In the opening page by the Executive Director Teresa Eyring, she talks about the "The Ripple Effect," (the title to her article); of how the company Universes, is taking the theater world and telling it what it needs to do next. Eyring uses their piece PARTY PEOPLE to illustrate what exactly it is that they're doing right. "...a multimedia piece...which used music, spoken word and dance to reexamine a controversial episode in our cultural history--the rise and fall in the 1960s and 70s of the Black Panthers and Young Lords. The show spotlights the activism of these two outlaw entities, both of which sponsored important social programs, such as before-school breakfast and health care, in their impoverished communities. PARTY PEOPLE also uncovered some of the internal strife that existed as the movements were dismantled, in part through the infiltration of police and government informants." (6)
I had discovered Universes in 2003-2004 through Leisl Tommy (she was a casting fellow and a director at New York Theatre Workshop when I was a casting intern and later literary assistant) and I was amazed at the intricate work they were doing. I thought, "Gosh! These guys have their finger on something good...and I don't know how they do it." Anyway, I think it's fascinating that 10 years later, Liesl is directing their piece at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and they show up in American Theatre...is that the harvest date for when people make it to the mainstream from the avant-garde? I think this is a question for my Theatre History Professor and, dare I say it, guru, John Wilson...
The last thing I loved in this article was a quote that Eyring caught in the talk back: "Another young person raised his hand and asked, "If there was one thing you want us to take away from this show, what would it be?" The artists' valuable answer: First, read--it's important to read everything you can and stay informed about the world around you. Second, remember change is accomplished in the small things you do, right in your own neighborhood--picking up trash on a particular street, helping someone you know in need." (6)
I found something that intrigued me and thought that the Albuquerque Theatre Guild should do. It was in the "News in Brief" Section and it was entitled the "Match Game." In this brief, they talk about Fractured Atlas, "...a new software application that will employ a calendar-sharing functionality to match seekers with available spaces--essentially an OpenTable reservations platform for rehearsal spaces." (11)
Opening an article with "...the Beckett of the 21st Century..." is definitely a way to pique my interest. So...apparently Jon Fosse, a Norwegian poet-turned-playwright has been hailed with the moniker above. I haven't seen or read his work, but I was hopeful that there might be some truth to that assertion. "There's a spiritual element, [Sarah Cameron Sunde, director of Fosse's play A SUMMER DAY] notes, "about accepting our fate, about letting go. It's about letting the hard moments of your life crash into you. It's only by allowing them to crash that you can find release." (20) This quote reminded me of some writing I had done for many years previous to my father's death. I always noted that his death was my greatest fear and that I didn't even want to ruminate on what that fate would be. Now that he has passed, and the instant it happened, I did feel as though I had that fate literally crash onto me, and I fell to my knees. There was no release, per se, in that moment of crashing, but I did tell people afterwards that for some reason my yoga positions felt more "grounded," and yoga was one of the things I did to try and release some of the pain caused by that crash. Anyone who can find words for what fate is and how it will manifest, is worthy of exploration. I will look into this supposed, "Beckett of the 21st Century."
I liked the article on director Pam MacKinnon entitled "Why Writers Trust Pam MacKinnon." There is a simplicity to the way that she directs, and, as any theater artist knows, it's simplicity that is the hardest to master, so...no wonder playwrights want this woman to be known. Also, I have a little advocacy thing in my head that roots for any woman director who is subtle and is doing the work that never gets recognized because the director's circle of American Theater is largely a boys club. Just look at how many Tony's have been given to women. Which is funny because the Tony is named after a tough-as-nails woman actress. Hmmm...
Anyway, Pam, and her process: "When she first reads a script, she makes little marks next to passages that excite her. "It's important that the language be muscular, and that the act of speaking is a physical act," she notes with a gesture of specificity." (22) That's it...and, yes, that should be it because it's the simplistic that is the most difficult to execute well, as I said above.
Edward Albee, who is known as a difficult, or rather, very opinionated man to work with, adores Pam, and she says this about him: "Albee is such a "musical" writer, MacKinnon reasons, that oftentimes she would feel like a conductor in the rehearsal room making sure the dialogue came out at the right tempo. She realized the importance of the pauses and how to frame the beats, and thus the audience's reaction to them...In addition to rhythm, humor is essential to MacKinnon's aesthetic. "This play can be funny in the way that Beckett is funny, but it has to be funny," she avows." (24)
I also liked how she talks about her rehearsal process: "Once you're in rehearsal and working with the actual people, thought, it's about the text and what they breathe into it. It very quickly becomes tantamount to doing a new play." It's this idea of discovery that fuels MacKinnon's rehearsal process." (71)
I was introduced to Athol Fugard's work in my freshman Production for Theater class at Cornish College of the Arts. I was assigned THE ROAD TO MECCA, as a design project. I loved the play, and I loved the research that I had to do for it. I have never actually seen a Fugard play or performed in one, but...I was happy to see an article written by him in this American Theatre, about his writing process. I loved the quote: "I would be free once again to explore that ultimate terra incognita, that most outer of all outer spaces--the blank page." (26) I think my little blog projects are a testament to this terra incognita because, I too, indeed, fear the blank page and I love fear and terror, but it doesn't make the writing process any easier.
