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Small Arts Groups Fed to Media Machine

…to cover the taste of same old same old.

Look ma! Tuna noodle casserole arts coverage.

The big news ($77M Big!) in Austin arts for the moment is the opening this weekend of the Long Center for the Performing Arts. It is a beautiful venue stocked with all sorts of state of the art goodies in 2 indoor venues and some outdoor possibilities.

The staff is smart, capable, and hard working, and all of that $77M is visible. So why am I so cynical? Why am I not dancing in the streets? I mean I’m performing there in just over 6 weeks!

Two things really. One? We continue to perpetrate the idea that we have to move to our audience. Jeanne Claire Van Ryzin opens the article like so:

Location, location, location.

Like in real estate, in the arts, where you are can matter just as much as what you do.

That’s why next week, when the first of many shows by some of  Austin’s small and midsize arts groups start filling the new Long Center for the Performing Arts, it might seem that some of these groups are having their very first premiere.

She is referring to the Rude Mechanicals. The Rudes are landed gentry. They have their own space, and they are on the Texas Commission for the Arts and City of Austin dole. This group isn’t up and coming, they’re here for all theatrical values of here.

We allow our language to make them smaller than they are. They perform east of 35 so this is "like" their premiere? They aren’t the three anchor tenants (ballet, symphony, opera) so they are spoken of with the same dismissive tones. Which is not a trait of the author, Jeanne Claire is an active advocate for Austin arts, but this is very much the feeling in audiences. If they aren’t performing in a venue with wood paneling and concessions the venue isn’t worth it.

I don’t know how to combat that feeling in them.

But the big lie in the Long Center opening is of course that small theatre (or dance) groups can afford the space at all. Musicians who don’t require the in-space lead a time may be able to  but if you need to do a full hang, load-in and tech? It’s not going to happen.

From the article the Rudes were partially underwritten and the rental was waived. The landed gentry couldn’t afford to come across 35 to perform in the big white house.

This isn’t to say that the Long Center staff don’t want it to be true. They do. I believe whole heartedly that given their druthers they would have that space full every week with different redheaded stepchildren. I believe that Cliff Redd was being genuine when he said that he wanted to have the blue hairs and the pink hairs meet in the hallway and mixnmingle.

But they have bills to pay, and that has to come from somewhere.

So even if their rental subsidy program takes care of your rental fees (the highest in the town). The charge you a per ticket fee. You either have to use their concessions or pay them a percentage of yours. You have to pay them a percentage of your durable concessions. All the little ways a small company could make some money back get taxed.

The only way for Cambiare Productions to present at the Long Center would be to get a Catalyst 8 rental subsidy AND a reasonably sized City of Austin grant. And there is no way to use the Long Center’s cultural cache to make a windfall to fund the rest of a short season, you will have difficulty breaking even.

None of which I mind. That’s the reality of the game.

I just want for that truth to be presented rather than this idea that the Long Center is going to save the Austin performing arts community from life on the far side of 35.

Riddle me this

I am a bear of very little stuffing, so forgive me for not understanding, and forgive me for taking the long way around in explaining my lack of understanding.

I am a second tier blogger, and second tier theatre practitioner in a second tier American city. I have no credentials to wave around and the wisdom to know it. I do my best to be a non-offensive milquetoast in this space, because I may need one or all of you in the future so I try not to burn any bridges. I don’t take any hard stands on anything, I’m more interested in the conversation than in riding the storm.

But I need to understand.

Most of you DO take hard stands on things. You use your blogs as daily or pseudo-daily editorial soap boxes on theatre or politics, and you rant away. And honestly it’s what makes you enjoyable reads. You challenge my way of thinking and allow me to examine how I feel on issues. Some of you have bylines for publications that require something more than being able to pass a captcha to write for and use your blogs to supplement that. Good on ya. 

So with all these accomplished writers and theatre practitioners writing rants and screeds and diatribes why is it that only Scott Walters attracts scrums of disgruntled bloggers?

DevilVet. I am the non-Nylachi voice you were asking for. (Austin by way of San Francisco and New Hampshire)

Once you get around the fact that Scott posts all of his hypotheses as declarative statements rather than questions I don’t even understand what’s so offensive. Is he single minded in his pursuit of a true regional theatre stripped of the corporate capital feeder model we work under now? Of course he is. And Qui likes super heroes and Ian like Orson Welles.

