Excerpts from “Where are we now? TCG calls together theatre pros to take the pulse of the field”
American Theatre Magazine, July/August 2006
Theatre Communications Group
I'm breaking from format for this post in order to share some excerpts that resonated with me in reading this article. Some are direct quotes from participants in the TCG dialogue; others are observation's by the article's author. Unfortunately the full story isn't posted online, but I think you can find the magazine at the library or bookstore.
Polarization and Isolation
I’ve never experienced the American theatre being so isolated. … The polarization that is going on around the country feels so tangible. … For some theatres, that is to some extent an opportunity to identify and connect with particular audience segments. The downside is a lack of real dialogue that spans political and cultural divides.
Audience Growth and Shrinkage
Many participants identified the disappearance of arts coverage and serious criticism as a threat to theatre’s ability to engage in public dialogue. … We get pretty nice reviews, but I don’t always recognize the work we do in those reviews. … And the Internet — yet another thing for us to compete against.
The Climate and Risk-Taking
Our hits are getting ‘hittier,’ and the bottom keeps falling out of our bombs. People either go to what they hear is extraordinary, or they just don’t come. … We are feeling a tremendous sense of pressure that every single production has to succeed, and that of course limits our risk-taking.
The Economy of Making Art
Funding is becoming more and more restricted, so we are having to find more and more diversity in our revenue streams. ... If we don’t think about political advocacy, we’re just going to be spinning our wheels. .. We are subsidizing the theatre on the backs of those who are creating it.
It’s an age-old question about whether you need money to make art – some [artists] do, some don’t. There is a trade-off: Does raising budget size in an attempt to pay artists really help the state of the art, or does it lead to artistic compromises and an inevitable distancing of one’s community?’
The Artist Drain
We need to think very seriously about how we attract the next generation of artists, not just playwrights. What do we have to offer them that they don’t get from working in Hollywood? … Some participants owned up to being torn between a desire to support young artists and the recognition that their entry into the field means increased competition for limited grant money.
Production and Co-Production
Premiere-itis. … What happens to plays once they are produced? By emphasizing new work and young artists – what one participant referred to as ‘the cult of the new’—are theatre companies neglecting important work, and failing to support the artists who create it, after the initial production?
Diversity and Self-Identification
There was also much discussion of the value of cultural specificity, and whether diversity and specificity are in fact opposites. How does diversity play out at theatres of color and other companies devoted to producing works by and/or about individuals from a specific cultural group? What can so-called mainstream theatres learn from them, and vice versa? What about theatres that do not easily fit into these categories? And how can ‘culturally specific’ theatres avoid being marginalized?
Context and Community
We are trying to figure out a way to penetrate more deeply and more broadly into the community. We need to get better at talking about what we do and why it should be of value to them instead of asking them to come to us. … Theatres are engaging in ever-deepening conversations with their audiences that involve more than just presentation of a play. … Concierge theatre or cultural town hall. … For some participants, this change has unwelcome side effects: It’s been so many years since the work could speak for itself. We constantly have to contextualize it, and that’s how we get valued as artistic directors. Being an excellent artist is on the bottom of the list.
Are we as a field doing a good enough job of matching our aesthetic to the vision we are becoming increasingly sophisticated about articulating? … We have become very good at articulating artistic ideals. We are passionate, we are committed and we have made enormous sacrifices. It would be very gratifying to know that we are meeting our artistic ideal, or at least that we are getting closer than we did in the past, but I don’t think we are. We cannot afford to admit how mixed the results are.