It was no surprise to read the tagline to the article, "Subscribe to THIS!" as being "The subscription model is dead; long live the subscription model." "According to the latest edition of the TCG's THEATRE FACTS, income from subscriptions in 113 theatres across the country has declined an average of 17.6 percent over a five-year period (when adjusted for inflation). In 2007, the income from subscriptions on average covered 19.3 percent of these theatres' total expenses; this number went down 15.6 percent in 2011." (30) This death has been predicted for awhile. When I was an intern at Seattle Repertory Theatre in 2001-2002, they had just launched their endowment fund, which was the funding source that was to start making up for lost subscription money. I was a part of several break-out discussion group sessions to talk about how to entice my generation into single-ticket-buying. This same thing happened two years later when I was interning at New York Theatre Workshop and yet again four years later when I help to found the Albuquerque Theatre Guild. So...to read this article and its findings was a finality to the predictions that have been going on for many years.
I did like the positive spin that Jonathan Mandell, the writer of the article, took on it, though. "[Kevin E.] Moore [Managing Director, Arizona Theatre Company] sees the decline of subscriptions not as a cause for alarm but as a symptom of larger changes. "Audiences want a different experience in the theatre--more engagement with the art and with the artists and with each other," he says. "It's not enough for them anymore just to go to a theatre, sit in the dark, and then leave." (30)
Rob Orchard was the first managing director for American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, MA, and he mentions that the subscription model made sense in the 60s and 70s, but that it is a dying model. "One of the first questions that a theatre asks itself when considering a show is: 'Is this something that will appeal to our subscribers?' It's a disproportionate barometer," Orchard says. Having subscribers also requires that a show run for a set amount of time in order to enable all the subscribers to see it; artistic directors are thus thwarted from producing work with more limited appeal for shorter runs. And shows that become runaway hits usually can't extend on the strict one-show-then-another season model; once the subscribers and a certain number of single-ticket buyers have seen it, it's got to close to make way for the next production. The net results, Orchard maintains, "inhibits artistic choice." (32)
One thing I wrote in the margins of this article was, "No other model...just experiments..." Letting myself know that there is no panacea for the death of the subscription model. "The challenge for theatres that have well-established subscription programs, Orchard believes, is how to "transition out of that model and maintain the loyalty of the subscribers. There hasn't been one particular model that's replacing subscriptions. Everybody's experimenting." (32)
I was pleased that Mandell continued his positive spin with this quote: "The theatre also saved money it used to spend on attracting its audience, while experiencing an increase in the number of nontraditional theatregoers, including people of color, the young and the poor: "To see the level of diversity come in the house because of Radical Hospitality [a program where the theatre now gives away many of the tickets to its shows for free] has been really overwhelming, in a good way," Mixed Blood staff member Jamil Jude said a few months into the first season." (78) It is nice to know that there isn't a panacea, but that the solution to declining subscription is diversity. I want to do a little dance right now, as I type this, because my personal ethic system always has diversity as an answer, and, now, it is the answer to helping bridge the revenue gap that closed with the death of subscriptions. Mandell was concerned with the logistics of such a program being sustainable and Mixed Blood answered with: "It is our belief as an institution that purpose and principles supersede survival. It's better to go out of business on your own terms than to pander for survival. I think that mindset has led to our longevity." (78)
The article by Sarah Hart entitled "Get Smart, Hold Tight: Theatres are deftly negotiating the bumps and curves of an economy in flux. Theatre Facts 2011 tracks their progress" is the article that has the most notes from me in the margins and the most passages underlined. Obviously, this is something that has hit me personally (the economy) and it concerns my process as an artist because I lost my job as an artist because of the economy. The arts are one of the first things to be cut in a bad economy, and this supposed "New Normal" for theaters concerns me as I try and navigate what my next step as an artist is: I had thought by squirreling myself away in the cloistered walls of higher education, like many of my female colleagues do, that I would have a safe-haven, but that ended up not being true. So...there is no panacea for subscriptions and there is no panacea for theater's "New Normal." I read articles like this almost like a scientist, in the hopes that someone's hypothesis will be one that I can pursue and experiment with because I know there is no cure-all.
