Thursday, April 30, 2009

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

NYC - Brooklyn - Williamsburg: Streetart by C215
Everybody Is a Star - Theater - The Stranger, Seattle's Only Newspaper:

Thus was born the Stranger Gong Show, an audition-free cavalcade of talent open to anyone who showed up. Anyone over 21, that is—all Stranger Gong Shows have occurred in nightclubs (first the Croc, then Chop Suey), and what we've lost in 6-year-old blues singers, we've made up for in drunken rambunctiousness. Keeping everything in check: the mighty gong, which hangs over performers' heads like an appropriated Asian guillotine. Why a gong? Because the original Gong Show's Chuck Barris said so, and good for him: There's no sweeter rejection than a gong, which wraps failure in a deep, regal shimmer.

Despite the name, the point of a gong show is to avoid getting gonged, preferably through skill and talent, though wit can be equally effective. Case in point: Miss Peggy Guy, who in 1976 lit up TV's original Gong Show with a performance for the ages, ostensibly coming onstage to sing, but then spitting out her dentures, becoming entangled in a folding chair, losing her wig, and collapsing to the floor, all in 40 seconds. The judges gave her what she deserved: straight 10s. The moral is another passel of talent-show-verified clichés: To thine own self be true. Quit while you're ahead. Less is more. God don't make no junk.
NYC - Brooklyn - Williamsburg: Metal Dimensions
Waiting for the G
A response from Hunka. Well, not so much a "response", as my points weren't addressed. But he did make a number of new points:

The definition of success, failure and relevance does not occur in a vacuum, but is very much determined by ideology.

Okay, so far we agree—though the idea that these terms are always utterly relative is an academic shell game. For example, I could have a "successful" theatre that produced no work, if I defined success as creating conceptual work that is never sullied by actual production. But only goofballs work that way.

A post-capitalist or consumerist definition of these words

I don't understand "post-capitalist" in this context, though I think I understand consumerist.

posits that success, failure or relevance is somehow quantitatively measurable (otherwise Daisey wouldn't be able to say that theatre is "failing" at something),

I'm not sure why it has to be quantitatively measurable, or exactly what you mean by quantitative in this sense.

and that some kinds of theatre are relevant and others not.

I suppose there would be a continuum, though I was speaking about what theater's context as a whole is in relation to American society.

After all, which cultural context is Daisey using?

I am using my own cultural context. The one I came packaged with.

What is "relevant" in this context? What is not? Success or failure of an individual artwork (not to mention an entire art form) is something determined by prescriptive aesthetics, and these aesthetics are precisely relevant to this conversation.

Relevant, yes, but they are not the entire conversation, ESPECIALLY when we are speaking about an entire field over an individual work. To ignore moral and ethical concerns is unacceptable.

(Sorry, Mike, about my "blinkered addiction" to them, but aesthetics are culturally determined too, and your theatre is driven by them every bit as much as mine.)

I was clearly speaking about the theater industry, not you. I don't know your work. Sorry you took offense.

I'd agree that of course my aesthetic concern drives my theater, IN CONJUNCTION with my own moral and ethical concerns.

These questions go to the heart of the issue that Daisey is reluctant to address ("It's true that I don't in my current arguments dictate what kind of work should be done. I believe that isn't my role in this discussion," he says), but without responding to these issues (and he needn't dictate, only provide some kind of precise examples) it's impossible to imagine what Daisey means by a "more relevant," "more successful" theatre.

I'm reluctant because it's unnecessary and destructive. My work has been primarily to illuminate and illustrate what is broken in the current system: you do not have to create a new system in order to do that.

That said, long-term my hope is to begin to examine what the shape of work will be. As a simple and clear starting point, I stand behind my own work.

If, like Justice Potter Stewart and pornography, Daisey knows it when he sees it, he's welcome to it. But Justice Stewart didn't do the cause of literature much good with that definition either.

Working for artistic reform in how theater is made in this country does not require the passing of judgment on the work within it. One does not need to be a connoisseur of sausages to recognize there may be serious issues in the slaughterhouse where they are made.

And as to my spelling theatre the way I do, what can I say? Perhaps I feel closer to Europe. "I spell theater -er rather than -re," Mike says. Why? "Becase [sic] I am American." Well, all right.

At least you've dispelled any illusions that you might actually raise the level of discourse.
Imageuploadimage - Office 2010 preview:

Seriously, go look at this thing. There’s some sort of “mini toolbar” in the title bar of the window in addition to the standard window controls. (Before my fellow Mac users get too sanctimonious, let’s consider Safari 4 beta’s “top tabs”, which my internal jury is still out on.)

Then you’ve got the ribbon itself, which appears to be tabbed, and one of the tabs has what I can only guess is a resize widget. I mean what is happening here?

The first section of the ribbon is “Delete” which has, as far as I can tell, three separate icons for delete. Do you have to use a specific delete button for a certain type of data? Why? What is this about? The delete icons are also two different sizes, and one has a popup menu hanging off of it.

The ribbon has an “Actions” section containing a “More Actions” popup.

The Find section is, unlike all the other sections, unlabeled. It appears to contain a toggle button with a popup arrow underneath it.

I also like the Zoom section which contains a single icon, also labeled Zoom.

This is impenetrable. It’s UI salad. I realize this is not (yet) shipping software, but my god. If you sat me down in front of this, I wouldn’t have the slightest idea where to begin.
David Frum:

The Specter defection is too severe a catastrophe to qualify as a “wake-up call.” His defection is the thing we needed the wake-up call to warn us against! For a long time, the loudest and most powerful voices in the conservative world have told us that people like Specter aren’t real Republicans – that they don’t belong in the party. Now he’s gone, and with him the last Republican leverage within any of the elected branches of government.

For years, many in the conservative world have wished for an ideologically purer GOP. Their wish has been granted. Happy?

Let’s take this moment to nail some colors to the mast. I submit it is better for conservatives to have 60% sway within a majority party than to have 100% control of a minority party. And until and unless there is an honored place made in the Republican party for people who think like Arlen Specter, we will remain a minority party.
Over at the Guardian, Chris Wilkinson has written a post about my back and forth conversation with Todd Olson. In the comments George Hunka writes in, saying:

"I hate to belabor the rather tiresome point that what Garrett suggests has been going on for well over fifty years in the United States and elsewhere."

(For reference, what Garrett has said is: "
Now more than ever, we need to make it easier for a lone director, or playwright, or actor to simply book a hall and put up his or her own work.")

Hunka has conflated two points—no one is argueing that people doing their own work on their own terms (as much as possible) doesn't exist. Garrettt is saying we need more of it, by making a more equitable playing field. These are two different things.

This is what Richard Foreman, Young Jean Lee, Richard Maxwell and dozens of artists have done over the past several decades;

Lee just gave an interview in the Nation about how she needs to work beyond theatre to survive. Foreman has a trust fund, and has relied on it or his early work would have been impossible. I don't know Maxwell's circumstances, but I know some of his company members live incredibly close to the bone.

If these are the highlights of the American theater, what does it say about our art form that they're treated this poorly? I would submit that this is a failure of priority, focus, and human connection. I think it's painful to treat these as success stories—if they are, they've succeeded *despite* the paradigm.

in England, Howard Barker has his own company; in Australia Daniel Keene's first plays were produced by his own company.

