On Wednesday, November 10, the 9 week anniversary of my father's passing, I learned of another era passing...the summer musical at the Walla Walla Amphitheater. There was a big sweep of cuts to keep faculty in place, and the summer musical seed money was cut along with several other things. I don't know what those things are, but I'm sure there were more because there was a $1.2 million gap, and the summer musical was only $24,000 for the seed money. So...the only thing that was a definitive portion of my place as an artist in Walla Walla, was in flux, with no guarantee that other funding would be secured.
In 2007, I told another organization that, "I was an artist," and that I was going to start pursuing positions at the college level to allow for more exploration in my chosen career and life path. They understood because I was so busy running their theater that I never had time to do what I was trained to do, and what I loved to do. The first bite was in Walla Walla, and now, that bite, is over, and I will be moving back to the freelance world of Albuquerque, NM. I had decided that the stress of a job in flux and working for an organization that continues to cut the arts, was too sad for me, especially so soon after my father's death. Also, my partner has never been happy in Walla Walla, and I have always lived by the motto that my life fills my art, and if my life - my partner - is unhappy, that makes me unhappy, and I would rather choose a freelance career than a town that makes him unhappy over a job that has to pull the rug out from underneath its artists because of budget cuts - leading them to an uncertain future. Seems like a "duh" moment, don't you think?
Which leads me to my question at the top of this blog. Where is theater needed/wanted? In the September 2011 issue of American Theater' Peter Sellars mentions (and, of course, I'm paraphrasing) that theaters should stop calling the stuff they do with the community, outreach because it should just be a part of their mission. Outreach is is dumb word, according to him, and theaters are dumb for calling it that. It should just be the stuff that theaters do...being a part of the community. Now, much of what I have done in my professional life, post graduate school, could easily be called "community theater". I have worked with all walks of life from preschoolers to elderly mental health patients in Albuquerque, NM. When I moved to Walla Walla, part of my job was to make a semi-professional musical theater production utilizing non-professional actors from the community. I also decided to start a theater program at Washington State Penitentiary and at Lincoln Alternative High School. I saw all of these things as necessary theater; theater that those communities needed and fulfilled some of my sense as to why I do this, and why I decided to not take the traditional theater artist path in the LORT theater system or staying in New York City.
Now, I was able, on no budget, to begin the work I was doing at Washington State Penitentiary and Lincoln Alternative High School, because the pay in my position at Walla Walla Community College was enough to allow for that kind of freedom, but when budget cuts put my position into flux, and my inspiration in life - my father - passes...what does a girl do? Well, initially, I thought, "Dad would want you to fight..." And then I got home, saw my partner - an amazing artist in his own right - and realized, "No one is fighting for us..." I have fought every quarter I have taught for more involvement in the community, more hours as an instructor, and every new opportunity to involve a diverse theater participating and going audience, but I haven't felt that same fight from the ones that write my paycheck...that allows me the freedom to do the work that is necessary - that word that Peter Sellars hates - "outreach". And, then I realized...,"They don't have to care...they don't think theater is necessary...they see it as a public relations opportunity, and that is all." And...a PR opportunity is not enough...it's just an opening, for someone like me, but not enough of an opening after three years of fighting and especially when I don't have a lot of fight left in me, right now. Mourning is such a crappy process...
When I was 10 or 11, I can't really remember, I was told that I probably shouldn't have children (medical reasons that I don't need to bore anyone with). I knew at that age that I would be "different," and that my path in life would not be the same as the people I rode BMX bikes with or went to school with. This knowledge also came hand-in-hand with my first acting experience - Gladys Herdman in THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER. This first opportunity was necessary theater - I discovered in Gladys a girl that I had become suddenly because of my families own experiences. My family had just moved to a new part of town, because my family went bankrupt (and lost our house) after my father lost his job to Ronald Reagan's stupid policy to deregulate the railroad. The stress that the move, and our sudden thrust into the lower classes, made my life an utter nightmare. Memories of this time have definitely given me a gift of trying to understand the psyche of others. There is never a reason to hurt anyone, that is still alive, with the truth of that time, but I will say that it definitely created the fighter and survivor that I am today. The girl who fell in love with embracing the ritual of putting on someone else, felt good, when that girl didn't want to be who she was. I loved the freedom of hiding behind a character, especially in times where being myself, just hurt too much. That experience saved my life, at that time, and I have always honored that experience. I had awe put in me at 10 years old, in regards to the power that theater has to create a conversation of empathy in an actor and an audience, that can't be found in a novel, a film, a piece of music. That conversation is ambiguous and abstract, but many of those conversations that theater has the courage to take on, are things that people can't talk about, but need a release from. It is with this "Urrr" (a word I steal from my playwrighting professor from Graduate School, Stuart Spencer) reaction to theater, that I drag with me on every theater experience. I dig very deep to find it sometimes because the politics, the money, the narcissism, and the self-hatred of actors, definitely tries to kill that primal response and desire I have to do theater.
I reflect on that "Urrr" time this morning, as I can't sleep, thinking about the scary notion that I have chosen - making the statement in a letter of leaving, that "I am an artist." Is this a bad choice? Is this a stupid choice? I guess, it's the necessary choice, to paraphrase another fighter, Peter Sellars.
I have always tried to use conflict resolution style of the Golden Rule - to treat others the way that I want to be treated. I would never choose to take away the thing that Winston Churchill refused to close - the theaters - because, really, at the end of time, to paraphrase that lovely man, what are we fighting for? I will not fight in a place where theater is not necessary. It is necessary to me, and I will only fight for it where it is supported as something that is necessary. It feels like a cop-out, but I am not a wealthy woman, I have never been a wealthy woman, and I need money to do what I do. The work that inspires me typically has someone involved that grew up with money, but I was initially inspired by a community theater production that saved my life when my family had no money. So...the question I have to myself is this? How do I move forward with that? How do I continue to be inspired by an art form that can save someone from the nihilism of poverty, when it needs money to be taken seriously? I don't know, but I'm going to regroup in Albuquerque, where there are more opportunities, and try to answer that question. Because it seems to me, the places that need theater, don't want it, and the places that want theater, watch it with elitist eyes, and don't "need" it. That is a huge paradox and one that I will need time to suss through before I can really try to work in the "provinces" as Moliere and many more before me have done.