"Theatre Managers have always been creatures of many talents--balancing a budget here, chatting up a playwright there, painting sets at midnight on occasion--but more than ever this resourceful bunch is stretching its expertise, maximizing resources and employing sheer force of will to keep their theatres strong." (34) This quote opens this article, and because I was a theater manager for four years of my professional career, I underlined that passage, because it is so true: I painted a gallery when we didn't have the $35,000 to hire a professional crew; I sat in on numerous lengthy production meetings; I hired artists, technicians, designers, teachers; I was sometimes a company manger; sometimes a production manager; sometimes an actress; sometimes a technician; I cleaned toilets; I balanced budgets; I never slept...
I had been told when I was an intern at Seattle Repertory Theatre in 2001-2002, that the funding structure of most LORT Theaters in the United States were what they call a 60/40 split. That is, 60% comes from donors and 40% from box office receipts. As a blue-collar girl, I was confused by this because I had assumed that all the money from theater came from the box office, and to find out that the bulk came from donors was a new world for me. "Earned income financed 59.1 percent of expenses in Profiled Theatres, with 48.6 percent covered by contributed income (for a total of 107.7 percent - leading to that positive CUNA). Larger theaters tended to cover a higher proportion of expenses with earned income than contributed (a 66.3 to 43.2 ratio in the highest budget group of Profiled Theatres), while smaller theaters relied more on contributed income (40.2 to 66.2 in the smallest budget group). The Trend Theatre view shows a second year of earned income growth after dipping in '08 and '09. Earned income was at its highest dollar level of the past five years, through an adjustment for inflation takes it below its '07 level by 3.9 percent. Ticket income accounted for 69 percent of all earned income (covering 41.3 percent of expenses), with additional revenue coming from presenting fees, educational/outreach programs, rentals, concessions, co-production income, endowment earnings, capital gains and interest/dividends." (34) I guess what I can deduce from these findings is that since 2001-2002, the ratio has flipped. And...that's the "New Normal;" how we sustain this "New Normal" as theaters is up to the individual theater and their own experiments.
In many of the breakout groups that I was a part of between 2001 and 2008, there was much discussion about the "single-ticket buyer" and how to make them loyal or "a regular." "Single-ticket income was the highest income provider overall (earned or contributed) in each of the past years, and was at a five-year high in '11, with a 13.3-percent increase (with the inflation adjustment) over '07. Subscriptions--the second-biggest income generator--remained relatively level from '10 to '11, although the line dropped 17.6 percent overall during the five-year-period. Booked-in events, though not a large piece of theatres' income pie were nevertheless noteworthy for growing 39.1 percent over the past five years." (34-35) To further this discussion and its, more than likely, permanent fixture to the things we theater practitioners will have to take into account for our "New Normal" is a quote from Susan Medak, managing director of Berkeley Repertory Theatre: "People aren't taking as much risk. There is much, much stronger attendance for work with name recognition. Work that is hard to describe is very hard to sell right now. One reason that single tickets are so high is we've learned to be aggressive about capitalizing on successful shows. We build in extensions for any shows we think may be popular. We have to take advantage of the ones that will sell." (35)
The "New Normal," equation also includes the fact that one or two hits will make up any income gaps for the shows that are harder to sell. I'm not sure if that is new to the equation because many theaters always put in their "Christmas show" to help bring their company to the black from the red, but maybe the fact that they need more than one cash cow is a part of the "New Normal." (35)
One hopeful thing was the fact that theaters are now aware of this up-tick in the single-ticket buying being a part of our "New Normal," and that many have tested raising those single-ticket prices and there wasn't a dip in the purchasing of those single-tickets. "The gains in single-ticket income were driven mostly by higher prices were slightly higher, and overall the discounts offered in '11 were lower than in the previous three years. Anecdotal reports indeed suggest that some movement--either up or down--on the pricing front can yield healthy results." (35)
I loved that my home-state of Idaho started to look at these trends and came up with some creative ways to begin "hooking" a future audience. Mark Hofflund, managing director of Idaho Shakespeare Festival said: "We offered a low-price student subscription package. Ticket sales went through the roof, and we panicked. We thought traditional subscribers were finding the discount and switching. But our subscribers increased more than 30 percent in 2011. Our core audience were retaining their subscriptions. The new package really did bring in a lot of growth." (35)
