Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Choosing an Undergraduate College and Theatre Department

Over at Parabasis, 99 Seats has reconnected with Cortney Munna, whose issues with student loans was used by the NY Times to illustrate the problems with the college tuition and financial aid process across the nation. I weighed in during the discussion of the original post at a time when I was taking a break from blogging, but now I want to go on record more formally with a full post.

If you have been reading this blog, you know that I teach at a public liberal arts college in North Carolina -- the University of North Carolina at Asheville. I have been here since 1998, and prior to that I was Assistant to the Dean of the College of Fine Arts at Illinois State University, a largish (17,000 students or so when I was there) comprehensive state university. My educational background has all been public: the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities, a HUGE (50,000 + when I was there, bigger since) Research 1 university; masters degree from Illinois State; and a doctorate from City University of New York Graduate Center. I also attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts when I was 20. So my educational background encompasses direct experience of just about every form of university except private ones, and my indirect experience through friends and colleagues encompasses those as well. In my spare time, I read books about the education system and teaching (if you really want to know what a college ought to look like, read John Tagg's and Peter Ewell's The Learning Paradigm College). In short, I am pretty well-informed about the education system in this country.

So when I read the original article, and now this interview with Ms. Munna, I feel the need to speak out in order to warn other young people and their families before they make the same mistake as Ms. Munna and her mother made. No, I'm not talking about the financial aid process, which is problematic, but rather about the more insidious issue that serves as its foundation, and that is illustrated by the following quotation in 99 Seats' interview:
"I probably could have gotten a pretty good package at a SUNY school, but for me, I believed a top school would be worth the debt..."
There, in twenty-six words, is the Minotaur at the center of the educational labyrinth: branding.

Ms. Munna and her mother fell victim to the biggest scam iin education, one that is propogated by "rankings" published in U. S. News and World Report, Princeton Review, Kiplinger, Forbes. Ranking colleges and universities is big business, one that the colleges themselves support by advertising their rankings on their websites. But what do the rankings really tell us? Mostly, they tell us about brand awareness.
If you do any research into the college rankings, you quickly find that 25% of the data used in the rankings are based on hearsay:  "peer assessment surveys" in which college presidents (or their designees) are asked to rank hundreds of universities on a scale of 1 to 5. I don't care how active and connected a university president is, nobody has enough firsthand, substantive knowledge to accurately and fairly rank 250 universities. So if they don't have firsthand knowledge, what are they ranking? The college's "reputation," in other words whether they have heard of the college, and heard of it positively. In other words: mostly branding. The effect of branding is noted by education researcher Alexander Astin, for instance, who expresses "concern regarding the stability of rankings suggests that myth and institutional perceptions may have as much to do with the rankings as the methods used to determine them. In fact, the methods for assessing quality reflect a bias toward institutional size, student test scores, and the number of "star" faculty. Astin and others question this definition of quality, because it has nothing to do with the student's college experience or learning." ( 

But exactly what are the rankings based on, aside from "peer assessment." Check out the methodology used by U. S. News and World Report:

1. Peer review (25%)
2. Student selectivity: acceptance rate, top 10% of HS class, SAT scores (15%)
3. Faculty resources (faculty salary, % faculty with terminal degree, student/faculty ratio, class size (<19 students, and >50+) (20%)
4. Graduation and retention rates (20%)
5. Financial resources: i.e., annual budget divided by number of students (10%)
6. Alumni giving (5%)
7. Graduation rate performance (5%)

Take a look at those criteria closely: how many of them give any indication of what your experience is likely to be in the classroom?  faculty member gets paid a lot, will you know it -- especially if he is teaching only a couple grad classes a year, and you, as a lowly undergrad, are being taught mostly by grad students? If the alums are giving a bunch of money, will you see any of it, or is it being funneled into faculty travel and research costs? Is the number of students a college rejects really an indication of quality, or just branding? And what about "legacy admits," people who are accepted because Daddy or Mommy graduated from the school in the past -- what effect do they have on "student selectivity"? For every legacy admit, another qualified student had to be rejected.

