Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Some quick reactions to Lee Wochner's reactions, which he posted at his blog here.

"Last I checked, the theatre had been dying for 2,000 years. For God’s sake, WHEN WILL IT JUST DIE????"

Actually, theater has been in retraction about 100 years in Western culture, but I gather this is hyperbole. I gather Mr. Wochner has assumed I'm expecting theater to "die" for some reason. I've said no such thing. I do think the institution of theater has failed to be relevant in our culture, but I think I've been clear about what I've been talking about, so I won't repeat it here.

"Whenever that finally happens, somebody will just start a new one."

That is probably true, though that won't really address the complexities of losing existing infrastructure that I discuss in brief here. Also, I reiterate, I've never expected, predicted or commented on the idea that theater will "die". This is a straw man argument.

"Eleven years ago at the RAT (Regional Alternative Theatre) Conference in New York City a bunch of attendees were offering dystopian views similar to Mr. Daisey’s of what was going to happen to theatre in America and what to do about it. Many of the prescriptions, like those of Mr. Daisey, were interesting and fun to talk about and utterly impracticable. Erik Ehn suggested trading bread for admission. Here’s what I know about bread: Most of it goes stale before anyone eats it. The birds in my back yard are well-fed indeed. Meanwhile, many of us who buy tickets find it more convenient to pay with a credit card than to carry around fresh home-baked bread. You see where I’m going with this."

Look, if you honestly equate my plans for repositioning non-profit theater development efforts to use their resources to adopt wholesale the proven university model of creating lockbox endowments for "chair" positions in order to create ensemble positions for artists with a plan to pay for theater with bread...

...I'm speechless.

"If anything, in those 11 years I’ve seen more alternative theatres pop up all over the country. They are the future. They do what they want, when they want, even in the face of great indifference or unforeseen spectacular success, and there’s no stopping them. Are the artists making a lot of money in them? No — but the actors on-stage at the Public and the Mark Taper Forum aren’t making a lot of money there, either; they tend to be movie actors on the way up or on the way down. These alternative theatres, meanwhile, have a DIY ethic that will seem familiar to anyone who produces a print-on-demand book or podcast or blog — they put product out inexpensively and often and attract niche audiences. And this is fine — because more and more, everything is a niche."

A lot of what you're saying here is true. It doesn't really have much to do with what I've been saying, as I'm concerned primarily with the state of institutional theater as I'm looking to change and challenge the culture in the largest institutions, but the rise of niche culture is very real, and I'm intimately familiar with the theaters and movements Mr. Wochner is describing here, having lived and grown up with them.

"If the main thrust of Mike Daisey’s ideas is related to audience development, then I’m with him. If it’s about finding ways to keep local artists tied to theatres, then I’m with him again — except, all over the land, they are already (just not in larger theatres)."

Well, I don't know if I want the artists "tied" to the theaters, so much as the theaters should provide homes and workspaces for ensembles to inhabit, and frankly I don't talk in any form about "audience development", though I'd argue that done correctly needs to grow out of the continuity and community of letting artists back into those buildings, but I'm not sure that's what you mean.

"Let’s make an agreement to check back in on the state of the American theatre in another 11 years — 2019 — and see how we’re doing. I say this, by the way, on the afternoon of Moving Arts’ 15th anniversary celebration."

You can keep track of this if you like, though I'm not certain what it will prove one way or another, as I'm not expecting theater to "die", as previously discussed. But I'm always up for long bets, if you can define some terms that make sense, give me odds I can get behind and so forth.