Scott isn’t picking on New York. It’s never been about picking on New York. It’s about REMOVING NEW YORK FROM THE EQUATION TO SEE WHAT ELSE WE HAVE. New York is what it is. It is the de facto capital of theatre until people start practicing their religion where they’re at. There are ten of thousands of practitioners there, paid and unpaid, and they are taking admirable care of the beast.

So why are you all so goddamn defensive when the rest of the country asks what else we have going on? You want Scott to change his tone? Really? You are so incapable of being an audience who accepts frustration from a writer that you insist he alter his words to suit your sensibilities? He reads something that reads to him as xenophobic, he says so. He reads what is purported to be a national magazine with a narrower focus than he’d like, he says so.

He’s more zealous than I’d like, but he’s not my representative. I didn’t vote for him, nor is he on my payroll. So when he gets caught with some shoddy methodology on counting articles, I laugh. It’s not a scandal. It’s not an election. A partisan got carried away.

Why can’t New York laugh and join him?

For my money right now, AS IT AFFECTS ME, the two most important things that I know about that are happening in American Theatre are Available Light’s attempt at full on Pay-As-You-Can in a non-NY environment (do they have the critical mass to do it? If they do, does Austin?) and the Des Moines Social Club. Is there a theatre that can exist without the government teat (and the requisite say in what I produce) or private sponsorship?

That’s what Scott’s asking. And I don’t see why so many of you expect him to be careful about New York’s toes in the process.

It may not be about you, or for you, and if you are in New York making it happen for yourself it is likely very much not about you. But neither is it to SPITE you.

Some times things are about us. And that’s okay.

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3 the Hard Way

Tagged by the DevilVet:

Three Things I’ve Learned the Hard Way:

  1. There is no one else.
    If you want a thing done you’re going to have to do it. That’s true both in the macro and micro scale in this little niche-verse. There is no one else to do the postering, there is no one else to paint the floor, there is no one else to create the performance piece.

    And that is the first sorting arm of theatre isn’t it? If you have the gumption to get off your ass and do it? You meet the first criteria for Making It.

  2. Never stop learning
    It not only keeps your brain from calcifying, it keeps you from ever being too terribly sure that the person across the table isn’t righter than you. 
  3. The theatre universe is small. No. Smaller than that.
    I don’t know any of you.
    I am one step removed from lots of you.
    No more than two or three from almost all of you.

    Don’t piss on anyone.
    Talent will win out, but if it’s close? The person who’s good in the room will win out every time. And your reputation is part of that.

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Church

And the preacher he kept preaching
Long is the struggle, hard the fight

GIVENS

This church idea is something I’m into exploring, as well … so, how do we make our audiences as devoted as the weekly church-going crowd?
Rebecca – GreyZelda Land

… church to me means spiritual experiences felt through the institutionalization of dogma, and for me theater shouldn’t be about institutionalization or dogma… it should be about rediscovering individuality and self-generated energy (two of the values that were bandied about elsewhere yesterday), and the community is secondary to that experience – though still a big part of the theatrical experience. What do you think?
Nick Keenan  – Theatre for the Future

I hereby incorporate by reference the rest of my blog.


First let me say that, unlike George Hunka, I found yesterday heartening. Is homework for a hundred by-nature-navel-gazers a somewhat daunting idea? Sure. But as a breed we really need to whittle down our conception of why We do this and why They should care to something more concrete than "it is art". Attempting to do so in parallel with one another is a useful exercise.

If you’ve been reading me at all, and someone beside the Google spiders has been (I’m the #1 hit for the Google search "Racist Snowflake"!), I don’t need to bold anything in the quotes taken from comments on yesterdays entry. They bold themselves. I will highlight them for new kids though, and there are punch and cookies over by the counter.

I am all about the audience.  To a fault. I love messing with them. I love challenging their expectations. I LOVE making them feel things, especially things they’d rather not.

On the practitioners’ side I am all about community.

Neither is a secondary concern for me.

Nick, I disagree with your assertion that theatre  "should be about rediscovering individuality and self-generated energy". To my thinking everything in American culture is geared toward the discovery of individual and  honestly that’s why theatre as secular church works as a metaphor for me.