None of this is what Ms. Munna considered when she and her mother chose a "top college." What they bought was the NYU brand, plain and simple. They bought the educational equivalent of a Hummer -- prestige based on a combination of name recognition and high price. And they were reassured in their selection by ranking services whose criteria are irrelevant to her experience in the classroom. She didn't buy a "top education," she bought a "well-known brand." There is a big difference.

Furthermore, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A TOP COLLEGE. It is a stupid idea, one that assumes a even wash of quality over all aspects of the university. There might be "top departments" where there are great professors who pay close attention to their students, and right across the hall there might be an equally dismal department filled with dead wood faculty members who haven't had a new thought for a decade but who have tenure and a high salary. There might be a great professor teaching the subjects that really interest you, but who is surrounded by departmental colleagues who are total losers. None of this is accounted for by rankings and so-called "reputation."


So if rankings are useless, how do you choose a college? There are lots of websites that will give you advice, but I am going to speak from my personal experience, and I'm going to tailor my advice to people who want to go into theatre.

The first thing I'd recommend is that you start with a list of all the public schools in your state. These are the Best Buys for your area (no, not the big box electronics stores, the bargains). Your parents have been paying taxes for years so that you can get a reduced tuition rate -- don't throw that out the window out of a mistaken assumption that "state schools" are inferior to private schools -- they aren't. Then do your research using the questions below. If none of the public schools meet your needs, then add in the private schools and the out-of-state schools. Warning: once you do that, the number of schools increases astronomically, so you need to have some personal criteria to help narrow it down -- e.g., school size, school type, demographic context (big city, small town, etc), cost of living (in case you move off campus), tuition cost and financial aid options, etc. Using your list, go on-line and research the following:

1. How big is the department? A big department provides a lot of competition, and often (but not always) a lot of opportunities. It is very easy to get lost in a big department, especially if you don't get cast right away (this is particularly true for actresses, for whom there are usually fewer roles in the season and more competition for those limited roles). But the variety and activity can be stimulating and inspiring. Small departments can allow you to become involved and known very quickly, and garner a lot of experience and personal attention. Remember: the most important connections you make during your education are not with the professors, but your fellow students. They will be who you will (or will not) work with in the future. They are the future, your profs are the past.
2. Is there a graduate program? If not, that means you will receive the full attention of the faculty. If there is, then you need to look at several other things:
      a. Who teaches the lower level classes? Go on the website and get a list of the department faculty, and then compare those names to those who are teaching the 100- and 200-level courses (you can usually find the current schedule on the university website -- check the "current students" link). If the names don't match, cross this school off your list -- you're only there to generate tuition income.
      b. Who is cast in the shows? Ask for programs from the last season of plays. Usually, grad students and faculty members are identified in the program -- often, all candidates for grad degrees have an asterisk, and the faculty names you already know. If the major roles and positions are taken up by grads and faculty, cross this school off your list -- you will spend your undergrad career playing little roles or serving on running crews.

3. What does the curriculum look like? Are the types of classes being offered of interest to you? This question is much harder to answer as a high school student, because you may not really know enough to evaluate accurately. But if the department devotes a lot of resources to, say, musical theatre and you can't carry a tune in a bucket, this might not be your place. If you have a teacher at school with a theatre background, or somebody else who is knowledgeable you can ask, have him or her look over the course list. A program that is based on Meisner is very different than one based on Bogart or Boal.

4. What plays are being done? Generally speaking, the plays being done, and the way they are being done, should reflect the orientation of the department. Look at production photos, read any reviews you can find, check out the years the plays were written. A department doing a lot of classics is very different than one doing Sarah Ruhl and Neil Labute. If the production photos look like the acting is broad and stupid or the staging is goofy (you know what I mean), cross it off your list. Practice doesn't make perfect; practice makes permanent, and you don't want to acquire any bad habits.