The "New Normal" has also included theaters raising prices only on well-attended days, and, again, that raising of prices did not slow the single-ticket buying trend. The leaders at Perseverance Theatre of Juneau, Alaska: "We needed to be making more off tickets, but, at the same time, didn't want to price out the community," confirms producing director Ruth Kostik. "By lowering the price on certain nights, it helped drive attendance to those nights, while keeping them accessible, while making more money off the more highly attended nights." Now, Friday sits at the middle of the structure; Saturday and Thursday are the highest attended nights, with Saturday selling at the highest prices, and Thursday at the lowest." (35)
As I said earlier, I became aware of this subscription death the year I was an artistic intern at Seattle Repertory Theatre, when the theater launched their endowment fund. "Beyond tickets, theatres' highest earned income lines in '11 were from capital gains and endowment earnings and transfers, which have both regained some footing from the hard-hit '09 fiscal year. Capital gains, in particular, increased 163.3 percent over '10, and 13.9 percent over the five-year period. Endowment earnings and transfers lost a bit of ground from the recovery in '10, and were down 39 percent from '07s peak (which stands as the high over the past 10 years as well), but are still considerably healthier than '09's nadir. Total investment income (also including the smaller interest and dividends line) covered 7.3 percent of theatres' expenses." (36) This makes me happy because I remember that the founders of the endowment of Seattle Repertory Theatre were taking a leap of faith because they weren't particularly sure how this new funding structure would pan out, but the hope was that it would help bridge the gap that was becoming ever-present in the declining subscription structure.
Another "New Normal" is the rental structure. I remember in 2004-2005 when I was beginning to work at VSA North Fourth Art Center, I was given the task to make a rental file with all of the theaters in the Albuquerque area. I called everyone in the area, and many theaters said they did not rent. Fast-forward 8 years and I see all of the people who proclaimed that they would never rent, now renting...Hmmm...a bad economy sure creates a great equalizer on theaters who might snobbishly have once said, "They would never..." "Rental income in '11 increased 27.5 percent over the previous year, and 45.7 percent over the past five, suggesting that theatres have capitalized on cutbacks in number of performances by earning on their physical spaces--both for rentals and for an increase in booked-in events. Between 80 and 86 percent of theatres earned rental income each year." (36)
Also, in 2004-2005, I found myself in the position of becoming a Managing Director, which I had no training in, so...like a good girl I read several books on the subject to prepare myself. In Duncan M. Webb's book RUNNING THEATERS: Best Practices for Leaders and Mangers, there was a quote on pg. 27, in the chapter entitled "Programming Theaters," that quoted the New York Times: "Having a dark theater on Main Street is like having a corpse in your living room. It's dead and it's there." It was a good thing for me to read at the time because my boss, Marjorie Neset, kept saying that she didn't want "any dark days." I thought she was nuts because we didn't have a staff to provide that, but...she was right...and six years after that theater's opening, it rarely has dark days, and it is thriving because of it. Her precedence to do that with our burgeoning theater was serendipitous because in 2008, two years after the opening of VSA North Fourth Art Center's N4th Theater, there was already a calendar and staff prepared to deal with the "New Normal" of "no dark days." Rebecca Hopkins, managing director of Florida Studio Theatre in Sarasota said: "A dark theatre is a hemorrhage. If we have a hole in the calendar, we bring in something that fits our mission and has the potential to be financially useful. I think as a field we'll see even more of that. From an artistic view, there's just so much interesting work being done, and technology is making it easier to find these shows and make great artistic matches. We have a space, they have a show, let's do it." (36)
Another by-product of rentals that I used to advocate for was also discussed in a break-out article on page 39 entitled "Come Right In." "Our overall attendance over the past seven years has grown an average of 17 percent each year," reports Yvonne Seggerman, executive director of the Gamm Theatre in Pawtucket, R.I. "We've grown in the public trust. Our patrons are our donors, and they see the Gamm as more than the place to create art onstage. The theatre is a link to the city's revitalization and contributes to public value..."We do rent out the theatre," confirms Seggerman, "but we also define that in different ways. The theatre hosts public forums. The mayoral debates happen at our theatre. We're a centerpiece for certain city events that could only happen at the Gamm, because of our beautiful lobby. We're mentioned in all the city's press releases--even a new vegan/vegetarian initiative. You cannot be a partner in the city and not do other things than the art." (39) Before opening VSA North Fourth Art Center's N4th Theater in 2006, I was challenged by my boss, Marjorie Neset, to be a part of the community development of the area. I went to numerous Neighborhood Association meetings, revitalization meetings (and I was on the committee for that revitalization research project), I helped bring artist teachers to the community centers of Albuquerque, and started numerous arts classes in senior centers, nursing homes, psycho-social rehabilitation programs, etc. This has created a diverse audience for their programs, and without dipping our fingers in other city projects; we couldn't have been successful with our new theater.