Churches work because they are moral collectives. Where ever two or more are gathered in the name of something there is that Energy.

Every theatre company that has been truly and deeply successful on whatever level they are shooting for has a strict mission, and a group of people who adhere to it. They are not necessarily a tribe in the way Scott Walters has been discussing, but they are a collective, and are structured very similarly to a church.

They have a  a head (strong or weak as they choose), a dedicated inner circle, and a more fluid outer circle that collectively adheres to a code. Is that dogmatic? Depends on the group honestly. But dogma isn’t bad. Rigidity is bad, and they aren’t the same thing.

And that Rebecca is how you keep them coming in.

Why do people keep going to McDonalds? Familiarity.
They know what they’re getting. (and it’s addictive!)

If you want to breed a congregation you have to give them quality, CONSISTANT product at a great price.

And then you make it belong to them. The Recessional matters.

There is a Snob gap in theatre that needs to be overcome, and the way to bridge that elitist chasm is to allow your audience to explore their ideas about the show with you.

I know you’re tired. I know you want to get to the bar and unwind. I know that the last thing you want to do is examine the ideas that you have been wallowing in for the last 6 weeks.

But they are the point.

And this their one shot to grapple with these ideas in this moment.

That is a moment that makes theatre completely separate from other arts.

Don’t rob them of it.

Now church it started right on time
Just like it does without a doubt
And everything was all just fine
Except when it came time to let us out
You know the preacher he kept preaching
He told us I have one more thing to say
Children before you think of leaving
You better think about the Judgment Day

~Lyle Lovett – Church

Transformations Image

I Can haz Value?

O Hai!

Slay over at the Hub of the Theatre Blogging Universe asks the Theatre Think Tank initiative question "What is it all about?".

He said it in more words.

The Value of Theatre

by Unasked Theatre Blogger Travis, Age 3

What is the Value of Theatre?

What is the Value of Church?

Strip away the Supreme being and what is church?

Without Diana Ross, or any other Supreme, church is a ritualized gathering to examine belief and to enjoy community.

"But Travis, why not film or visual art? They can create community or challenge belief!"

Indeed they can, and do, but when the art on the other end of the wire is a person there is a very different level of audience commitment and audience accountability. That accountability and the vitality of the connection between a live performer and an audience member changes the level of interaction.

Simple. But True.

Theatre is secular church.
We are it’s preachers.


Why do we need to discuss the value of theatre?

Because we want others to pay for it.

We don’t need to apologize for our art. This examination isn’t for the audience,
it’s for when Johnny Deeppockets asks.
We need to know, and we need to be sure.

Evangelism requires deep, true faith. 

Other folks (longer, more eloquent) answers all over the place,

Theater for the Future, Rat Sass, Theatre Ideas, Parabasis, The Next Stage, Steve on Broadway, Theatre is Territory, Freedom Spice in the New Mash-Up World, Mike Daisey, An Angry White Guy in Chicago, Bite & Smile, That Sounds Cool, A Rhinestone World, GreyZelda Land, On Theatre and Politics, and The Devil Vet.

and back at Slay’s house as linked above.

 

Free to be…

We all realize that,as Don Hall so eloquently put it in his beautiful and ambitious Off Loop Freedom Charter:

"Most of the problems associated with the American theater in the 21st Century has to do with the fact that it costs too much to create."

Why yes I DO focus on the bold parts… when I’m looking for springboards (and looking to pimp the Off Loop Freedom Charter).

Technology can’t help you find an affordable well equipped space. If I find a technological answer to that y’all will be the second to know.

But being the software hoarder that I am I do know of some back-office solutions that may be of use to you.

Alright, so your call for a computer in the "needs" section of your program or website got you a midrange tower from last years Black Friday sale. It’s underpowered and doesn’t have what you need to get everything rolling.

So let’s hook you up.
(Please note: I’m not saying anything here you can’t get from LifeHacker. I’m just putting it in one place for those of you who don’t read LifeHacker.)

Start by getting a Google account. There are too many free tools from Google to ignore. Get a professional name. Keep it.