5. Don't be swayed by a list of "working" alums. The likelihood is that any alums who are working, or even "famous," were trained by different faculty members than you'll be trained by. The reputation of a department is usually at least a decade older than its current status. If the same profs who taught these folks are still around, then give the alum list a little weight, but not much. 
6. What is the faculty doing? Conventional wisdom is that faculty members who are doing Big, Important gigs all over the country are better than those who aren't. My wisdom: don't believe it. Faculty who are doing gigs elsewhere are not around and focused on you. They are using the university as a steady income source while they have their theatre career. If you're hoping that knowing them will open doors, then you aren't looking for a good education, you're just buying access, and this guide isn't for you. I want you to develop as an artist, not a prostitute. Now, a little outside activity is important -- after all, you want profs who are alive. Find out if they have written any articles or done any presentations. Do they have a blog? Read it. Are the shows they're doing going up in the summer -- that's good. During the school year -- not so good. As far as the quality of the faculty, finding info about teaching is hard to do. I'm going to wince a little and suggest that you peek at some of the online "rate your teachers" sites. Don't pay attention to individual comments, but look for patterns. Most of this kind of research you will have to do when you visit.

7. What does the general education program look like? Wha??? Who cares -- you just wanna do theatre, right? Wrong. General education is your first major, and it needs to add value to your education, not just be a series of hoops to jump through. And you need to take this part of your education seriously. Yes, even Math. Again, if you want to become a theatre prostitute, then you don't need any education at all -- just head to NY or LA and start pounding the pavement and taking scene study classes. But if you want to become an artist, then you need to have a brain that is filled with as much learning as possible. So look at the gen ed requirements: do they seem coherent? Are they just a cafeteria menu of stuff -- one from Column A, two from Column B -- or do the classes seem to make some sort of sense as a whole? Make sure that you are required to learn about other times and other cultures -- as an artist, this is absolutely crucial.

8. Visit. You wouldn't marry someone you've never met, and an undergraduate program lasts longer than many marriages these days. This is why you need to do a bunch of research on-line in advance, because you don't have the time or the money to visit a dozen schools. If you don't believe me, ask your parents. If you've done your research, and reflected on what you are looking for, you should have your list narrowed down. Once you're there, do the following:
     a. Sit in on a lower-level and an upper-level class. Choose these classes yourself according to your research, don't let the faculty choose for you. If you've discovered that grad students teach the lower-level class and are considering this school anyway (fool), make sure you sit in on one. And then ask to observe a class in an area of interest for you. Again, you choose. What you're looking for is a number of things: is the teacher engaged with the students, or just lecturing or doing things by rote? Are the faculty honest and caring? By honest, I mean do they push for excellence and level with students who don't make it? By caring, I mean do they do it in a way that is sensitive? More importantly, are students being taught the underlying concepts of what they are doing, or are they just being coached? Some acting teachers, for instance, think an acting class is directing students to do a scene better, but when the scene is over the students have no idea how to apply what they did to the next scene. Unless you want to spend your career being dependent on directors to tell you what to do (and believe me, most directors haven't the faintest), you need to be empowered to take control of your artistic choices, and that means understanding why, not just how.
    b. Hang out in the place where theatre kids hang out. You will likely be shepherded around the department by a student currently in the program. That's nice, and you can get some insights from them, but know that they have been chosen because they are going to put a positive spin on everything. Find the place where the students hang out, and eavesdrop. Who is bitching about whom? Which faculty member just finished brutalizing someone in class? What kinds of things are being discussed -- ideas from class and rehearsals, gossip, brainstorming? Who do students think is an idiot? Don't believe everything you hear, but add it to your database.
    c. See a show. Always visit when there is some sort of show going on, even a lab show. How is the acting? The design? The direction? Is there a noticeable difference between the abilities of grads and undergrads? Are there a lot of bells an whistles, but the production is mostly empty? Would you have been proud to be involved with such a production? Does it reflect your values? During intermission, do more eavesdropping. Try to find theatre students and hear what they're saying about the show. 
     d. Have a one-on-one meeting with a faculty member. If nobody is "available," head for home -- this is an absentee faculty. Ask them hard questions. If they look offended by having to answer, head for home -- these are arrogant bastards who think they are God's gift to theatre education. Hint: they're not; nobody is. Ask them to put the show you saw into context: is it in the top 10% they've seen here over the past five years? Top 25%? This can  help you understand how to look at the show. Sometimes things don't work out the way we'd hoped, but it was a good experiment. Ask about departmental scholarships or workstudy jobs. Ask about internships or student projects. 
    e. Go to a gen ed class. Are they huge lecture classes? Smaller? Is there an attempt to make things interesting? Who is teaching -- grad students, adjuncts, or profs? Are the students passive or engaged?
    f. Visit the town. What's within walking distance of campus? Is there public transportation, or do you need a car? Is there an arts scene? Is there a coffee shop where students seem to hang out? If there isn't much happening in town, that isn't a reason to reject the college. It just means that you need to find out whether the college makes up for it with their own on-campus options, which can make up for a less-than-vibrant place.
    g. Don't get overawed by facilities. Yeah, the theatre may be state-of-the-art, but do undergrads get to work in it, or is it locked up except when the faculty are around? A crappy hole in the wall that is available for student creativity may be more important -- in fact, probably IS more important -- than a shiny new building. And the rest of campus -- well, pretty buildings are nice, but it won't take long before you won't really see them anymore. It is more important what is going on in them.

