Theatre Bay Area Chatterbox

Friday, February 4, 2011

Envisioning Alternatives

Earlier this week, we generated a heated discussion about Rocco Landesman's comments at the New Play Institute on our blog and Facebook page. I walked away from that discussion with the sense that yes, our theatrical ecosystem (from a business standpoint) is unsustainable. Many (sadly, most) theatre artists work for nothing or next to nothing. In spite of this, we are indeed witnessing a rapid increase in the amount of theatre companies springing up around the country, and that increase is concurrent with an alarming decrease in funding sources for these theatre companies. However, as the reaction around the blogosphere is indicating, simply suggesting that we have too many theatre companies without proposing meaningful alternatives to the current system is overly simplistic and frustrating to artists whose life's work is in question.

That's where this post comes in. I would like to set aside this space to envision alternatives to the traditional models that many artists follow as criticized by Landesman: to produce a play or two with friends, to identify a niche in the theatre community, or at least a solid group of artists with whom one wants to continue to work, and then to form a theatre company with said artists. I have noticed a tendency in the theatre community to view creating a new theatre company as a necessary step in legitimizing one's work and building an audience. In our current theatrical environment, this is absolutely true. But can we imagine other systems in which this might not be as much of an issue?

Should established theatre companies, for example, create more opportunities for less established artists to create? What if large companies dedicated a certain amount of resources to smaller-scale "theatre laboratories" in which fringe artists could experiment with the form without having to create an entire theatre infrastructure of their own? How would the large companies benefit from such arrangements?

Could a group of smaller companies pool their resources to establish one umbrella nonprofit coop of sorts that serves all of them (run by a centralized managing director), much as arts organizations will pool their resources to share an office or performance space? Would such a thing even be legally and/or logistically feasible? Would this eliminate enough overhead costs to justify the added logistical headaches?

What sort of infrastructure would need to be in place, do you think, so that artists would no longer need to create organizations to satisfy their artistic impulses?

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