Saturday, October 11, 2008

Ten Things Theaters Need to Do Right Now to Save Themselves

Brendan Kiley of Seattle's the Stranger has written an interesting article that makes some valid points about how theatres can help themselves avoid extinction. I'm always up for "state of the union" talks like these and I think more conversation needs to happen on the subject. Times are getting more and more dire and the arts risk being moved from the backseat and being tied up in the trunk of the car.

Check out Brendan's article here.

I posted a personal response on CTCC (Columbia Theatre Community Central [though I think the final 'C' should stand for Collective]) as to how the suggestions in this article can benefit my hometown of Columbia. Here it is.

Ah yes...this is the stuff I love to talk about...that which interests
me most these days.

Great article. A lot of valid points. I'm in agreeance on the
Shakespeare situation. I don't think it should be banned, but I think
it should have its own little happy Disneyworld. A place
where you can always go visit it if you want to, but you can also
avoid it at all costs.

Definitely agree on the premiere thing. Seems like Trustus (including
NiA et al) and the former Imperfect Theatre company are (were) the
only two groups in Columbia doing new work or at least "regional
premieres". Workshop occasionally pulls out something that hasn't been
done around these parts (a la Urinetown and The Full Monty). This is
the only thing that will keep people coming to the theatre and
revitalize the audience with new, younger theatregoers. I love
Williams, O'Neill, and Miller, (and hope to do some more of their
work...soon please!) but that is only going to keep the old veterans
in the seats.

Obviously, bringing in a younger audience is something EVERY theatre
is currently focusing on (and if you're not...good luck). I think
there are MANY ways to do that. Building on the BAR issue...this is
something Mr. Harley and I have talked to great lengths about. Don't
just give people a place to buy a drink...give them a place to
hangout. If only it were possible to have the bar open ALL the have it as an extra business in addendum to the theatre. The
Annoyance is a comedy theatre here in Chicago and they have PERFECTED
the theatre bar. The bar is open every night, regardless of what's
going on (though there is ALWAYS something going on there) and the bar
is open throughout the opens early and stays open late.
It's a phenomenal set up and one that certainly adds to their revenue
as well as their audience pool. Furthermore, producing sketch or
improv comedy on a regular basis (we're talking several nights a week)
is a GREAT way to bring in younger people and GREAT source of revenue.
Comedy is CHEAP to produce and if you build a following (as Armed
Chair at Trustus has done), you can make some serious money off of a
small investment. That really adds up.

The Child Care issue is another great point. This is something that is
gaining steam here in Chicago. The theatre I was at last night seeing
Sarah Ruhl's Eurydice (read it) and where I take classes, Victory
Gardens, offers child care for their shows. I really think this would
take off in Columbia. Theatres, if you have the space, seriously
consider a child care program. The article makes a great point for it,
serving as a day care (night care?) service as well as a part of your
education program. Simply brilliant. Get on this immediately. There
are gains to be had here.

As for the final points...I can't say I encourage dropping out of grad
school. I myself am hoping to avoid grad school. I'd rather just make
theatre (or whatever), but I'm not ruling it out as a stepping stone
on my way to a career. And as far as expecting poverty is concerned,
that is simply unacceptable. Financial success is by no means
guaranteed in our business, but financial failure should never be an
unavoidable reality. I refuse to accept this and so should you. I know
the economy is a in a graveyard spiral right now, but there are LOTS
of ways to make a living in the arts. I agree that unions hinder us
more than help us (its unfortunate but true...and the unions seem
unavoidable if you DO want to make a living in the theatre) and
changes need to be made there. There is money to be made through the
arts (though not much!). Poverty is not necessary.

For further reading, I agree with Steven in seeking out Mike Daisey's
writings. He's performing here in Chicago this weekend! He is a great
voice in the contemporary theatre landscape and he makes a lot of
great points about the direction of the art form. Funny enough, his
website currently discusses this same article we are talking about:

Keep fighting the good fight everybody. If I can help out at all back
home, please do not hesitate to let me know. I'm always ready to help
my friends.

Furthermore, I saw Eurydice with Daria and Don Hall last night at Victory Gardens and I definitely recommend it. The performances are great and the production value alone is worth the price of admission. Thanks Don!