In 2000-2001, I was the front-of-house manager for a popular Fringe Theater in Seattle: Theater Schmeater. When I took the job, I decided to really bulk up the already popular bar. I told my colleagues that having a well-equipped bar would bring in more income, and we should invest in the up-front costs of more liquor because it would eventually bring in more income. I ended up being right, and in the economic crisis that preceded and followed 9/11 in Seattle, our bar helped keep some of our other projects afloat. Not, totally, obviously, but...the revenues definitely helped. The "New Normal" also has this "concessions/liquor" idea as a boon to struggling theaters: Freddie Ashley, artistic director of Atlanta's Actor's Express: "We've started relying more on concessions, especially since our liquor license was finalized in '09. Before that, we had maybe 1 percent of our revenue from concessions, and now it's just about 5 percent." (37) Then American Theatre writer Sarah Hart added: "(In fact, concessions took a big jump in '11 across the field, up 18.4 percent from what had been a fairly level trajectory over the previous four years.)" (36)
The Education Departments of many theaters are now a staple to its funding structures. These have been around for a while, but I had even noticed, starting in my 2001-2002 Intern year that grants were becoming more and more reliant on a theater's strong Education Department. When I started writing grants for VSA North Fourth Art Center, I was aware of this, and would often have to start a program from scratch in order to fulfill the needs of many grants because there wasn't a separate department for those grants. Eventually, my boss started to shy away from those Education specific grants because we just didn't have the man-power for them, but...that trend has not stopped, and, now, many theaters truly rely on that funding source. In that same 2001-2002 Intern year, I also noted that co-productions were becoming popular, and I thought the idea was genius because I thought many productions should have a longer life and a wider audience. I hadn't really thought about the cost-saving that would occur for many theaters, but...again, that is now a part of our "New Normal." "Co-production income along with commercial-partner enhancement dollars, surpassed inflation by 24.8 percent over the past five years, with a particularly big upswing from '10 to '11. Between 18 and 25 Trend Theatres reported co-production income each year, with 11 to 16 reporting enhancement money. Education income remained fairly steady over the past five years, and covered 2.8 percent of expenses in '11, which (not counting the miscellaneous "other" category) was the next biggest earned income generator after tickets and investments." (37)
Another aspect of theater that has always been an enigma to me is Development. I know its importance, but coming from a blue-collar background the details allude me. There is a quote from Yoko Ono about the fact that when she married John Lennon, she helped him with his money because she came from money, she knew how to deal with it, but because John did not come from money, he did not. I am the John Lennon in this situation. It's not that I haven't been willing to learn, I just really think I would be bad at it. I am already painfully shy in large group situations, and the idea of asking for money in those kinds of situations sounds insane, and probably would lead to a social death on my part. Anyway, I was afraid to read that our "New Normal" now tips its hat to the individual donor as opposed to the ever-adored corporate donor. "For Ten Thousand Things, a company whose mission is to bring theatre to those with little access to it (in homeless shelters, prisons, low-income communities), a high dependence on contributed income is a given--but shifting the balance within that has become more important. "Our strategic goal is to bring up our percentage of individual donors," says Woster. "When I first started here, corporate and foundation giving together made up 50 percent of our income, but that's changed. Everybody tells you now that individual giving is the best source, the healthiest way." (37)
A little break off article on page 37 of the "Get Smart, Hold Tight," article entitled "Comedy Tonight," had my scribbling in the margins with: "Do comedies and musicals to get the audience back?" It's a true wonder of mine. When I started at Walla Walla Community College in the Fall of 2008, I was struck when the department head told me he was only doing comedies to get the audience back. An audience that had been decimated from the previous department head's insistence on doing more experimental and edgy work. The rebel in me was not at all inspired by that sentiment. I thought, "If the work is good, the people will come." But...I wasn't in charge, so I just soldiered on, as I am supposed to. But, now, after losing my job, in a bad economy, I wonder still...is it comedies and musicals that will coax an audience back to the theater? I don't know, but...I will continue to wonder this.
