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.

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