The focus of my arguements has always been American theater—while I've lived in England, and worked in Australia, their economic landscape for artists is wildly different than America's.

Not to mention many of the performers in both New York's Incubator and Performance Space 122's seasons, who know that the ideology that drives both Olson's and Daisey's visions of American theatre doesn't have room for the kinds of work that they want to do.

I find it hard to believe that you actually believe my work to make the arts more artist-driven doesn't have room for many different kinds of work. I'd submit that any way you'd slice it it has a lot more room for variety and variance, for presenting and self-production, than the current landscape.

Movement forward in the American theatre is unlikely to take place within the walls of the large corporate entities that Daisey and Olson are debating, but on the stages of these smaller venues, who curate rather than produce work.

It depends on what you mean by "forward". If you mean strictly and only aesthetic, you might be right—often the best art comes from the small places. But I'd submit that it's a blinkered addiction to aesthetics that helped lead us to the current inequitable working and living conditions...and that this priority shift didn't even achieve the dream it was reaching for.

I'd say that the way forward needs to focus on a reshifting of priorities away from institutions and onto people. I also believe that the largest theaters and institutions, who control most of the current resources, need to be reminded of their obligations and compelled to act. That's the arena I am working within, so that is where I currently work for change.

Beyond the consumerist ideologies of whether American theatre "fails" or "succeeds,"

It is in no way consumerist to talk about how theater in American is failing its audiences, its artists and its self. It is in no way consumerist to talk about how American theater is failing to make itself relevant in a cultural context.

these companies are redefining theatre and pointing the way to new forms and recognitions;

And that is great. I would just like to see them not have to do it on their knees over broken glass, and then I'd like to see more of them strengthened to stand up and walk.

the current debate about institutional theatre model, whether Olson's or Daisey's, is a debate about real estate and the social safety net.

I agree it's a debate about real estate in part. I see my role as helping to change a discussion that has been entirely about buildings back to being about people, but unless one lives in a faerieland the topic of real estate is going to raise its head.

But "social safety net"? I'd love to hear this explained, because it sounds as though Hunka is equating security and wages for artists with wefare.

In the avoidance of discussing the work that transpires on these stages – the work that these institutional theatres support, and the ideological basis of that support

It's true that I don't in my current arguments dictate what kind of work should be done. I believe that isn't my role in this discussion. I do believe there are fruitful discussions to be had about the state of devised work vs playwright-driven work, and my own beliefs about what is and is not great art, but in an effort to clarify the conversation. That may change in the years to come.

– they seem to want to defend a theatre that is comfortable, safe and secure for both its audiences and its practitioners.

First, there's no way theater today is comfortable, safe and secure for the practitioners
anywhere, so I can't be defending that status quo, as it doesn't exist.

Second, while I certainly agree that a lot of theater suffers from making its audiences too comfortable, I don't think my work over the last few years can even remotely be construed as defending that kind of theater.

It is possible to imagine that I could be seen as part of the problem, *if* you believe that nothing except bourgeois comfort can come from any theater that is not on a vanishingly short list of approved downtown experiences. I do not believe this, and I think it's a solipsistic rabbit hole into which people can hide.

But without risk and danger, theatre and art is nothing.

Because I am American, I spell theater -er rather than -re.

When Noah Webster created the new American dictionary he formalized the American spelling of all such words as -er, including the word theater.

Interestingly it was theater owners, who were afraid that the new spelling would not appear as erudite and snobbish as the -re spelling, who clung to the old spelling.

Spelling and cultural baggage aside, I entirely agree with the last point.
Publicity Photo, Marie Prevost, Hollywood Actress

Dear Mike:

I have enjoyed reading your correspondence with Todd Olson -- producing artistic director at American Stage Company in St. Petersburg, Florida -- and honestly, I see solid points made on both sides, as I think you do.

However, one important fact has been obscured in the dialogue: When Olson says his theater is "fully AEA," he means he has a contract with Actors Equity -- NOT that all of the actors he hires are Equity members. I'm not sure what contract he is on now, but he can and does use a fair proportion of non-Equity actors. Such obfuscation is not uncommon among small theaters with Equity contracts, as they rely upon the misperception that Equity = professional and non-Equity = non-professional to puff up their stature with statements such as "fully Equity."

Why does this matter? It matters because many of Olson's points are predicated on the assumption that all of his actors are Equity. Talk of how his actors have access to health insurance, of the struggles of finding a way to pay actors more than scale, of the comparatively low pay to his staff, or of what he considers silly ancillary Equity requirements (breaks, cots, etc.) is disingenuous, given that many of his actors have no insurance, are paid well below Equity scale, and are not entitled to most Equity protections -- although they do share in the breaks, and I suppose no one would object if they fainted onto the cot.

Tampa Bay has very little Equity work. Most local Equity contracts are SPT, Guest Artist or Special Appearance, none of which pays a living wage. Aside from a mere handful of actors, Tampa Bay actors have two choices: 1) Stay Equity, and work mostly out of town or work rarely (and fail to qualify for health insurance), or 2) Leave Equity, work for less money and no benefits but work more often, closer to home and, ironically, often in the same theaters as the Equity actors. Because the non-Equity actors often rehearse nights, they are better able to supplement their income with on-camera work, meaning they can make more money while costing local theaters less, which enables lower ticket prices, which enables more people to go see a play. For this they get to be classified as non-professional -- even when standing on-stage next to an Equity actor -- and ignored in Olson's consideration of his theater's financial position.

Before largely retiring from acting, I was an AEA member for nine years. I left Equity seven years ago specifically to take a non-Equity role at American Stage (before Olson's tenure), because I recognized that breaking into the most important area theater was a better bet than keeping my Equity card, which limited my professional opportunities, as it does for actors in many metro areas outside of the major markets. (I also came to believe that Equity fundamentally puts its own interests ahead of its members'… but that's another discussion.) I think I made the right choice, but am always surprised to hear ADs expound upon the difficulties of paying all those pesky Equity actors, as if the Equity contract was forced upon them.

While I do not include myself in this company, there are many fine Tampa Bay actors -- including many who have played leading roles at American Stage in the past -- who once were Equity or have the points to become Equity, but who are by choice non-Equity because they believe that's the better status in this market. They became actors to act, not to ensure a guaranteed wage. The old saw that Equity functions as a talent filter, accepting only the best actors, and that therefore one can rely upon a higher caliber of actor within the union is easily exposed in Florida, where Equity's theme park contracts grant Equity cards to teenage dancers who may or may not be able to utter a line.

A theater's decision on whether to have an Equity contract is a complicated one in that it involves not simply budgeting considerations, but also fuzzier considerations of professional stature and reputation, and I judge no theater for going one way or the other -- as long as its finances give it the luxury of a choice. Nor do I judge a theater for jobbing in actors from out of town, although that's a consistent grumble from local actors in any small market. Still, I can't help wondering why Olson does not alleviate some of his budgetary woes by sticking to local actors, Equity or otherwise. Jobbing-in Equity actors requires not only the higher pay scale and benefits contributions, but also housing, transportation and per diem. Are the actors Olson jobs-in from out of town really so much better than any local option that they return their additional cost in higher ticket sales? And does the audience care where the actors live? That's a question I wish more boards would ask.