The managing director of Syracuse Stage, Jeffrey Woodward talks about my above wonder with the idea of 're-imagining the community.': "We've reimagined how this place responds to the community," explains Woodward. "Sometimes Tim [Bond, artistic director] will select a play that he knows will respond to the issues in Syracuse. In 2010-11, we did RADIO GOLF, which deals with urban renewal. The neighborhood of Syracuse Stage used to be a middle class African-American community, which was destroyed by a highway that split the neighborhood. We brought in an urban planner, had a lobby display with the history. All these things have started adding up to make the community more aware of what's going on here--and that has expanded our audience." (37) Now, that makes more sense to me, but...I'm not sure that works either. For example, after my first year at Walla Walla Community College, I tried to encourage the department head to do more works by women and Chicanos. He listened the second year I was there, and he produced, of his own finding, THE WOMEN OF LOCKERBIE by Deborah Brevoort and then the third year he produced ZOOT SUIT by Luis Valdez. I was in charge of the musical that was done every year by the college and I tried to do more musicals with a younger cast, to "hook" that audience. The last year I was there I did HAIRSPRAY right on the coat-tails of our production of ZOOT SUIT. We chose these plays because we noticed there were more women in the theater department than men, and there were more students of color, in general, at the school, than what that theater department had been previously programmed for. I can't say that the audiences' color changed all that much, but the age did. I am saddened that after a year's hiatus of the musical, that the school chose to go back to the "safe" production of THE MUSIC MAN, in lieu of capitalizing on the new audience base that the department head and I had grown over three years of tough work. The community of Walla Walla is largely white and Latino, and I thought it was important to start programming to the entire community...but...those up top always have a problem with change. However, I suppose they will eventually learn that theater is in a "New Normal," and it is not cost-effective anymore to go back to "Old/Safe Normals" because that equation doesn't work anymore according all the research I am reading in the November 2012 American Theatre.
One thing that is difficult in building new audiences is...disposable income. "Robert Federico, executive director of Repertorio Espanol in New York City, notes that, "in Repertorio's case--and I think I can generalize about Latino organizations--we have a target audience that doesn't have disposable income." So a necessary heavier reliance on corporate, foundation and government grants directs that organization's energies to areas which, in the past several years, have become harder to predict. Local and state government funding showed considerable swings, largely due to one or two theatres' capital campaigns. From '10 to '11 alone, state funding spiked 242 percent, and city/county funding by 107.8 percent. Together with the significantly smaller federal line, government fuding covered 8.7 percent of expenses in '11. Corporate gifts, which covered 3.7 percent of expenses, were up 21.9 percent from '10, but down 20.3 percent over the past five years." (38)
I would like to take a moment before I dive into the next thing that struck me in this article by saying Minnesota has got it going on. That is a good state. I'm not a fan of their weather, their lack of mountains, or their mosquitoes, but...they do a lot of things right, and the rest of the country could write down some notes. Michelle Woster, managing director of Minnesota's Ten Thousand Things, "...cites Minnesota's 2003 Legacy Amendment, allotting a percentage of sales tax to support the arts and the environment, as having some backlash across other funding areas. "It's a huge balloon," she confirms. "But I've spoken to two executives involved in philanthropic decision-making on the record, who said that the Legacy money allows their corporations to allocate money in different ways." (38) Please, oh please, can we just do this...? A tax for the arts and the environment...is a duh for me...but I grew up in Idaho, and I know plenty of people who will just call me a liberal and that is synonymous with the devil. However, I say to my home-staters, who, I must say, I love and respect, "Please read the chapter "The Brain and the Arts," in David A. Sousa's fourth edition of his book HOW THE BRAIN LEARNS because...I am not the devil...the arts make our brains better and if our brains are better, then we can achieve higher education that allows us to take better jobs, which, ultimately, puts more money in our pockets...And, if it's the money in your pockets that you're always worried about, why wouldn't you support something that would make yours and your progeny richer?"
