Theatre Bay Area Chatterbox

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Outrageous Fortune Afterthought

The authors of Outrageous Fortune offered up an extraordinary presentation today, and also headed up a very intelligent question and answer session. I was really quite energized by the depth of the discussion.

After the event I was exhausted, mostly from liveblogging, but also from a sense that I usually get after such convenings: I get so overloaded with thoughts and ideas that I get a little discouraged that we can ever solve these big questions. When we start with the economics of being a playwright and end up with conversations about audiences, audience attendance, funding and all these other huge things, where do we start?

On the BART ride home I suddenly remembered an article from a recent issue of Fast Company magazine. If you're like me and get a little discouraged, you may find a bit of hope in the article. Actually, nearly everyone can find some hope in the article.

Here's the article, but I'll summarize. It's about poverty in Vietnam, how so many people and companies have been working on the problem of poverty in rural areas, and how unsolvable the problem seemed to be. When you think of poverty, you think of the lack of clean water, the lack of medical supplies--all these big huge things that seem (and maybe are) unsolvable. But one guy went in and instead of enumerating problems, he looked at success. He found that while many children of impoverished families were malnourished, not all of them were malnourished. So he studied what the successful mothers were doing, what they were feeding their children, and how often. Then he brought all of the mothers in the village together so the mothers of the healthy children could teach the other mothers what kinds of food to prepare and how often to feed the children. Not only did this solve the problem of malnourished children in the village, it solved it for the next several generations because the mothers passed on what they learned to the next generation, who passed it on and on....

I love this example for a couple of reasons: It shows how big problems can be solved if you start small and locally and, even better, the people in the village were empowered to solve the problem themselves--with a little guidance from someone on the outside, but still, the guy didn't prescribe solutions for the mothers. Some of the mothers already had the solutions at their disposal, and they taught the others.

As the authors of Outrageous Fortune pointed out, many things that we're doing in the Bay Area are working. Many theatre people and companies in the Bay Area have the solutions at their fingertips, and those solutions may just be impacting one "family" (company, or group of artists), but if the rest of us could learn what they are, we can adapt them. And maybe the success will spread. And maybe the success will stay with us for the next generation, and the next.



At February 9, 2010 at 7:14 PM , Blogger Rebecca Novick said...

Karen - thanks for doing such a great job chronicling this. It was a pleasure to hear from so many people. I also felt both exhilarated and daunted and I agree with the idea that perhaps the most constructive thing we can do next is to identify and nurture the "things that are working", especially the ones in our backyard.

At February 10, 2010 at 2:15 PM , Blogger Barry Martin said...

I'm not sure where this comment fits, so I'll just plop it here. In the conference, Todd made a reference to theatre's role today in "carrying on the cultural conversation" (I think that was the phrase.) It seems that in earlier times, pre-TV days, theatre did this very well. Plays were of their own times, immediate commentary and reflection on what was happening at that moment. Today that happens on TV, blogs, web 2.0 of all kinds, print - even movies are quicker to respond to current events than theatre. After hearing about the long lag time between script submission and production in many theatres, I think this is a critical problem to be solved to make theatre relevant and meaningful.

At February 10, 2010 at 6:47 PM , OpenID Arena Stage said...

Great work on this whole event, you guys!

There's so much you have going on to build on with and for each other, especially around new plays and playwrights. I'll look forward to following the discussion as it develops. And I've left some of my own observations on the "bright spots" over on the New Play Blog []

Onward and upward.

David Dower

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