Now that you have done all this, follow your gut. You've done your research, and that's all in the back of your mind, but listen to what your heart is saying. If there are two schools that seem equally good, choose the cheaper one. Carrying a huge debt as you start a career in theatre is a really, really bad idea. But I suspect that, when all is said an done, your choice will be clear.

And when you get there, work your butt off. Believe me, this is the good stuff.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

"When We Last Flew": Epic Fail

I just received an email from Sam Morris, Publicist who says he is a fan of my blog. However, the greeting on the email was"Dear Walt," so I guess he's one of those fans who, you know, doesn't actually read the blogs he's a fan of, or notice that at the end of each post there is a line that says "Posted by Scott Walters." (Note to other publicists who have been influenced by the drumbeat of social media marketing: you really piss bloggers off when you lie to them.)

Anyway, what Sam Morris wants to make me aware of is a production (or future production) called When Last We Flew, which is raising money online to do the show. Now, this is where not actually being a fan of this blog really leads to a lot of crap, because if Sam had read my blog he'd know that I am vocal proponent of rural and small town America, and that I get really annoyed by the condescending urban BS that passes for commentary. So Sam wouldn't know that the following description of the play would really piss me off:
After stealing his library's only copy of Angels in America, misfit teenager Paul begins reading and finds that his dull Midwestern life is about to take flight. Developed at Lincoln Center, New York Theatre Workshop, and the Sundance Theater Institute, when last we flew is a moving and humorous look at life in small town America.
So let's do a close reading of this two-sentence insult.
"After stealing his library's only copy of Angels in America..."
All you hip urban folks, I want you to get on the subway or the el or whatever city-type form of transportation you use and go down to a branch of your local library. And then I want you to come home and report to me exactly how many DOZEN copies of Angels in America you find there. Let's get serious: libraries are experiencing enormous budget cuts in our society, but even in the best of times very few libraries buy multiple copies of anything, much less a play. The implication is that only a rural a library would have only one copy of Angels in America. Nonsense. It's the norm. I love Angels in America -- I think it is the most important and best play of the past quarter century -- but libraries only need one copy of it. In the video on the website, Rivers, who apparently is from a small town (Manhattan KS, from additional research) and himself spent much time in the library where his grandmother was the librarian, speaks slightingly of the "small" theatre section. Well, welcome to the world. There is only one Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts, but for the rest of the US, well, people don't much read plays. And not just rural people -- ALL people. Even people who like to go to theatre don't read plays. Hell, from what I can gather, people who make a living in the theatre don't read plays. And so libraries don't have massive theatre sections.
"misfit teenager Paul begins reading and finds that his dull Midwestern life is about to take flight."
I know that "misfit" is supposed to make me identify with Paul -- all us people who went into theatre were misfits, weren't we? Being interested in an irrelevant art form?  I mean, all we have to do is listen to A Chorus Line to know that's true. But any sympathy I have (which was minimal, since I can see that this is another whiny "nobody understood me when I was young wah wah wah" play) evaporated when I encounter the insultingly cliched "his dull Midwestern life." This is just more Nylachi propaganda that paints everything without a 100-zip code as dull. Dullness is more about the individual than the place. It is a sign of lack of imagination and an inability to actually see and appreciate all of the diverse magic within any place. It is, in short, a sign of teenage-itis. Teenagers think New York is dull, too. Give me a break.
