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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”?