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.

  • DLC

    what about an audience ready, willing and eager to consume what the community creates and to support it financially?

  • I can agree with that.

  • All very good points. Thank you for taking the time to write this and remind us. I would also say that it means a community reading willing and ready to HELP the audience base be ready, willing and ready to appreciate their art– by having an artist’s culture where artists and creators know and talk regularly with “non theatre people.” I have lived in some communities where folks naturally do that, and some where they don’t. It is amazing to me the difference in art quality and attendance and donation numbers. When we as artists are full members of the communities we live in it makes a difference!

  • Once again, Travis, your insights are inspirational. I love the metaphor of the Armillaria. I think I would throw into the compost mixture that feeds such a vibrant theatre community, mutual respect. Respect for the intelligence and creativity of the audience, respect for the skills and creative contributions of all the members of the theatre community, including all those who never see the metaphorical light of day, such as back stage crew and technicians, admin staff – and such respect has to be mutually extended.

  • Nice article, thanks for the information.

  • I like your post.

    I don’t like the word “vibrant” for some reason.  It always sounds like a tourist brochure to me.  What would I suggest in its place? Vital, maybe?  Flourishing?  Thriving?

  • I generally use vital, it wasn’t my word choice 😉