While they were at it, the board could do the math on how much health insurance could be purchased with the money spent on jobbed-in actors. You wondered why a company would take on a $4 million building campaign when it gave its employees no health insurance. I wonder why a company that offered no health insurance and admitted that it underpaid its staff would blow money on jobbed-in actors when local actors would do as well.  Some ADs might say that the proportions of Equity actors specified by their AEA contracts may force them to use an Equity actor for a certain role, and that no local Equity actor fit the bill. But that makes my point -- freed to hire from the far larger non-Equity pool in a market like Tampa Bay, the AD could probably find a suitable actor locally -- and much more affordably.

Full disclosure: Olson might counter that as a local non-Equity actor I played a leading mainstage role for him once (an experience I enjoyed and am grateful for), but I would remind him that I got the role only after a Boston actor bowed out at the last minute and a local replacement was the most expedient solution -- he hired the role locally only when he had no other option. In one of his first newspaper interviews after he was hired by American Stage, he was quoted as saying that creating jobs for local actors was low on his list of priorities. At least we knew where he stood.

In recent public discussions about preserving arts funding in a tough economy, I have heard arts proponents argue that public funding employs artists. I then heard funding opponents say that the artists often are not local, and that they don't want to spend local tax dollars on artists who live elsewhere. It's hard to preserve arts funding when the anti-arts crowd happens to be right.

I have long observed that many artistic directors fall prey to the same syndrome as Olson: They are surrounded by ass-kissing actors desperate for work and willing to put up with any abuse, actors who will never complain to the AD or bring to his attention any perception of mistreatment. Behavior that would elicit a hearty fuck-you if committed by anyone else goes quietly unchallenged when committed by an AD. When the AD does hear complaints, he can easily dismiss them as the product of sour grapes among actors upset at not being hired or at not landing a coveted role. Over time, the AD grows insensitive and callous, oblivious to his own casual disregard for his actors. That's the odor you smell in his letter.

Olson has as much contempt for his audience, whom he has publicly castigated on American Stage's website for complaining too much; he actually calls some respondents to his audience survey "complainers" and bemoans their "rudeness" and "cheap shots" -- all because they dared to give him the feedback he solicited and in some cases did so with a degree of insensitivity he is in no moral position to judge. He's talked to his AD buddies elsewhere, he says, and they all agree that Florida audiences are just the worst! So… he doesn't much like his local actors or local audience. One wonders why he does not simply find another job out of state, and hand American Stage over to someone who understands and appreciates the local scene.

All of that said, I think Olson's apparent disdain for actors (and for your work and its politics) and his sometimes perverse illogic may have upset you past the point of reason. Olson's staff is loyal; after a brief period of defections at the start of his tenure, there has been very little staff turnover at American Stage, and that says something good about the happiness of his staff. As someone who briefly was on his staff (as propsmaster), I can verify that he truly does treat his staff like family -- though perhaps a slightly dysfunctional one. For such a small group, they do a hell of a lot, to great value. And I agree with him that professional theater staff often are undervalued, as their contributions are little seen by audiences. His casual disdain for actors (contempt may be too strong a word) aside, he's keeping a regional theater solvent and producing successful theater in tough times, and for that he's earned some props.

As for the rest... Well, think back to the ADs you've known. Is Olson's insensitivity really exceptional?

Keep up the good work,

Ned Averill-Snell
Tampa, Florida

To make matters worse, [Alfred] Bunn shortly became the manager of Covent Garden as well as of Drury Lane -- the first and last time anyone was foolhardy enough to try this experiment -- and thus master of the whole realm of the legitimate drama in London.

His first act was to slash his performers' salaries.  Not uniquely among managers, Bunn hated actors with a passion, but there was reason as well as vindictiveness behind his move, because the payroll at the two great theatres had soared out of control.  During one week, six hundred and eighty-four employees were counted at Covent Garden alone. Aside from the actors there was an acting manager, a stage manager, a pantomime director, a property man, and a callboy, an assortment of prompters and copyists, a corps de ballet, a chorus, and a full orchestra.  Up in the scenery room in the eaves there were various chief scene painters, assistant scene painters, and color grinders; down in the workshop, a property maker, a machinist, and a master carpenter, together with half a dozen assistant carpenters and two dozen scenery men and stagehands.  Backstage were the master and mistress of the wardrobe, with their army of dressers; front of house, a treasurer and an under treasurer, a housekeeper, an assistant, ten money takers, ten check takers, and a box keeper; and, stationed all around, dozens of attendants, lamplighters, firemen, porters, and watchmen. The official theatres had become monsters that chewed through fortunes and spat out bankruptcy, and something had to give.

"The Shakespeare Riots" by Nigel Cliff, an historical account of the Astor Place riot of 1849, which began as a grudge between the British actor William Charles Macready and American actor Edwin Forrest

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Crimes committed by Ferris Bueller during his Day off. | Ask Metafilter:

I would like a comprehensive list of each offense Ferris and his friends commit during the movie "Ferris Bueller's Day Off". Ideally, please list the offense (criminal trespass to vehicle, battery, etc.) and the category of crime if it was committed by an adult (eg, felony, Class A Misdemeanor, etc.) Illinois jurisdiction. Thank you very much.
The Exact Opposite Is True « Submitted For Your Perusal:

“I am resolutely opposed to all innovation, all change, but I am determined to understand what’s happening because I don’t choose just to sit and let the juggernaut roll over me. Many people seem to think that if you talk about something recent, you’re in favor of it. The exact opposite is true in my case. Anything I talk about is almost certain to be something I’m resolutely against, and it seems to me the best way of opposing it is to understand it, and then you know where to turn off the button.”

—Marshall McLuhan

Hey Mike,

I can not remember if I have mentioned this to you in an email before, but you might want to take a look at the Barter Theatre in Virginia.  So far as I am aware they come as close, in practice, to your Platonic ideal of the Regional Theatre as I have seen. They hire a resident company of actors for the year(several started out as interns 20+ years ago), who also tend to work "staff" jobs as well. This gives a strong cross pollination between admin and artists. They produce numerous works set in and around their local area(Southwestern Virginia) commissioned or adapted.  They have a touring company(composed of acting interns) who perform works for school age audiences.  When they built their second stage it was with the express purpose of producing more work, i.e. the building serves the art, not the institution.  Every summer they produce a play festival dedicated to works by and about the apalachian (read local) region of Virginia.  Their interns get rigorous training, both studio style and in live performance to hone their skills. 

In short they are doing, and could serve as a model for, the very thing you are looking for in Regional Theatre.  Incidentally they have an absurdly high percentage of people locally who attend the theatre, as opposed to most LORTs who get less than 5% of the local population to attend.  They are not perfect, but I know of no earthy organization of humans that is.

For full disclosure, I work there often as a guest artist, but am not payed salary by the company.  While they do job in a few artists throughout the season, that is not due to not hiring local or seasonal artists, but rather because of the sheer volume of work they create (18+ shows a year excluding their play festival) they must needs fill some gaps.

I hope this information proves useful.



Lucas Benjaminh Krech
Lighting Design
Interview with Dominique Serrand | January 2009 |

0:00.00 – 1. Will you miss your bulding? Peter Brook, Ariane Mnouchkine, and using old spaces to say something new.