"Developed at Lincoln Center, New York Theatre Workshop, and the Sundance Theater Institute..."
Pedigree. New York pedigree. Lets look at this further. Playwright Harrison David Rivers (named after Harrison Ford) is an African-American from Manhattan KS, a town of around 50,000, so he is writing from experience (as we see in the video). He then attended the private liberal arts Kenyon College (the oldest college in Ohio), and then got his graduate degree from -- you guessed it -- Columbia University. In other words, he seems to be a carbon copy of every playwright making a living in NYC. His bio continues: "His work has been developed and produced at Lincoln Center, Atlantic Theater, Atlantic Stage 2, Second Stage, New York Theatre Workshop, Joe’s Pub, Ars Nova, HERE Arts Center, the 45th Street Theater, South Oxford Space, Dixon Place, 3LD Art & Technology Center, Manhattan Theatre Source and The American Airlines Theater (The 24 Hour Plays on Broadway and The Komen Foundation’s Pink Campaign on Broadway)." In other words, New York New York New York. And this production is being New York. But for some reason, the play needs to be set in a "small Midwestern town."
when last we flew is a moving and humorous look at life in small town America.
Or a settling of scores. In case you think I am being ungenerous (and I am somewhat), here is a quotation from Mr. Rivers' blog about his play Fell: "Second semester of my first year of graduate school my Playwriting II professor refused to comment on the first act of FELL, citing its copious stage directions as impenetrable and distracting from the story (which he had apparently missed both the first and second times he read through the play). He tossed the then fifty page script onto the table and said, "Call me when it's being produced and then I'll give you feedback." I emailed him the other day: "FELL is being produced. I want my critique." This man can hold a grudge, that's for sure. And for all of you dreaming of getting into the Columbia playwriting MFA program: you might want to consider this particular story. As well as this: "I finished writing FELL two weeks after this same professor insinuated that I was incapable of writing a play which featured African American characters." Sounds like a great education.

Suffice to say, I will not be contributing to getting Mr. Rivers' play on the boards. I don't know who wrote this blurb -- probably not Mr. Rivers -- and to his credit, Mr. Rivers does not slight his past in the video (although one of this producers does). I would like to see more plays about rural and small town America get attention, but I'd like them to be written by people who actually live in small towns, not "misfits" who used to live in a small town when they were teenagers and who now reside in NYC where "misfits" are tolerated and who have an ax to grind. It would be fine if these sorts of plays balanced out other more generous ones, but these portrayals of "small town life" are the only images that make it to the world. And I'm tired of it.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Orson Scott Card and the Tony Awards

I was forwarded a link to this blog post by Orson Scott Card, who (in the second half of the post) is grumpy about the Tony Awards -- or at least, about the plays on Broadway.  The person who emailed me (and I'm not identifying him only because I didn't take the time to ask if it was OK to do so) wondered whether this is "another dimension to the narrow roots of much of what we see." The short answer: no. What follows is a longer answer.

Card, who is probably best known for his novel Ender's Game, claims that -- oh, hell, I'm not going to summarize it. Here are the paragraphs I want to address:
Broadway has firmly aligned itself with the extreme left in American politics, to the point where they feel free to ridicule the values of most of the rest of the country -- the very people they expect to fly to New York and buy the tickets to keep the money flowing in.

