful of (largely) private, elite universities. We discussed the impact this might have on diversity, its reflection of class issues, and its weighting of the scales within the field of theatre. Well, in a February 1st article on the London Guardian's theatre blog, Lyn Gardner asks a similar question: "Why is British theatre still in thrall to Oxbridge?" There were quite a few people who wanted to deny that this effect existed in the US, and even if there were a handful of programs calling all the shots, it was probably because the students who went there were better than everybody else and deserved their success; and even if there were a handful of theatre teachers teaching these students, diversity was not threatened because these teachers were all about allowing their students to find their own voice.

But Lyn Gardner asks the same questions I and a lot of others were asking, and coming up with the same answers:

Maybe it's simply the case that Oxbridge people who go into theatre are not just brighter but more go-getting than their peers. Perhaps the opportunities to make and direct theatre at Oxbridge are greater than they are at other universities.

But I suspect there's more to it than that. Theatre directing is a profession in which it is immensely hard to secure a foothold: connections and networking play a major part, as does the ability to be supported during the crucial early stages of a career – freelance directing, unpaid internships and the rest. What concerns me is that if the funding situation gets tighter – as it surely will – we will end up with a theatre culture that is even more dominated by people who have a particular set of backgrounds.
As if the current situation isn't bad enough.

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 ...