Attention Must Be Paid

As has happened so many times in the last couple of years I said something off the cuff that someone else has paid entirely too much attention to.

On November 19th I said:


And yesterday Mr. Howard Sherman, president of the American Theatre Wing responded very thoughtfully. His considered response makes me regret we don’t share a city because I think that this is a discussion that would be an awful lot of fun over a beverage. It also made me regret my mobile status on the 19th because my shout out to the Emperor Jujamcyn was part of a running conversation about the profile of the theatre in America and theatremakers ongoing inability to a.) create a narrative about the work and the field b.) tell that narrative to any member of the press or possible theatregoing public without sounding like we’re on break from a PhD dramaturgy class. 

So let’s start with my appreciation for Mr. Sherman’s history lesson. I didn’t know any of that (save the Regionals on Broadway portion) and I think that it’s very instructive and gives us some pointers for directions not to travel.

My point of departure is: I don’t care if a single show ends up on Broadway. I have never seen a Broadway show. I’ve never stood on Broadway. There’s not a one of my megalomanical inclinations that lands on the Great White Way. But Broadway has The Juice. Being on Broadway signals to the public that This Matters and I want badly for the greater public to know that great theatre is being made every day in this country. Until that greater public has a guide to What Matters in theatre and Who Is Good we can’t begin to give them a narrative.

The idea of shipping things to New York is simply because that’s where the brand juice is right now so that’s an “easy” way to go about it and as I discussed in my post “Is This Heaven, No It’s Iowa” I would rather ship an entire show to New York than store all of my actors there.

So the short answer is that no, Broadway isn’t our national theatre in the way that theatremakers would talk about it and the founding and operation of a true national theatre in DC or elsewhere is a fate I wouldn’t wish on Donald Rumsfeld. But I’m not yet ready to cede broader vitality or a place in the cultural conversation for non-musical theatre. It shouldn’t feel like a Renaissance when we talking about August: Osage County or God of Carnage. Tracey Letts and Yasmina Reza should be cultural stars and most folks have never heard of them. To crib a line from the Bible, we need to stop hiding our light under a bushel and shine forth from the lampstand.

Now where the hell is that lampstand? How to we build it?

I don’t know. 
So I ask smarter men than I.
Often in fewer than 140 characters.

  • Howard

    Travis: Obviously your brief tweet touched a deep nerve for me, and I ran (and ran) with it. I went far beyond what your missive intimated (which is why I didn’t name you) and went on to my own thoughts and concerns about the issue. As you say, it’s not a topic that lends to one-sided tweets or blogs, but ongoing conversation. Our goal at ATW, as we expand our horizons (and hopefully our resources) is to lend wattage to your light, until that bushel burns away. P.S. Do let me know if you ever hear from Jordan!

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  • Derek Kolluri

    Make it affordable, make it relevant and make it responsible. I think this lampstand you speak about needs to focus on how we make theatre as much as the theatre we make. You’re right… Reza and Letts should be cultural icons… In that statement I think we can agree that the problem isn’t the quality or impact of work… rather how accessible it is. We agree there. Some excess of cultural weight has always existed in the NYC milieu. But think about why… it has had the time to become such, it has been the place to be to “make it”. That vitality can’t be reached the way it was in NYC… Austin had no Golden Age… And to send Austin’s culture abroad is to dim this light by asking validation from NYC. What is the lampstand? Making theatre an economically viable and culturally resonant business. How? We have to find ways to make the creation of theatre easier and profitable… We must pay our artists so they will dedicate themselves to creating work that our community can’t miss. All of us are too busy trying to balance too too much to remain active and sharp. As a caveat to “Howard’s”statement below… Instead of borrowing wattage… why don’t we set ourselves up to produce our own… literally and figuratively. Why is NYC theatre what it is? Because people will flock there to see a show… What can we do to bring people to Austin? What makes a New Yorker say… “the best theatre in the nation is happening somewhere else, and I want to go.”

    Travis, I’m working on these answers, I hope to share more soon.