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Words Matter (The Power of Naming)

Kate Foy of Groundling (and Toowoomba! I just like saying Toowoomba!) has been asking nicely all over the internet for about a year what exactly people mean when they call themselves an “indie” theatre company. I’ve talked with her in roughly 492 different venues about it, but discovered that I never had answered it here where I might be held accountable for it.

I did talk about labeling in a post a year ago but didn’t really get into why I choose that label that I do.

I like specificity. I’m not always good at it but I like it. To that end I would prefer that words retain their meaning. Unfortunately I don’t get a vote. Language remains transient and I have to move with  it.

Further, art resists labeling at the best of times.

The two together makes specificity difficult in this case.

Cambiare Productions is technically an itinerant semi-professional community theatre operated by amateurs.

I however can’t use those words because they are each freighted with cultural meaning apart from their definitions.

The amateur/professional divide is intended to be solely about the money, but “amateur” comes with baggage about the expectations of low quality as does “community theatre” as skewered by Waiting for Guffman.

Semi-professional and “Pro-Am” are still really vague. Which part of the machine is the “semi” part? The quality or the money? If I have to explain the label to you it’s not of much use as a label. It’s just a conversation starter.

So I choose “indie” or “independent” theatre, not because it’s technically correct (independent of what?), but because it accurately conveys what we are to people who are interested. People know what an indie musician is or an indie film. They have no preconceived notion of lower quality, simply less money, meaning it probably has a rawness to it. It also implies up and coming, which I hold to be the case.

Garage Theatre would also work if it weren’t a place in my house where I don’t let people go as the corpse of Orestes is still strewn about it.

Do you have a better one word label for “I don’t have your resources yet, but I know what I’m doing and I’m on my way”?

10 Things I Wish I’d Been told in College (and 1 I was)

Everyone loves lists.

Well. I love lists, and while there’s been a lot of talk over my three years actively blogging about theatre about the failings of the Theatre Education Industrial Complex, we’ve not really attempted to create a curriculum we approve of. Largely because, well, creating a new theatre education paradigm is hard. And I’m not going to do that here, because I’m not sure how to even begin.

Instead? Herein lies a list of things I wish someone had told me over a beer the night of graduation. “Well… you made it, and now you’re ‘In the Club’ so here’s all the things you weren’t taught.” This does include stuff we’ve talked about here in the past. But not all in one place.

I also want to include the one thing I WAS told outside the framework of the program that really helped.

In no particular order:

  1. Read Everything.
    Consume media.
    Consume the world around you.

    An “artist” with nothing to say is “retired”. You need life experience, you need ideas and emotion flowing through you when you’re actively creating, but even more so when you’re not. There’s a reason that a musicians first album – culled from years of struggle and real life intruding on creation – is generally the most alive.
  2. You’re not done learning.
    And the know-it-all attitude you’re sporting will not endear you to the in-the-trenches veterans you’re now talking with. Lose it. And keep the war stories in their place. They’ve all done crazy things on a show before too, save it for beer later.
  3. This isn’t Bohemia
    You are not a Romantic Poet. You will not die of consumption in a garret, starving for your art, unless you’re stupid enough to not (y’know) go get a job and pay rent. Those Romantic ideals NEVER work out for the hero. Dead isn’t a career move unless you’ve already got a few films in the can.
  4. You’re an entrepreneur now.
    Actor, singer, dancer, tech, producer, doesn’t matter. You’re in business for yourself as soon as that tassel flips. Figure out what that means for you. What’s you plan? You have a plan right?
  5. Have a plan.
    You’re not going to show up in Major Metropolitan Area and get discovered while working at Florsheims. No. You’re not. So how are you going to make that happen? What are you going to do when it doesn’t? Is that really what you want?
  6. Make a friend. Make Five. Make TWENTY.
    No matter what mama said, you are NOT god’s special snowflake. There are 20 or more of you in every major metropolitan area. I suggest while waiting for a break, you MAKE a break. You’re not going to go from graduation to Great White Way. So be Bill Rauch. Find people you love and a thing you love making and do it. People will notice.
  7. And it can be where you are
    If you need to get out, get out.
    But there is an audience for what you do right where you are. If you’re most happy living on the New Hampshire Seacoast? DO IT. And find people who are making the theatre you like and bring them baked goods until they let you play. 
    There’s no such thing as “Never Made It Out”. There is only choosing what makes you happy. Portsmouth is as deserving of great art as Brooklyn.
  8. About the money…
    About that Plan…
    There’s no money here. Or there. Or over there.
    The very best can make a living if they hustle hard.
    So learn grant writing. Learn business modeling, and budgeting. It’s going to be tight, but you don’t have to go broke making art. Or entertainment. Or whatever it is you make.
  9. Leverage what you know, and keep increasing what you know.
    If you want to do more than a couple of shows you need to be adaptable and unafraid of the new. You can’t eschew the computer for the ol’ quill and parchment in every instance. You can’t avoid networking because ‘you hate that shit’. Here, we’ll call it “hanging out with different people and talking to them like you actually care”. Now go DO IT.
  10. There’s no time limit.
    Unless you want to be a Broadway ingénue. You haven’t failed if you haven’t done “X” by 25 or 30. You “fail” if you stop. You rarely stop something you are still in love with. If you stopped because you don’t want to do it anymore? You didn’t fail – you changed. You don’t owe theatre anything.

The one Real thing I was told off the record was by Nancy Saklad. During a rehearsal in a very large ice storm with the power out butchering a monologue from Terranova over and over again:

“You can do this you know. Professionally.
If you want it, you can do this.”

After 5 years of college and 3 years in high school she was the first person who ever said such a thing to me.
And then she stuck the landing:

“But you have to work at it.”

Socialism, Party of One?

So the Chicago Small Theatre Summit happened.

My thoughts of course turned to my own desire to have a small theatre alliance in Austin. A group of indie theatremakers in town  to help avoid burnout due to isolation, to get off the hamster wheel of scene reinvention, to share resources and ideas, and to spark competitive innovation.

And I know it won’t happen.

There will be friendships and acquaintance-hood and we’ll go to each other’s shows. But no meaningful regular exchange of ideas will happen. Why not?

  1. We’re busy – Ask 10 groups when the best time to meet is – get 12 different answers.
  2. Different needs on different parts of the food chain.
    A 1 year old group has very different needs than the five year old itinerant group than the ten year-old landed group.
  3. People want the benefits not the costs.
    Everyone wants extra hands at load-in or a volunteer at the box office. But very few want to give up some of their limited free time (see #1) to BE that extra set of hands.

Or more succinctly put… the same problems as socialism anywhere.

We can be as socialist as we want in the corner, but as soon as you try to break that out to more folks you discover why the only socialist regimes on earth have been totalitarian.