Bottled Lightning(tm)

It seems in the aftermath of Diversity Weekend and the subsequent release of Outrageous Fortune that the fog of war has lifted and the folks are seeing the enormity of the problems in front of us.

Of course the problems that face theatre are insurmountable.

T’was ever thus.

We are trying to perform communal alchemic creation in a hastily pasted on corporate structure. We have no funding mechanism that doesn’t involve the kindness of strangers and a talent base that pays lipservice to the good of the artform while silently chafing that they’re not paid on the level of their similarly educated (less romantic) peers. We have no economies of scale, no national infrastructure, no global networking, no buzzwords of any sort to alleviate the problems.

Reflecting on it doesn’t change it. With no disrespect meant, maybe that’s what happens when you’re inside a system and see the cliffs?

There is no system in the wild. Out here in the provinces we just make theatre. It may not be diverse enough, it may not feature enough women, but it’s pretty high quality and getting better all the time… and efficiently produced as hell.

Pride in indie theatre aside, I have long felt that the entrepreneurial model is a bad idea for theatre. We are forced to it because that’s the language our funders speak so we organize that way.

Theatres should be dealt with as record labels and producing groups like bands. Bands meant to be transitory until you find the true connection and labels to be counted on for a style.

The idea that theatre companies are just like any mini-mart (small businesses with small but measurable ecomnomic effects) is patently ridiculous. Theatremaking is as alchemic as any act of creation. It’s chemistry in four dimensions. Every chemical reaction has a limited effect. One of the components will be consumed by the process and the process will end. Of course we expect the theatremaking to continue just the same, because there are budgets and structures and mouths to feed.

And then we question why exactly theaters fall apart, or slide off mission, or stop taking risks, or any number of things that we expect other theatres to manage to do what we can’t ourselves.

Of course these problems are insurmountable, they are built into the system… But we get up and we keep trying because we need to make theatre. Not for Theatre’s sake, for ours. Theatre was here when we showed up and will be here long after we’re gone. Theatre will die the day after Religion. Stop trying to save Theatre and just make the theatre you think needs making.

  • flloydkennedy

    This is the most articulate and sensible analysis of the situation of Indie theatre I have ever heard! I shall be quoting you for many years to come, as I get involved with one 'band' of brothers and sisters-in-theatre to come.

  • Thank you so much. We'll find a way to jam someday. 🙂

  • Very nice sir. Let's get to work.

  • I have also thought of indie theater and record labels as sharing an affinity. Well put, as usual, Travis.

  • This is actually something I think our improv groups get right much better
    than traditional groups. From the outside there seems to be a lot more
    communication and a lot more blending of talent despite the (sometimes
    amazingly specific) differences between groups' focuses.

    [and thanks]

  • Predictably, I agree and disagree. I agree that the system is broken, and I agree that indie is a good way to go. But to be honest, I think just doing on theatre without focusing on the larger questions is exactly how we got into this mess in the first place. I don't think this is an either/or situation.

  • I actually don't disagree with you. But we do a LOT of focusing on the big
    picture in our discussions and precious little reminding each other that
    every production we do is a step and THAT is actual change.

    Most of the Big Picture is so far out of my control that it's simply Monday
    Morning Quarterbacking. It doesn't matter how shortsighted I think the
    Roundabout is being, they're not going to listen to me. It doesn't matter
    what I think needs to be reformed in the world of theatre ed, no one is
    asking for my proposed curriculum.

    You are right in that we do need to be calling out the need for change
    wherever we see it. But the “mess we're in” isn't part of my theatre
    pratice, it's part of my theatre theory. CRADLE and indie theatre aren't
    part of The System, they are separate and as long as we keep the larger
    issues in frame while we're making decisions in our own sphere we keep the
    mess out.

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  • Lightingpanggung

    Nice info…thanks

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  • BradMcEntire

    I totally agree with this. Indie theatre, especially those of us that operate outside the eye of the storm geographically (NYC) or on a budgetary level (Regional/Off-Broadway), really are pretty outside of the system. Theory about the theatre is nice and has its place, but it is mostly a separate thing than the down and dirty doing of it.