3:41.29 – 2. Why couldn’t Jeune Lune survive? Artist-driven work, financial management, and patterns of charitable support from Minnesota’s family dynasties.

7:45.05 – 3. What good and bad do you see in the arts right now? The legacy amendment, the migrant nature of artists, creating new ensembles, the Guthrie’s Kushner festival, health care, and more.

12:07.27 – 4. Is the state of the arts in Minnesota healthy? Healthy institutions versus healthy artists, the United States Artists Foundation, and theater companies in Soviet-bloc Hungary.

16:58.03 – 5. Why does theater matter? Religion and the value of questioning.

19:39.22 – 6. What should we do? Public education, how Dominique discovered theater as a child, and exporting Robert Wilson and Robert Lepage to rural areas.

24:10.06 – 7. What will you do in the near future? Getting used to life without Jeune Lune, risk-taking, and developing a new work with four playwrights.

28:33.23 – 8. What if you were asked to run a new theater? A three-step plan including engaging with public schools, putting artists on salary, and bringing out illuminating, new visions of old work.
ongoing · Less Like Oration:

Consider the 95% or so of the human time-span that predates writing, when language took one form: speech. Whatever is built-in to us about language and thought was built in by evolution, and that process was pretty well over by the time writing arrived.

Speech is remarkably plastic; at one extreme, the monosyllables of technical specialists or lovers; debate flowing around a meeting table somewhere in the middle; and at the long end, oration, notable examples of which extend in length from a handful of minutes to many hours.

There’s nothing much on the Net that’s without precedent in spoken language. What’s new is that written discourse is becoming less like oration and more like conversation. It’s not clear that this is bad.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Gowanus Canal, Brooklyn
Gawker - It It Just a Coincidence That Tim Geithner's Lunch Dates Keep Getting Whatever They Want - Tim Geithner:

Breaking: two years of Tim Geithner's daily calendars prove that he was pretty friendly with Citigroup and Goldman. Also he leads a quietly tragic unexamined life of unending meaningless toil, JUST LIKE US!
The Stranger | Slog | Rear View:

Forced Entertainment was performing Spectacular in Bristol a few days ago when an audience member with a Russian accent began heckling the cast, shouting variations on "that's not funny!" while his female companion cackled. He was asked to leave but refused, and the show went on.

At some point later, Robin said, an actor delivers a line about seeing something extraordinary. "You want to see something extraordinary?!" the Russian shouted, then walked onto the stage, shat in his hand, and rubbed his face. At that point, he was chucked out. "The worst thing," Robin said, "is that someone from the theater came up to us afterwards and asked if he was part of our show."

The heckler, it turned out, was Alexander Brener, who stages interventions on other people's performances. "That's his art?" another British artist—Ant Hampton—wondered aloud.
GOP Know-Nothings Fought Pandemic Preparedness:

Famously, Maine Senator Collins, the supposedly moderate Republican who demanded cuts in health care spending in exchange for her support of a watered-down version of the stimulus, fumed about the pandemic funding: "Does it belong in this bill? Should we have $870 million in this bill? No, we should not."

Even now, Collins continues to use her official website to highlight the fact that she led the fight to strip the pandemic preparedness money out of the Senate's version of the stimulus measure.
trying to breathe
NEA New Play Development Program hosted by Arena Stage: Is "Regional" A Pejorative Term?:

I think what people are reacting to, fundamentally, in this call to re-regionalize the regional theater, is a sense that many regional theaters, those which established the movement and those which followed to sustain and build on it, have somehow become more satellites than regions. That they are, as Jodi implies and many others assert directly, now orbiting the New York marketplace like moons, reflecting its heat but generating none of their own. I hear from artists, ensembles, and small producers all over the country (including that micro-region: Manhattan) that they feel we're in a period where, to paraphrase one of the responders at the Humana Convening, "we're shipping the same ten plays around the country and every theater's season looks more alike than distinct."  This sentiment is particularly acute among new play practitioners, whether playwrights, play labs, ensembles, or new play producers.
Trouble at the Quarry
Op-Ed Columnist - Money for Nothing -

All of which explains why we should be disturbed by an article in Sunday’s Times reporting that pay at investment banks, after dipping last year, is soaring again — right back up to 2007 levels.

Why is this disturbing? Let me count the ways.

First, there’s no longer any reason to believe that the wizards of Wall Street actually contribute anything positive to society, let alone enough to justify those humongous paychecks.
Scrappy Jack's World-Wide Theatricals and Dime Museum:

The first thing to hold in your mind when working with Shakespeare is that he wrote for the stage, not for the page. The Globe was open to the sun, half the audience was standing and the reverent, hushed atmosphere of today’s audience was something a player had to earn and fight to keep against great odds, not something assumed. For the actor, this translates simply to making the primary focus and scene partner not your fellow actor, but the audience immediately in front of you. It is not a job for psychological realism or imitative dexterity; it is a job for speaking clearly and standing still. The audience is directly addressed, of course, in the constant soliloquies and asides, but these moments are not departures from the world of the play but rather logical extensions.

When playing Shakespeare, you are never in Verona, never in Arden, never in Egypt, Rome or England. You are always on a stage, playing a role in front of an audience. This consciousness will both heighten the urgency of your speech and action and add a necessary freedom and critical distance to the degree of your role-playing. By not burying yourself in character, you remain free to engage in the larger wordplay and dramatic conceits of the language. While this understanding is blatantly essential when playing a fool or a rustic, it is no less necessary in the more subtle and complex roles. There is always an awareness in Shakespeare that another living being is watching and listening. To disregard this is as crippling as disregarding the rhythm and meter of iambic pentameter.

The Pirate Google: making the point that Google's as guilty of linking to torrents as The Pirate Bay - Boing Boing:

When The Pirate Bay was ordered shut down by the Swedish courts because it linked to infringing torrents on the Internet, many people pointed out that Google links to whole mountains' -- whole planets' -- worth of infringing stuff. Now, to make the point, comes The Pirate Google, a Google mashup that finds torrent files: "The intention of this site is to demonstrate the double standard that was exemplified in the recent Pirate Bay Trial. Sites such as Google offer much the same functionality as The Pirate Bay and other Bit Torrent sites but are not targeted by media conglomerates such as the IFPI as they have the political and legal clout to defend themselves unlike these small independent sites."

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Stranger | Slog | Sodom in Austin:

A better Rubber Rep show, apparently, was last year's Casket of Passing Fancy, in which the company offered an audience of 30 different "experiences." People would raise their hands when they heard an offer they liked: "Who would like to go on a road trip to Mexico leaving right now?" "Who would like to be blindfolded and dropped off in a part of town they don't know?" "Who would like to have his or her name tattooed on this actor's ass?" "Who would like to experience 'magical thinking'?" (That offer landed one game critic in a locked bathroom for two hours while she listened to her friend, who accepted a different "experience," arguing with three actors about why she shouldn't feel obliged to give them her underwear.)

