I have met the Enemy

Tony Adams asks,I answer:

Tony asks in a very well thought out post a simple question which I will sum up as, Why Don’t We Make Them Us? Why don’t artists step up and sit in the big boy seats?

Well the first and easiest answer is that they don’t want to. The want to do Their Thing. They want to be an actor, or designer,, or playwright.

Secondly? The Institutions don’t want them. Not in America. Not in 2008. This is an era of specialization, and there is no reason to hire an actor with some back office chops rather than an MBA. Not a single non-altruistic reason. Why would you hire someone that you know for a fact is only half paying attention to the job you need them to do? The mechanics of it alone are iffy. And are you going to have them work when the office is closed? The big boys rehearse during the day. But I’m piling on…

For my money the biggest reason specifically actors aren’t stepping up (outside of the fringe) to positions of leadership on the organizational side is that we’ve trained them to do as they’re told.

In American theater most people come to the business via education. They discover it in high school or college and are trained in either pre-professional or conservatory programs. That training is largely carried out by lapsed or current professionals who teach their student to operate in the system and the hierarchy they know.

That system is of course the current system, and that hierarchy is the primacy of the text, then the director, with the actor doing as they are told.

And they are listening.

Did your school teach you how to be a producer?
Poster design?
Advertising theory?
Social networking?
Grant writing?
Press release writing?
Interview technique?

Are actors forced to take play writing and design classes at you alma mater?

We are getting the actors we ordered. They do What They Do.

Of course lots of them are starting companies of their own. And they’re failing at the same rate because they have to learn by trial and error.

Artists, actors at least, aren’t stepping up because they don’t want to and because they don’t have the skills institutions  need to run the business efficiently.

Your Turn

How am I wrong? Which assumption is one step too far?

I don’t want this to be proclamation, I want it to be discussion.

  • Christopher

    As someone who runs a local Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program for performing artists, and who is asked to speak to conservatory classes about the “business side of ‘Show business'”, I can say your remarks are right on.

    Actors in most degree programs are taught by academics, who themselves by-and-large have little or no actual experience as working performers.

    They’re taught first and foremost that they’re ARTISTS, and that any other consideration, be it how to manage themselves as an independent business, how to actually network in their local performance community, even mundane things like what the latest standards are for headshots and resumes – are not only secondary to their artistic pursuits, but in some instances actually besmudge the “purity” of their art.

    The professors themselves have no idea about the current state of the marketplace into which they’re pouring these presumably talented, but otherwise hapless actors like water from a ewer, and as a result, graduates exit major academic institutions literally by the thousands each year, with absolutely no survival skills, and no exposure to the business side of the industry.

    Conservatories and PATP’s tend to do a better job in this regard, but even they for the most part treat performer-related business issues with less than the full attention they rightfully, and needfully, deserve.

  • Rex Winsome

    I agree completely with most of what you’re saying. I’d add that this is all sourced in an obsolete pre-bourgeois mythology of art as some pure thing governed by mystical and arbitrary powers of creativity, genious and talent. The artist’s lot will get worse and worse as long as they continue to buy into this myth.

    The part i disagree with is the “mechanics of it alone are iffy” section. Yes, the institutions don’t want actors who know business, and indeed can’t run well with artists running them. But that’s because the insitutions have grown too big and beaurocratic to be run by the artists, and this big beaurocratic growth is anti-art at its core.

    Actors starting their own companies are failing in the business world because these big institutions are sucking up all the funds, press, and talent while producing less art than artist-run enterprises.

    But the big institutions are in decline as well, because the wealthy donors who sustain those institutions are dying. These donors want the semblance and status of art rather than the messy art itself.

    When more artists realize that allying with these institutions and serving these patrons is going to hurt them in the long run (because it’s hurting theatre) more of them will learn business, start their own companies, or work with artist run companies instead.

    The balance will shift, the artistic energy will return to the medium, which will cause new audiences to perk up and new money to flow in. These kinds of changes can happen rapidly, with a few good catalysts. Every artist who shuns the easy money and fame from the big institutions is an enzyme for system wide change.

    This is what artist in the music industry came to understand 10 years ago, and they’ve made serious progress on turning things around.

  • Obsidian Theatre

    The entire idea of artists working on the admin/producing side has to be predicated on large organizations. An organization with room and budgets for lots of assistants. I have a three person admin staff {including myself} at my theatre. We are all artists and true say when someone goes off to do a job it is a huge blow to the company. Yes I support them and their endeavours but really when the Development director wants to go off for 4 weeks to assistant direct then a lot of their job comes to a halt.
    You can only afford that for so long. The companies work just can’t stand still and so the burden gets greater on those who remain and finally you figure what the heck …lets hire someone who wants to be a development director and let the artists be artists.

    Philip