Once upon a time, the theatrical community was one of the most open-minded and accepting groups in America; now it's rigid, exclusive, elitist, angry at nothing, and filled with disdain for people leading ordinary lives.

Oh, they'll occasionally cast a known conservative Republican, like Kelsey Grammer -- but only if he's in yet another revival of La Cage aux Folles and kisses another man onstage.
Once upon a time, the American theatre was one of our finest contributions to world culture. Now, judging from what we saw in this Tony broadcast, it's just a wholly-owned subsidiary of the contemptuous wing of the Democratic Party.

When Eugene O'Neill, Arthur Miller, Edward Albee, and Tennessee Williams were writing for the American stage, we could go to New York and see greatness. 
This is a muddled mashup of pseudo-thought in which totally separate ideas are stitched together nonsensically with thread comprised of historical inaccuracy.

Before I discuss this, though, a disclaimer: I didn't watch the Tony Awards, nor have I been paying particular attention to the current Broadway season. I was in NYC recently and scanned the Broadway listings and opted for having dinner with friends, which I remain convinced was the better choice by far. So I can't comment on whether the acceptance speeches by the winners were filled with quotations from Lenin and Mao, which must have been the case given Card's undie-bundle.

In addition, the complaint, which Card makes elsewhere in his post, that there are so few new plays in a season that it is impossible to respectably fill out some of the categories has been made many other places as well, and is difficult to refute. But if you have to have an annual awards show (how else to market Broadway to the non-NYC public?), then you need to have nominees and that means you have to work with what you've been given. The lack of sufficient productions to fill the catregories ought to tell us something about the economic and creative bankruptcy of Broadway more than anything else. But why bring up the obvious, when you can grumble about liberals?

And his grumpiness about the Hollywood invasion? Yeah, take a number. I didn't even bother to quote these warmed-over cliches. Follow the link if you are a fan of stating the obvious.

But the part that requires a response I've pasted above.

Card seems to be grumpy about a couple things. First, that the Broadway menu is comprised wholly of fare drawn from the "extreme left" cookbook. I had to put down my Stalin-flavored sushi when I read that. I don't know enough about Card to know whether he is a tea bag nutjob who thinks anybody to the left of Herbert Hoover is "extreme left," but the the absurdity of this statement is beyond belief. Broadway fare is about as far left as the Chamber of Commerce. But exactly what is his beef? Is he cranky about Memphis -- are anti-racism and the Civil Rights movement "extreme left"? After half a century, I would have thought everyone along the political spectrum might agree about the immorality of prejudice based on race, Perhaps I am naive. After all, many people seem content to have sing-alongs from the racism songbook while changing the lyrics a bit to replace "black" with "gay."  Or is it Fences, perhaps August Wilson's most conservative play, that has him hitting the barricades? Hell, maybe there's just too many dark-skinned people winning awards these days, eh? Regardless, these plays are about as leftist as...well, the plays of O'Neill, Miller, Albee, and Williams (see below). Anyway, if he's looking for "conservative Republicans," I'd suggest that he should pay attention to some of the other awards -- the ones given to producers. I'm sure he'll find the scaled balanced if he just takes in the whole show. Or maybe he'd like a list of board members for the major arts organizations across America with which all those radical leftist artists have populated their organization's governance. Kind of hard to overthrow the government when you're reliant on Daddy Warbucks' bankroll to keep you afloat.