The show happened last fall, but people keep bringing it up—it left a deep impression in the town's memory.
Saturated colour spectrum
GROGNARDIA: An Interview with Liz Danforth (Part I):

That said, I find World of Warcraft deeply engaging and interesting not only as my entertainment but also as a game design, an intellectual property, and a fingerpost to the way gaming will change in the future. I’m conducting some academic research, a byproduct of getting my masters degree, looking at what are called the 21st Century learning skills acquired in WoW that may transfer to real life. The core data isn’t coming together as strongly as I expected — it is excellent but not emphatic — but the anecdotal stories accompanying the survey put me in awe, frankly. People are getting a very great deal more out of the game than mindless entertainment, that’s for darn sure.
218/365 I can feel the sunshine

Saturday, April 25, 2009

PROMISES, PROMISES: Obama, Armenians and genocide - Kansas City Star:

Barack Obama was unequivocal during the campaign: As president, he would recognize the nearly century-old massacre of Armenians in Turkey as genocide.

In breaking that promise Friday, the president did the same diplomatic tiptoeing he criticized the Bush administration for doing.

Like George W. Bush before him, Obama did not want to alienate vital ally Turkey by declaring the slaughter of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians to be genocide - especially with Turkey and Armenia now exploring reconciliation.
A Sexy City has Cleavage
Best Mac Ever? Duh. SE/30. | 43 Folders:

The SE/30 (with a hard drive) was, pound for pound, the best Mac ever made. Not only was it when the Mac arrived as a serious tool for normal (albeit deep-pocketed) people, but it felt faster than homemade snot, and still had the awesome old-school form factor.

I liked using Ci’s and Cx’s and Fx’s and Quadras and whatnot, but no Mac ever brought the total package like the SE/30. In 1991, I laid the shit out of some PageMaker on my SE/30 and a big-ass Radius monitor. Good times.

If I could get away with it, I’d probably still be writing on one right now.
Bea Arthur Passes Away:

Bea Arthur, who memorably played Dorothy on "The Golden Girls," has died, reports the Associated Press. She was 86.

Arthur, known for her comedic chops and distinctive voice, won Emmys for "The Golden Girls" and "Maude." She also captured a Tony Award acting on the stage in the musical "Mame."
We're All Torturers Now:

After Abu Ghraib, the idea that prisoners could be stripped naked and humiliated, or terrorized by dogs, or piled up like Tinkertoys, was not just in the backs of our minds but also back on the table. Less than two years after we learned of the goings-on at Abu Ghraib, Congress had passed legislation legalizing many of the "alternative interrogation tactics"—the stress positions and sexual humiliations—that had so offended us months before. Prisoner abuse that flattened us in 2004 was normalized to the point that it was open to political debate only a year later. And once you have been desensitized to hoodings and nudity, is a little simulated drowning or being bounced off a wall really all that much worse?

The MPs caught abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib later claimed that they did so because they were merely following orders from superiors, orders to "soften up" the detainees who would then be more amenable to interrogation. I keep wondering whether they inadvertently softened up the rest of us as well. We have become so casual about torture that we now openly debate its efficacy—something nobody would have dared do in the first days after Abu Ghraib. The fight playing out between the left and the right now isn't "Did we water-board?" We already knew we did. It is barely even "Was it legal?" Virtually nobody seriously argues that it was. The fight we are having in America now is "Did it work?" And if we manage to persuade ourselves that torture does work, whether it's legal or even moral will no longer matter. And such tactics will never be able to horrify us again.
Parabasis: Todd Olson's Response To Mike Daisey:

I'd like to see a real test / demonstration of Mike's artist/staff hybrid positions in action. I think they can work. In fact, I'd argue this idea is the single most exciting and transformative proposition to emerge out of the echo chamber of the theatrosphere as long as I've known it: That even on the regional theater level, there is an alternative to the compartmentalization and over-specialization that results in the body of the theatre organization not talking to the mind, not talking to the heart, not talking to the feet. Yes, I'm referring to the production, performance, artistic/literary, and marketing departments there. Even more body parts available to be had in this metaphor!

A group of us who work in both large regional and small independent theaters in Chicago (I know, Isaac, groan) have been playing with hybridization - retraining performers and designers in particular to apply their performance and aesthetic skills creatively to marketing, development, education programs. But I'm talking about intensive training. We're teaching ourselves graphic design, web development, we're sharing information, we're getting each other freelance jobs that feed each other's growth. Like all ideas that emerge from a renaissance, this is happening on some level in all theaters, especially those that are embracing things like internet / social media dialogue and finding traction with them. What feels different to me - and needs to be measured, therefore - is this idea that you can both be paid to perform and be paid to market yourself in a theatrical organization at the same time - as if they are the same activity (which of course, they have been since before morality plays). That you can't have either without the other.

We're doing this on a small scale - one of our most lucrative and innovative education programs has actually been corporate training (e.g. actors teaching facebook and social networking seminars to corporations via the ideas of connection, dialogue, and trust).

But that's a local solution, and as Mike says, there is no magic pill solution that works for every market. Because this needs to be a conversation the entire industry needs to have together - and it seems clear from this exchange that some of us need the debate and some of us need to see the results - is it possible / likely to have a single organization or several TRY this and, basically, publish? So that the experiment can spread?
A spring poppy unfolding to bloom

Friday, April 24, 2009

Mannequin 'freaks out' City Council:

PORTSMOUTH — Fearing it may "freak out" pedestrians at Vaughan Mall, the City Council limited its approval of a local boutique shop owner's request to place a seated mannequin outside her store to three months, rather than one year.

"Have we allowed a chair with a mannequin on city property before?" said Councilor Eric Spear. "Because it kind of freaks me out actually."

Councilor Esther Kennedy shared the concern, "I kind of agree with Councilor Spear. It kind of freaks me out, too."
Turning Tide
The Fallible Infallible Executive:

It is very rare to get someone with the same stratospheric levels of arrogance and incompetence as you find in Dick Cheney. Let's go to the tape: A war launched on false premises, a trillion dollar debt in a period of growth, a destruction of America's moral standing, the loss of one major city (New Orleans) and the devastation of another (New York City), two horribly bungled military campaigns that have trapped his successors for decades, a political party decimated for a generation, his closest aide in jail for obstruction of justice, his own daughter and grand-child targeted by his own party as second-class citizens in the state they live in. And a war criminal. Did I miss anything?

Why is this man not laughed off every TV set he walks onto?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

I've received a response from Todd Olson of American Stage Theatre Company in Tampa Bay, which I've posted below.

A Challenge for All of Us Who Care About Theatre

Well, Mr. Daisey, I’m not sure that calling me artistically “dead,” “blind,” “a bigot”, “spiteful,” and an actor-hater is the way to honestly continue a discussion about breaking through to new, useful solutions, but let’s keep going anyway.

I agree, and thanks for agreeing to a discussion. I do have to say that if you want to address things I've said, please use more than a selection of adjectives yanked out of context and stapled next to each other—they look like pull quotes and have about as much content.

You’re very right, I think we are giving voice to things usually unsaid, so let’s push forward and see where we get.

Preface: Small Professional Theatres Are Not the Enemy

After considering your response, along with an article sent to me by former Seattle-based actor Larry Ballard which seemed inspired by, in large part, your writing and statements on the subject.

(The article being referred to can be read here.)

