Theatre Bay Area Chatterbox

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

So, Theatre's in Trouble, Eh?

Victoria Nguyen has a fairly substantial article in this week's San Francisco Bay Guardian (on newsstands now!) on the state of the theatre community in the Bay Area, specifically looking at small and midsize companies. It's interesting to see the article in finished form, as Victoria has spoken to me and other Theatre Bay Area staff at least three times in the process of writing it. Verdict? It's about what I thought it was going to be.

I've got to say, the picture she paints is not necessarily pretty, and I sort of knew that was coming. In our discussions, Victoria particularly requested that she be pointed towards companies "struggling to stay afloat" and employees "suffering from 'burnout'." While I took some time to let her know that hunting out those stories doesn't make them the standard for the community right now, she seems to have continued on that path and written an article that paints a bleaker picture than I think is really representative of the current situation.

This is not to say that her article is inaccurate--as our Pulse Survey (which she references in the article) shows, things are not all sunshine and lollipops for companies right now, and it's a little unclear whether companies are reacting as proactively and forcefully as they might. And she highlights some great realities in the field right now, like a potential over-reliance on ticket income and a potential dearth of large-cast plays because of the financial realities of mounting them. I can nitpick that she claims that companies of all sizes are seeing reductions in ticketing income and individual donations, which doesn't actually seem to be true across the board (see this mention on PianoFight's blog and this article about DC's Arena Stage, for example). Anecdotally, two of the companies mentioned in the article (Impact and City Lights) have both told me that someof their shows have actually seen larger audiences than predicted, in some cases record-setting numbers.

Ultimately, while I'm a little sad that the positive stuff (the increased cooperation within the community, the new innovations occurring every day across size and scope, the new spaces being created by Z Space, Intersection and others) didn't make it in except insofar as it was mentioned as a direct effort to stay afloat, I am absolutely thrilled that the Bay Guardian spent five pictures (including the front page) and two pages talking about some of our best and brightest small companies.

And there is one bit of wisdom that is always good to remember. In the last paragraph, Victoria quotes Z Space AD Lisa Steindler saying, "We're artists--we're a smart group of people. We've just tightened, tightened, tightened. And who knows? Maybe we just caught it in time."

Here's hoping.

In other news (and running counter to my relative optimism), the Magic officially announced today that they're exiting stage right (okay, actually exiting the stage on the right as you go up the stairs to their venue in Fort Mason). They're dropping out of the Sam Shepard Theatre at Fort Mason and keeping only the thrust. The space is available for rent through Fort Mason, if you're interested.


Photo: Anne Galjour in Z Space Studio's upcoming production of You Can't Get There From Here. Photo by Clayton Lord (hey that's me!) Find out more.

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