Next? You should head to OpenOffice.org. OpenOffice is a complete office software package to replace Microsoft’s Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and Access. It does it very well and very similarly. You don’t have to learn a new language to use it, and it’s free. Use it with an extension  to save to GoogleDocs to share with your tribe. It also saves natively to .PDF for all your press release needs. (Zoho has a great suite of online tools, but we need the full package Google is giving us… so that’s my online app of choice)

The rest? Here’s a conversion table and some straight recommends:

Instead of Outlook : Thunderbird from Mozilla. Link it to your Google account and feel the love. Link it to your Google Calendar. Feel the love. It’s Outlook. It’s Free.

Instead of Pagemaker: Scribus – poster layout, program layout.

Sort of instead of Photoshop: Paint.Net – I need to be clear. Paint.net isn’t as powerful as Photoshop. But you need to be honest, you weren’t using Photoshop anywhere near it’s capabilities anyway.  GIMPShop is a much more powerful photo editing system, but it’s buggier and requires more system resources. (though Scribus above does integrate with it).

Photo Organization: Picasa from Google. Why? You need to organize your photos Promo photos, show calls, cat blogging, Kai blogging. Picasa does that while integrating seamlessly with Blogger (which many of you use) and uploading directly to the free space that comes with your Google Account to allow you to hotlink your photos. It also allows you to do very basic photo fixes.

I just shared this with Freedom Spice and I figured I’d splash it some more. Zhura.com is a free online app like GoogleDocs except that it has a light Final Draft shell on it. It’s for screen writers, but stage writers will be able to figure it out. Great if you’re collaborating.

CutePDF: for printing .PDFs of things that aren’t in OpenOffice.

OpenProj: Is the Open Source variation of Microsoft Project.

Audacity: For simple audio editing and recording

Windows Live Writer: The most powerful blogging client that I’ve met. Works with just about every platform.

WordPress: The most powerful blogging platform I’ve used. It’s extensible beyond the beyond when you host it yourself, but still very powerful on the site.

RemembertheMilk: a Task management system that integrates tightly with your GMail and Google Calendars. Play with it. It’s pretty amazing, and difficult to summarize.

GrandCentral: At Length Here

What about you?

What Open Source and/or Free software tools are you using that everyone should know about?

Well You’re Not the Only One

Are you reading Ken Davenport? Why not exactly? I will hold confession for all y’all really bad people at whatever bar SXSW hasn’t eaten for the week.

In his latest post, which features Force of Nature David Ortiz, he talk about the success that the producers of In the Heights have had, and what lessons can be drawn from it.

Kevin McCollum and Jeffrey Seller, have produced Rent, Avenue, High Fidelity, In The Heights.

Mr. Davenport talks about four factors that go into the shows (save High Fidelity) being hits, and garnering grassroots audience response. He broke it down as geography, taking risks on talent, being frugal/responsible with production costs, and being true to the show instead of spectacle.

I’m paraphrasing.

I kept waiting for the obvious conclusion to be drawn explicitly… but it never was.

Why are these producers successful?

The same exact reasons we’ve been talking about.
They took shows about the area they were performed in (Theatre is Local! Even for puppets!) They didn’t import Big Names. They didn’t create needless spectacle. They  focused on doing the show the way it needed to be done, with the Right People to do it.

Further? They created community around the shows, something Mr. Davenport doesn’t mention despite it being a feature in his iPhone ad… the Rent kids, and to a lesser extent Ave Q fans (and definitely Altarboyz fans) were/are evangelical. The Us/Them dynamic was exploited to leverage the underdog into profitability.

Reparaphrased:

Create honest product aimed at your community, featuring the right talent from your community, be responsible with your production costs, and invest the audience in growing the show.

Yeah. I can get behind that.
“But Travis, that’s too simplistic!”
Of course it is. It’s the truth, not a road map. If I had a road map I’d be producing on a different scale now wouldn’t I?


Isaac asks why we get our buildings sponsored and not our people, in a continuation of the simmering semi-discussion of Edifice Complex 2.0. I find the discussion timely as Austin is in the process of opening their own $77M facility (I’ll be there in May – plan now!) while I fell $1200 short of being able to pay my performers for Transformations.

Why wouldn’t companies be interested in “endowing” chairs for paid positions? Because their’s no prestige in it. If our media was still in the business of making stagefolk stars we could drum up at least some interest in it. But if there’s no way to trumpet the fact that you’re doing it? There’s no reason for a company to do it.

Though if Mangia Pizza wants to endow an in-kind program I’m willing to listen.