Much of your and Ballard’s ire was born from and directed at theatres like Seattle Rep and the Intiman (and amplified later at other similar LORT theatres). I have to say, if it were not clear before, these are SIGNIFICANTLY larger theatres than my own American Stage Theatre Company; The Intiman is six times the size of ASTC – and Seattle Rep is nine times our size. You ask how a theatre of that size could not afford to pay a wage higher than scale… and I completely agree with you. You ask why a theatre of that size cannot pay an actor more the longer that actor works for the theatre…and I also agree with you. With a $9 million budget I would surely find a way to achieve that.

I'm aware how much larger those theaters are than your theater. And I agree: the larger a theater is, the more resources they have, the more arts funding they soak up, and thus have a much larger responsibility in working for change, a responsibility the vast majority of all theaters are shirking.

And frankly, Mr. Ballard’s anecdotes about Rep Board members were embarrassing to me; part of my job as AD is to inform and, to some degree, school Trustees in what’s authentically important within a professional theatre, steering them away from less significant, tangential issues, and tasking them with more important work within the theatre. Ballard’s anecdotes reinforce my earlier suspicion that you, Mike, have had some terrible role models when it comes to not-for-profit leaders.

I can't speak for Laurence—we don't know each other well—but I've known some wonderful colleagues in leadership positions in the NFP world. Some of my favorite people in the world.

I do agree that an ADs job includes guiding the board, and that's why impressing upon ADs that the current system is unethical and corrosive toward creating the kind of theater we need in this country is so vitally important.

So, regardless of how I detail on these pages the financial and artistic challenges at ASTC, your anger and disgust at the actions of theatres-come-corporations will only ever be partially applicable to us. I think your disdain is mostly aimed at a kind of larger waste and misappropriation of resources that ASTC (and plenty medium-sized theatres like us) just don’t have.

Put simply, and not meaning to let myself off any hook, if I had nine times my current resources, there are plenty of problems I would solve differently, including artist compensation.

That's exactly right—we can't let ANYONE off the hook. All of us who work in the theater are implicated by the current system, and it's exactly why we need to fight for change on every level. If I started deciding to let people off the hook, to whom do I give passes? Small theaters? Myself? And why do I get to be the arbiter of who is and who is not fulfilling their duty?

No. Everyone is part of this ecosystem, and we need advocacy on every level. I have seen the story before of ADs moving up the career ladder who had the best of intentions, and seeing nothing change once they reached larger and larger theaters. I will not rely on good intentions any longer.

The truth is that the change is a cultural one, not an economic one—we need to value our people, and we don't: not equally or openly, and it hurts the theater terribly.

Part #1: Theatres Have Nothing Without Actors (Me Included)

I could just as easily called my challenge to you, “In Defense of Staff.” My missive was in direct response to what I gleaned from your words and performance to be a distinctly actor-centric AND anti-staff posture, a self-centeredness that I think is detrimental to better collaboration in our business (actors had been “removed from the premises”…certain departments had “replaced artists who once worked there”…you wished actors would “bitch-slap the staff members”…actors were “the working poor” whom you hoped would, “pierce [the staff’s] mantle of smug invulnerability”…education departments created work that was “thin, lifeless…disgusting” etc.) Not to mention dishing smack on Trustees, audiences, and “pathological” ADs like me. And I’m the one who “talks shit”?

Here's a lot more contextless words via selective quotation from multiple works.

I do think there's some fragments that can be gleaned from here: for example, you give as an example of self-centeredness my statement that actors are the working poor. Isn't that simply

Your words are at time classist, vaguely victim-y, and angrily dismissive of the contributions of any staff member who was not an actor. But maybe I just got everything out of context. Ok.

I do not understand how it can be "classist" to fight for the rights of migrant contract workers who make less than minimum wage.

And I don't know about "victim-y"—in case it is unclear, I don't work as an actor. I'm an independent artist—I don't work with or through the AEA.

This isn't about me. I am defending artists and advocating for their rights because of the unethical conditions I see around the country, and because it's ruining the American theater.

By the way, ALL the teaching artists at ASTC are actors with whom we’re flexible when they’re between acting gigs.

That sounds very commendable.

And do the Education Departments at all the LORT theatres where you work know that you think most of their work is “shit”, supported by grants “to keep [their] shitty programs alive”?

You may have noticed that I'm pretty public with my views—so yes, I think they know.

I've had education folks challenge me on this, and most of the time the ones that do are people who care enough that they're working hard to make things that don't suck, fighting against mandates from schools, theaters and a million directions. And in private conversation they often concur that most theater education programs are poorly implemented, tacked on, and do very little to expose students to actual theater that might actually inspire.

So I felt the strong need to stick up for these folks, and write a testament to all of the other staffs out there, but especially mine.

That's an understandable impulse. What's regrettable is that artists aren't considered part of your staff and your team, so that you'd be in a unified position of sticking up for all of them together as a family.

As you look at a country of failed theatres, you see over populated Development offices; I see Angela and ¾ of Shannon’s time (and that’s it). You see overgrown marketing offices; I see Andy and ¼ of Shannon’s time. We’re a dozen people doing the best we can. You say you know and appreciate what others do and my criticism was unfounded? Ok.

Since you've brought it up again, I'll say it one more time with feeling: I appreciate deeply what all my brothers and sisters in the American theater do. Being critical of your family's practices doesn't mean you hate your family or its members.

Actually, reading your response reminded me of a period in Nashville when I served as Associate Artistic Director and Director of Education for Tennessee Rep. On 9-11 we were half way through the run of WEST SIDE STORY. The building closed (it was also a government building), the adjoining parking garage was barricaded, and performances were cancelled. We lost about $30,000 that week alone. No one came downtown because they could no longer park, and our subscription campaign functionally ended as people stayed at home to see what would happen next. The big topic on our actor e-newsletter week was, “why can’t The Rep hire more local actors?” Talk about not “particularly good team members.”

That's absolutely terrible. I read online about your experiences at Tennessee Rep, and it sounds like an incredible ordeal for you and for the theater.

It certainly seems like bad timing to have a newsletter not have this as the top story, but this is all pretty anecdotal: maybe they didn't get the story in time, as 9/11 caught all of us off-guard. Did they really choose to lead with that article OVER the theater being shut down? That's hard to believe.

My response was, “because we’re dying here folks. We’re writing doomsday scenarios so we don’t declare bankruptcy. We’re trying to keep our doors open so we have jobs for you at all in the future.” Actors have a way of seeing their problem as the central issue at hand. In reality there are just many more moving parts than that.

The theater was in crisis after 9/11. And today, most theaters would say they are in crisis again.

But somehow there's always a crisis, isn't there? We now know that the last few years were a boom time, and if you look at the number of new buildings built in the American theater, that's clear. But while it was happening somehow there was never any money/time/energy for any work in these areas. Why? Because the American theater culture doesn't value artists. It doesn't value people. Until we work for change within that culture, change is impossible.

And may I say: the topic, "why can't The Rep hire more local actors?" is ALWAYS an excellent question, and one that regional theaters rarely have a good answer for.

So no, you’re right, despite some successes we’re “still not creating a sustained ongoing ensemble of artists or providing any kind of security or stability”…but our doors our open, we have less than 1% debt, we are slowly becoming more stable, we’ve vastly improved the staff and artist workplace conditions…and, at least for the near future, we won’t be the next Mill Mountain or Madison Rep or Coconut Grove or Jeune Lune or North Shore Music Theatre or…(keep filling in blanks). Right now, in this environment, there are just many more moving parts to address. Sorry.

