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A Vibrant Thing

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.
  • Ambition
    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.

SpiderFreude

Once upon a time in a blog post not so terribly far away I mentioned that you should be careful not to post the same platitudes on Twitter every one is posting every day because I was seeing the same quotes DAY after DAY after DAY and the only thing worse than Successories posters are Successories posters on every single wall of every single office.

The primary offender on a theatre feed is of course the Samuel Becket quote, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

I love it, you love it, we all own t-shirts and mugs with it emblazoned in Beckett Estate approved fonts…

But every day was a bit much.

The #Newplay convening at Arena Stage was like a funhouse with creator after creator reflecting back about the need for risk and failure. It was it’s own sort of convening game… how many different ways can you say “create a safe place for risk taking”. The answer is: a lot. Most of them involved some variation of the phrase “room to fail”.

I loved it. It was good. It IS good. It’s an attitude and a reality that we need in theatre making.


Spider Man: Turn off the Dark is apparently apocalyptically bad. Last night was the longest listed press opening so everyone went all in and it got the critical lambasting we all knew was coming. I love Ben Brantley raging out as much as the next guy. I love snark and I love the sword of justice falling.

But this is after two years of snark and six months of active schadenfreude on the part of the Twitter community that I am surrounded by. This isn’t even news this was a moment of gleeful grave dancing. Noting that the sinner in this case is not a war criminal I’ll ask: when is enough?


So here’s what I want. In return for your continued bile and your smug derision. I want you to either expunge to phrase “room to fail” and “we need to find ways to take risks” from your vocabulary or you need to append to the end of each use, “in support of projects or people I like at price points I don’t find objectionable even though it’s not my money and never had any way of becoming my money.”

It won’t fit in a twitter post so you may simply add “I’m a hypocrite, ibid.”

I don’t want to hear about waste.
I don’t want to hear about how you don’t like her style.
I don’t want to hear how you think Broadway should crumble into the sea.
Because see, here’s the cold truth:

There is almost no shot I like the theatre you’re producing.

Like, a 15% shot. But by all means go and make it!
A theatre-going culture is a better culture for me even if you aren’t making the art I want to see.
I financially support what I can, I see as much as I can, I advocate for just about everydamnthing on a stage.

You cannot (unhypocritically) root for space to fail for you and your friends and not root for room to fail for Julie Taymor, or as Kris Vire portmanteau’d last night U2Mor.

They, by every non-Glenn Beck account, have failed. They have failed on every card and on a scale I actually literally never dreamed of. [They failed with half the Yankees payroll. Only the Cardinals and Mets do things like that] I would love to have that money. I want the chance to fail that big. Chances are you would too.

But instead of singing me song after song about how much the Spiderman teams sucks: dream the dream. What would YOU build given that kind of opportunity?