Foundations...ugh...this is a difficult subject. I wrote a lot of grants to foundations while I worked at VSA North Fourth Art Center, and most of those grants that we relied upon at that state-of-the-art contemporary theater are no longer available. But...apparently, I shouldn't give up on them as a part of our "New Normal." "Foundations have, in each of the past five years, provided the second-highest contributed income line for theatres, following individual givers (but before board giving). In '11, foundation giving increased 21.6 percent in one year, though this area trailed inflation by 7.2 percent over the past five years. Recent foundation giving peaked in '09, when the economic crisis prompted a cycle of emergency and stabilizing funds." (38)
Now, I have been overusing the catchphrase "The New Normal," because it was a term I read in American Theatre's September 2011 edition, and now a year later in this issue, they are saying: "Truly, while "the new normal" catchphrase has all but lost its meaning from overuse, theatre managers cannot stress enough how the financial universe has changed. "As a young institution we [at Chicago Shakespeare] understand what it is to be lean," says Henderson. "But what we had never felt before [the downturn] was the fear outside the walls of the theatre, among our board and constituents. It was a profound experience, to sit with our board and funders and experience the sorrow in our city of not feeling able to make those investments and take risks on behalf of the creation of work. From an emotional standpoint, I do feel in 2011 we started to feel people getting their feet under them in this new environment." "The growing economic disparity in this country has to have an impact on us," Medak avers. "We won't be exempt from that, even with the best of intentions. It's going to require that we all rethink our language, rethink how we make our case, and all be more self-sufficient than we were. That's the unpleasant truth. I'm not saying we shouldn't be trying to raise money, and everything else, but we're not exempt." (39)
The "New Normal" (I'm not giving up on this catchphrase) also includes the fact that production costs are still being cut across the board. I even find myself, when preparing a concept for a play, already making those cuts because, they do, indeed, feel "normal." "Zero-sum budgeting for individual productions, rather than letting deficits and surpluses balance out over the season, was also the way of life for some theatres. "We're pretty hawkish now when it comes to keeping shows under expenses," confirms Ashley. "We're like Depression-era housewives." On the other hand, no theatre wants to compromise mission, so expense-cutting in the production department can be a tightrope walk. Particularly for theatres with a commitment to large-cast shows, there are only so many cuts that can be made. "In some ways, we're more like an opera company in the way we produce," affirms Henderson of Chicago Shakespeare. "There are no two-man shows on our stages. We're lucky when we get below a 22-person show." (40)
Well, thus ends my thoughts on the "Get Smart, Hold This," article. My next graffitied margin is in an article on Daniel Talbott, the artistic director of Rising Phoenix Repertory in the East Village of New York City. He is largely what they call a two-handed theater artist: a director and a playwright. I liked his philosophies on creating an homey environment for his theater company and choosing collaborators who would fit into that mission of his. "Another reason he tapped [Crystal] Skillman is because he thought she would "have a blast" with the cast, which includes Talbott's wife. Creating a happy rehearsal environment is crucial to Talbott's process. "I know I've heard people say that's not necessary to create great work, but I just feel like theatre should be joyful," he confesses. "There doesn't have to be all these weird compartmentalizations. I want to be in a room with people I love, who challenge me and are honest with me." (47)
Daniel Talbott also endeared himself to me with this quote: "...he has always wanted to do work "that was more funky and fucked-up" than conventional theatre allowed. "Not necessarily avant-garde, but gritty shit--something that has its face in the dirt a bit. Work that's not privileged in any way." (48) He and Crystal Stillman are now on my "to read" list, for that statement alone. Anyone who knows me and my aesthetic, know that I want the dirt. I don't like the clean lines, but I also don't want to, necessarily, be relegated to the fringes or the avant-garde. Work should be seen, but, unfortunately, it seems that the work I do, often becomes "grim" or "avant-garde." Oh well...maybe there's that 10 year question, again for John Wilson.
Okay, and now for a philosophical shift. I have been teaching in the K-12 arena for the past year predominantly, and I used to only do that as an outreach to what I was already doing in the "adult" world, but, now it is my main source of income in the arts. And, I was very moved by the risk-taking of Kourtney Rutherford, that she outlined in her article "The Weirder the Better?" She starts out the article with this bold statement: "I confess: I think we should teach our kids whacked-out experimental theatre." (50) That was enough to keep me reading this article very quickly.
Rutherford lays out the typical 6-12 grade theater education, that I find myself in, and battling the vocabulary of, regularly. "I learned a lot about how theatre-in-education functioned when I eventually began to try to teach the exploratory methods of theatre-making I had so productively practiced. Conventional theatre educators often try to strike a tricky balance between creating a positive educational experience for students, pleasing parents and school administrators, rescuing program funding (or getting it off the ground in the first place) and conveying to children what theatre is like in the "real world" --all, one hopes without crushing students' enthusiasm or egos. Added to the mix is the reality that drama teachers need not have worked in professional theatre. In fact, a full-time teaching commitment usually prohibits working in the field at all." That last statement is so true, but...I do it...I don't make a lot in the professional world, but I taught full-time, and I designed or teched 10+ shows, directed 5, and performed in 4 over the past year alone, while still teaching full-time. It's not impossible, but it doesn't leave much room for a life outside of theater. Fine by me, and I also think it's a part of my job to be that way for my students to listen to me and think I am relevant to their learning.