It's nice to have the failure of regional theater to achieve what it set out to do actually acknowledged, and if more ADs did this, we'd start moving in the right direction.

The excuse doesn't wash, though—we have to make these issues a priority NOW, because they've been ignored too long, to everyone's loss.

I know how to preserve jobs for actors: stay open.

That's true, but only in the smallest way. We have to think larger than this: it's not enough to simply survive, and retrench year after year. If we do that, little by little our theatrical ecosystem is worn away by brain drain, talent drain, poverty, and infighting. We need to do more than survive.

And while I’m on the subject of preserving jobs for actors, can I get another thing out of the way…the notion that I disrespect or have contempt for actors. As it happens I just gave an interview around a production that I will be guest directing later this month where I was asked about my “concept” for this particular play. My reply is very like my larger philosophy of the actor’s place within the theatre organization: “a concept is only paper…it is actors that give those ideas life, so they are more than essential. They are the heart and the blood.” Any theatre has but two products: education/community engagement…and the product on stage. THAT’S how important and valued actors are to me personally, and to all of us at ASTC.

I think it's one art: education and community should be interwoven with what is happening on stage, but I get what you are saying.

Mike, this is an easy one: I’ve directed three to six plays every year for about 20 years; I’m sure there are actors with whom you can speak who can either verify or contradict your knee-jerk conclusion after knowing me for all of…one letter. If I have a regret with my job it’s that I don’t get to spend more time in the rehearsal hall actually making art with actors and writers and designers. You cannot be “shocked” (“SHOCKED!”) that an AD would flippantly make a joke about the Equity cot and then conclude my contempt for those artists without whom nothing I write would get performed, and nothing I want for our audiences would ever take shape. If we ever have the opportunity to work together, I would hope you would see my respect and devotion to the actor and their process immediately.

I didn't write those sentences, nor did I cherry-pick them to put that bias on display—you did that yourself.

And just so we're clear about some of my bona fides, my undergraduate and graduate degrees are in acting, and I have been a member of AEA for many years. I will hold my list of the part-time jobs I suffered through so I could practice my craft (waiter, paper delivery, paint mixer, short order cook, car parker, graveyard shift janitor, etc.) next to anyone’s. I pounded the pavement in NYC, headshots in hand, and lived below the poverty line for most of my 20’s. I know what an act of bravery exceptional acting is, and to what lengths actors must go to play the casting game. I appreciate both at a deep level.

That's great, but now you're management, and in the end this is about management and labor. Many times in management/labor disputes management will claim intense fellowship with labor—but when the rubber meets the road, I need to hold management accountable for what they are actually doing, not give them medals for having good intentions.

I feel squeamish comparing actor and staff compensation only because we’re in an industry where everyone seems underpaid; it feels like Depression babies trying to convince the other how bad THEY had it.

We all should feel squeamish about this, because the artists doing the lifting are paid and supported as migrant workers below minimum wage. No one is arguing that staff members in theaters make good money—they don't. They suffer for the art as well. But that doesn't change the lack of commitment that theaters show to artists, and the strength they would take if they created ongoing dedicated relationships with artists whom they put on staff.

Only three of our 13 staff positions are at or above what others in their positions make in like theatres (as per TCG), and ten are below (anywhere between 8-37% less than their counterparts), and it’s taken me years to get them this close to those national averages. ADs at other theatres like ours earn about 24% more than I do.

Sidebar: Mike, why would you allow your play to be produced at a theatre who paid their actors $50 per show? Doesn’t that simply go against everything you believe in relative to “stability, salaries, and health insurance”? Are you not in some way enabling the “boss–field hand” relationship, to use your own analogy?

Everyone at Annex gets paid $50 per show—and by show, I mean the entire production. That includes the playwright, staff members, actors, designers—everyone. So I think I'm probably enabling communism or anarchy more than a master/slave relationship.

I can tell from the myriad blogs this discussions has spawned that it drives actors crazy when I point out that in a small way they enjoy something that most other theatre workers don’t:

I think what's aggravating most people is that you're directly comparing a migrant worker job with deeply unstable, broken employment rates against the much greater stability and respect of staff positions. The "benefits" don't seem so very great in that light. I also don't think people appreciated how you were speaking about artists. most actors earn what they’re worth? No. But they are protected by a union in myriad ways and receive contributions to their pension, unlike any other employees here; that 39% payment on top of their weekly salary is not an insignificant expense. AEA actors can also work about a third of a year and receive health coverage for 12 months (much better than any staff plan). AEA stage managers make more than many on my staff, and for a while some staff here did not earn what AEA actors earned. And not everyone on staff gets annual salaries (some are seasonal), and some, sadly, do not receive health coverage at all.

Once again you're directly comparing an itinerant journeyman field of migrant workers against stable employment within a community. It's a senseless direct comparison.

And speaking of which, you say very confidently that my Marketing, Development and Education Directors have “stability, salaries, and health insurance.” As it happens our Ed Director does not; she’s an actress who gets her insurance…through AEA. Our DD gets her insurance through her husband’s business. Our Company Manager does the same with his wife’s job. Why? Because all of these other health packages are better than the package the theatre can afford.

I think it's GREAT that you've already taken a small step in a direction that I would strongly endorse—you have a working artist on your staff now as the Education Director. It's a small but significant one, and more than many larger theaters have done.

It's unfortunate that your health insurance is so poor—I had assumed you wouldn't have a $4 million dollar fundraising campaign for a new building if you weren't happy with your employees' health insurance.

That’s right Mike: your health insurance is better than anyone’s on my staff, and you have to work 20 weeks to get it.

Just to be clear again: I'm an independent artist in the American theater. I'm not an actor and I don’t get my insurance through AEA.

And at the next staff meeting I’ll remind everyone how stable they are, and how lucky they are to have the not-for-profit salary we provide them. Our Education Director took at 30% pay cut in the last budget process; I took a 5% pay cut. No one got even cost of living raises (AEA actors did). Development is still significantly below TCG which puts us at significant risk; if a person has fundraising or marketing savvy these days they don’t usually work at a nfp. I’ve gone through three development leaders and three Marketing Directors in six years either because they moved on to something that paid much more, or they were incapable of the daunting workload that such a one-person department requires.

This is part of the talent and brain drain I'm talking about in the American theater. If theaters worked with their artists—which does not just mean actors, but includes playwrights, designers, directors and more—and created positions that involved the artists directly they could begin tapping into our talent pool and getting employees that have a reason to make an ongoing commitment to live theater, which would help immensely in keeping us from losing folks over and over again. I see this all over the country.

Sometimes I think about stability in the arts and I think we all picked the wrong profession.

I think all the professionals in the American theater feel that very, very often.

I have moved 40+ times to follow work as an actor, then director, and now Artistic Director. I have moved twice since starting a family; I have three children, each born in a different region of the country. I may have to move again some day if I ever want to earn more than I do now (maybe Joe Dowling will retire and give up his $697,000 salary?) I took a 4/5 cut in pay to go back to school to gain more skills and connections. My first AD position out of school I resigned for what I thought were excruciating work circumstances. I was downsized and artistically homeless after 9/11. I have been in one place for six seasons…and I feel like the luckiest man in the business.

