A friend asked what I felt a vibrant theatre community was. Disappointed to realize I hadn’t already defined that term in this space I told her I would write up a post.
This is that post.
A vibrant theatre community is one that is connected vertically and horizontally, larger and smaller, more and less resourced, and across genres. Andrew Taylor uses a image in his creative ecology talk of the Honey Mushroom (armillaria ostoyae). To quote the linked article, “To go into the forest where this giant makes its home you would not look at it and see a huge, looming mushroom. Armillaria grows and spreads primarily underground and the sheer bulk of this organism lies in the earth, out of sight.”
Armillaria are to scientific knowledge the TWO largest living organisms. But you never see the whole thing. You see it shooting up here and there but the truth of it’s life and interconnectedness lies out of sight.
The hallmarks of a vibrant theatre community:
- A talent base.
Every community has a best, most talented person. A vibrant community has a pool of talent that like sourdough starter can be dipped into again and again and mot be diminished.
- Opportunity to begin, opportunity to continue.
The bar to entry is low enough in terms of resources that you can enter the community and (without hitting the lottery) sustain an artistic effort.
- Culture of Making
A vibrant creative environment needs to be rooted in creating opportunity rather than waiting for opportunity.
- Artist Awareness
While taking a breath from their own pursuits individual artists look up every know and again and recognize that others exist and are doing the same things they are. Occasionally they may talk or even share a meal with another artist.
- Cooperation, not competition.
Each sees and supports each. There needs to be room for each creator to root.
- Overlap between producing groups.
Friction creates both heat and light, keep rubbing up against new thoughts and ideas.
- Variety of goals.
A town only producing musicals or design driven reflections on the work of Anne Sexton can’t sustain a broad enough population of artists or audience to maintain continuity.
Of some kind.
Whether is for innovation or simply drive for greatness. The needs to be an animating force for something more than “I want to do a play”.
- Continuity… and churn
Like the ocean, a vibrant community needs a foundation of “elders” and community pillars underlaying a froth and chop of high kinetic energy, high entropy groups forming, crashing and reforming in a flurry. The two energies feed each other.
There is of course an equation hidden in all of this that would quantify it and balance the factors but lord knows I got 99 problems but a math ain’t one.