So...after defining what typical 6-12 grade theater education is, she goes on to define what an experimental theater artist is: "Many of the ideas promoted by experimental theatre--innovation, development of new concepts, physical approaches to acting technique, employing multiple disciplines--have been absorbed into the mainstream. But what you find at the heart of many such programs, even the ones that share our out-of-the-box aspirations, are plays and the construction of plays. The work of experimentalists veers toward deconstruction, favoring no single performance form and giving pride of place creative freedom--to the exploration of a concept just because the artist might like it. Instead of creating a play, the work could be characterized as play itself: fooling around with ideas, putting new things together--all guided by adults who have experience working in this model." (51) It is difficult to explain, let alone market experimental work, and I really appreciated her definition in this article. I will steal it and give her the credit.
Again, there is this world of the Education Department, and it is true that many Experimental Theater companies now have to do education outreach; though many have been doing it for a long time. "Leading experimental companies across the country have built programs in which kids are trained to create original work. In this alternate world, separate from the ethos of the Big Spring Musical, students make art alongside working theatre artists. By default, these programs are achieving the holy grail of progressive education: children intrinsically motivated to construct their own learning process." (51) My stance as a teacher is self-discipline and independence, and I felt so validated to read that quote. My work in the past year has been "The Big Fall/Spring Musical," but I never let the experimental pedagogy leave my world, and I do believe after reflection that I did create intrinsically motivated students. Each of the musicals I produced and directed this year for the Public Academy for the Performing Arts was student-performer-designed and student-performer/ensemble-performed. We played with the space; for example, in our GODSPELL, JR. we had eight TVs on-stage: five for different gaming consoles, 1 for a live Twitter-Feed that the characters could Tweet to or the audience could Tweet to, and two TVs for the ends of Jesus' cross. As the play and the connection to Jesus went on: deconstruction began: the TVs were put away, the I-Phones were put away, and the Twitter Feed was turned off. We started the play with Jesus doing his first monologue via Skype and ended the play with Judas' YouTube posted suicide note. All of this came from the students' willingness to experiment with the play and to create the world they inhabit. I am committed to experimental work, and I am also committed to bringing that to mainstream work, and I don't think I have to only do that with adults. I have not changed or "dumbed-down" what I do for my 6-12 grade musical theater classes.
I was happy to find my favorite instructor from Sarah Lawrence highlighted in this article: Dan Hurlin. "A program with similar aspirations, Andy's Summer Playhouse, has been luring experimental artists to rural New Hampshire for more than 40 years. Named in honor of beloved children's book illustrator C.W. Anderson, the program was founded in 1971 by two schoolteachers. Obie-winner Dan Hurlin directed the program for 15 years in the 1980s and '90s. The students, he says, "haven't been fed a steady diet of narrative," leaving them "open to so much more...During his tenure, Hurlin brought an impressive roster of artists to this workshop program, from playwrights David Lindsay-Abaire and Lisa Kron to performance artist Holly Hughes and puppeteer Janie Geiser. Three mainstage productions each summer featured more than 30 children apiece. Although Hurlin did hold auditions for the tuition-free program, anyone who reapplied would automatically be included in the following year. "I never felt like I was teaching them--I was directing a theatre," recalls Hurlin. Children continue to return year after year--and the program is currently run by two of its former students, artistic director DJ Potter and executive director Alexandra Urbanowski." (52)
To end this discovery I'll quote the last paragraph of this article because I think it is a great mission/vision for any program that teaches young actors: "Creating theatre alongside experimental artists can be a powerful educational tool--students learn that they can make something concrete from a mere idea, a skill that is verifiably transferable, whether or not they choose a life in theatre. The programs are rigorous in their own ways, and let students explore ideas that they are interested in without particularly analyzing why. "It's less about creating brilliant theatre," as Hurlin sees it, "than giving kids the ability to make something that is viable in the adult world." (52)
The last thing I'm going to comment on from this particular issue of American Theatre is from the article "Grown-Up Field Trips," which is a really fun article to read, and a development idea that I think even my painfully shy theater person can handle. Basically, it is taking individual donors on theater viewing field trips either in your own city or in other cities, and it capitalizes on something I discovered when I was reading the third book of Robertson Davies' CORNISH TRILOGY, THE LYRE OF ORPHEUS, which is that artists need to have relationships with their donors; they should never treat them like 'the people who are too stupid to make art, but we will still take their money.' "These trips create an opportunity for the donor and organization to become closer," Challener explains. "Part of why I think it's been successful is that it's a mission-related program." Donors deepen their relationship to each other, to ZACH and, of course to the art form itself. "Ultimately fundraising is about people. People give to people. And these trips create a fun shared experience." (58)