As mentioned above, Card then goes on to provide, by way of contrast to today's radical cabaret, the Golden Days of Broadway when "Eugene O'Neill, Arthur Miller, Edward Albee, and Tennessee Williams were writing for the American stage" and dammit, "the theatrical community was one of the most open-minded and accepting groups in America." What??? Surely he's not holding up Eugene O'Neill, who hung out with Greenwich Village Communists like John Reed and won the Nobel for radical plays like The Hairy Ape; Arthur Miller, who it is conjectured was a member of the writer's unit of the Communist Party around 1946 and who was an unfriendly witness before HUAC and who wrote The Crucible as a repudiation of McCarthyism; Tennessee Williams, whose homosexuality and drug addiction led to his early death; and Edward Albee, whose recent plays include one about having sex with a goat -- surely these are not the playwrights that Card holds up as a contrast to the "extreme left" plays of the current season, as the playwrights who reflected the tolerant values of "the rest of the country."  I know things look better through the haze of nostalgia, but this is total historical blindness.

But I do think he's right about the "contemptuous" part, but that has nothing to do with left or right -- both are equally contemptuous of the "values of the rest of the country" (whatever that means -- is this a code phrase for the "Real Americans" that Sarah Palin loves to refer to?), but that contempt takes different forms. Yes, artists are absurd who, with little intellectual or moral justification, see themselves as superior to everyone else simply because they make their living creating or interpreting imaginative worlds. This attitude is the energy shadow of the social shakedown that occurred during the Modernist first part of the 20th century, when artists declared themselves better than, well, just about anybody else. Read Ortega Y Gassett's The Revolt of the Masses for a primary source of this arrogance, or Lawrence W. Levine's Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America or Highbrow/Lowdown: Theatre, Jazz, and the Making of the New Middle Class for a historical overview. (Nota bene: if you want to meet theatre's sneerer-in-chief, shake hands with Card's hero, Edward Albee.) But at the same time, producers (not just on Broadway, but in the offices of corporate arts everywhere) are equally contemptuous, insulting the intelligence of "the rest of the country" with their putrid, materialist pandering that exhibits all the moral values of Donald Trump running a BP shareholders meeting. Card needs to look a little bit closer at the values of American culture overall.

If my email forwarder friend is asking me to comment about the lack of diversity on our stages, then I would say that we have none, but not because of the simple-minded reason Card offers that there just aren't enough conservative Republicans around not kissing men in plays about homosexuality. It is because both left and right share the same classic liberal (in the REAL definition of the term, not the dopey use bandied about by FOX news) philosophy that what is most important in our world is the total freedom of the individual sans any responsibility to the betterment of the community. Nobody wants to talk about true "republicanism" (small "r"), which came from Jefferson, and was based on the sense of responsibility generated by having to have face-to-face interactions with other members of the community in order to solve problems and create a stronger place for everybody. No, we just want to do what we want to do and then figure out a way to sell it to other people. Our world has become a vast marketplace, and whether you are an "extreme left" or a "conservative Republican" artist or businessperson, you have that as a common ground. At root, you all believe the same thing: it's all about the commodity, the marketing, and the transaction.

You want diversity? It isn't about black and white, red and blue. It's about whether you believe that the individual is not part of a larger community, whether an individual has a responsibility to his neighbors.

Earlier today, over on the TACT blog, I posted these ten "hopes" that Wendell Berry delivered as part of a 1989 Commence address. If you want true diversity, create art (and a country to go with it) that reflects these values:

  1. Beware the justice of Nature.
  1. Understand that there can be no successful human economy apart from Nature or in defiance of Nature.
  2. Understand that no amount of education can overcome the innate limits of human intelligence and responsibility. We are not smart enough or conscious enough or alert enough to work responsibly on a gigantic scale.
  3. In making things always bigger and more centralized, we make them both more vulnerable in themselves and more dangerous to everything else. Learn, therefore, to prefer small-scale elegance and generosity to large-scale greed, crudity, and glamour.
  4. Make a home. Help to make a community. Be loyal to what you have made.
  5. Put the interest of the community first.
  6. Love your neighbors–not the neighbors you pick out, but the ones you have.
  7. Love this miraculous world that we did not make, that is a gift to us.
  8. As far as you are able make your lives dependent upon your local place, neighborhood, and household–which thrive by care and generosity–and independent of the industrial economy, which thrives by damage.
  9. Find work, if you can, that does no damage. Enjoy your work. Work well.

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 ...