Congratulations on being in a place where you feel lucky—that's great. I think most people's journey through the American theater looks at least this tumultuous, if not more so. I'm fighting to give the artists who are not Artistic Directors a chance to enjoy a small part of the stability you have, and I believe if we can do that, we'll have a stronger and more vibrant theater to show for it.

For example, it is nearly impossible for a working actor in the system today to have even one child. You have three, and you get to be with them as they grow up, and care for them. That seems like a basic human right we should be working toward in the theater for our artists, and yet it is on no institutional radar whatsoever.

Stability and security…are relative, and the grass is not always greener.

That's true...but in this specific case, between staff and artists in the American theater today, it's actually cut and dried.

Part #2: One Quick Response Before the Challenge

My sidebar to American Theatre magazine (which you called a “creepy threat”) was only wondering aloud why AT, a chronicler of the state of regional theatre and, to some degree, dependant on revenues from those same theatres, would so openly champion a person who has built his recent career, in part, on the accusations of regional theatre’s failings. Maybe they want to stir it up a bit, provide matter for debate. They have that right, of course. But AT should also know that we who work so hard to make theatres work resent the notion and are allowed to say so, just as you are allowed to say otherwise. I’m quite sure our checks to TCG over the years have not failed.

I do question AT in other ways too. A quick example: recently four artistic directors from around the Tampa Bay area got together to compare notes; how were we all doing in this economy and were we learning anything that would be helpful to others? You know what we found out? We were all doing really well, and for different reasons. So I thought it might be a worthy idea to tell the story of this one community that seems to be bucking a national trend. I sent it to AT and heard next to nothing. Maybe AT will run that story some day, but this month they’re running with a play about men and rape, the state of the art in Abu Dhabi, and all the professional theatres that have closed recently. And you. I guess our successes are less sexy than our failings. But I’ll keep looking for that good news.

I can't speak for American Theatre magazine, which I've had some pretty serious disagreements with myself—to say the least, we don't always agree. I don't know why they didn't want to run your story—you should ask them directly.


I began to put together the various facts and stats you questioned and/or requested, namely the results of our last audience survey (gender and income breakdown), info on our After Hours series, plenty of thoughts on how a libertarian tip toes through the challenging transitions we have had over the past 24 months (and can still stand upright), and how we raised $4 million. But I thought we might be getting ahead of ourselves.

I don’t discount out of hand your detailed counter offer to my relatively simple challenge, though I’m sure you can appreciate what it means to provide anyone with complete access to files, records, staff, artists, Board, and community.

I appreciate it—it's a big step, a huge one. If you're not prepared to make it, that's your choice, but I wouldn't think you'd expect any kind of a substantive answer from me without data.

Maybe if we were drowning in red ink and needed wholesale reinvention from top to bottom, and maybe if we had the opportunity to lay ourselves bare to a consultant with a long reputation of successful organizational turn arounds…I would be quicker to complete this handshake with you.

So I’m pausing, but only for the moment.

But this pause should in no way preclude you from at least addressing my challenge, even philosophically, before you get the keys to our building:

So your terms now are that I still have to answer all the original questions, without any of my own questions answered?

What the hell. Let me see what I can do.

-Can you at least tell me what salary above the AEA-prescribed scale you think it’s fair for an AD to budget for actors (this year AEA scale for SPT-6 theatres is $357/wk)?

In brief, I think you need to be thinking about creating staff/artist hybrid positions, to some degree similar to what you have already begun in the education department. You currently have two working artists on staff: yourself and the education director. Over time you should extend this to more working artists, making them part of your ensemble, and seeking out extremely talented individuals who are willing to make long-term commitments to your theater.

The question of AEA salary levels is a red herring—I'm looking for much deeper change than this, and so are the artists of the American theater.

-Because you and Mr. Ballard seem to think that by reducing all ticket prices to $15 (or pay-what-you-can…even though we have found that on those nights ticket revenues average only about $9 per ticket), that young people and others will then fill theatres everywhere, I think it’s fair in this challenge to reduce single ticket income by at least 55%, or about $336,000. Can you give me any ideas on how you might make that sum up?

I do believe that ticket price is a huge barrier to larger theatrical attendance, but what theaters can do to change that paradigm varies from community to community and is highly individual. It's backwards to simply hack the ticket price by 55% without changing any of the programming—we're talking about the core assumptions of your theater. Affordable ticket prices grow out of designing for them with that as a goal, and I think changing nothing EXCEPT your ticket price would be a great way to get your ass kicked.

I'd recommend a capital campaign to raise money to create lockboxed endowments to pay for these ensemble artist positions. This insulates your artists against economic shocks, and since they will in time be the backbone of your theater it will help ensure that their salaries don't get shaved down when times are tough.

The system is similar to endowed chairs at colleges, and development directors everywhere have ample examples and models to use in fundraising and structuring—they don't currently do this because it isn't a priority in the American theater. It must be.

-Attached is our organizational chart. This year the cost for 12 full-time staff and 3 part-time staff members is $452,215. I want to know if you see any fat or redundancies in our staff model that might offset the adjustments above.

Actually, if the capital campaign is successful your staff costs will go down year over year, as the endowment will grow to cover them. Instead of playing a zero-sum game where the world is constantly shrinking, your yearly budget will eventually have the room to take on new challenges.

On any of these subjects, if you could, even in the most philosophical way, talk about how you would bridge these chasms or restructure for better workability. If you can then let’s consider your consultancy begun. My promise to you is, if your answers sound like there is a hint of promise worth pursuing (and budget work started Monday, so I’m up for all good suggestions), I will enter into this relationship more, just as you suggested.

The broadest strokes are outlined above, and there are more incremental steps that I think should be taken sooner, which can be implemented within a year to begin the process of change. If we continue to work together I'd evaluate what I determined would be necessary and make recommendations per my original conditions.

Attached is our organizational chart, the TCG salary survey comparing our salaries to all other theatres our size, and last year’s budget complete with all worksheets (strictly an internal document). My hope is that you would keep these as reasonably confidential as I would expect from any consultant.


And let's not get bent out of shape about the nature of budgets. Of course theatre is not commodifiable, but it must be quantifiable; every artistic decision IS a financial decision. The first step in the budgeting process is to identify our dreams for the coming year, and then find a way to support and actualize them. It may be “just business” but it’s one of those processes that make art possible. When it works, it is a kind of art in and of itself; and when great art doesn’t have it, it crashes.

Well said. But the dream itself is not commodifiable, and it must never be—the struggle is to rise above it, not by ignoring the world but by responding to it.

I believe when ticket prices rise and rise we're doing the opposite of fiscal management—we're ignoring the truth of what our culture at large is willing to pay. When we cannot find audiences it is often because we are ignoring what our culture is compelled to witness. We need to dissolve the boundaries between artists and staff so that true theatrical ensembles can thrive.

I'm trying to get the American theater to dream a new dream for itself—a larger one, more inclusive of the people who work within it, that respects their sacrifices and works together for cultural relevancy, dramatic imagination, and the living moment. We all need change, and we need it badly.

And to all in the blogosphere, we are not precious about good and helpful ideas, so if there are any out there…

Thank you Mike.

Todd Olson
Producing Artistic Director
American Stage Theatre Company