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10 Ways For Theatres To Save Themselves

Discussion in 'Stage Management and Facility Operations' started by DaveySimps, Oct 21, 2008.

  1. DaveySimps

    DaveySimps CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    I came across the article below the other day. A bunch of us here at the theatre were out to dinner last night and started talking about it, and how it might apply to our area (Metro Detroit). I was just curious what everyone on CB thinks about the points the article brings up.

    ~Dave

    Ten Things Theaters Need to Do Right Now to Save Themselves - Theater - The Stranger, Seattle's Only Newspaper
     
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2008
  2. lieperjp

    lieperjp Well-Known Member

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    Very interesting!

    A few comments:

    FINALLY! Someone else who is SICK OF SHAKESPEARE. Seriously. I know it sounds odd to be an English major who greatly dislikes Shakespeare, but it IS overdone, it IS often done poorly, and it IS time to put:
    But hey, if it puts people in the seats, why not go for it. Most people will go to a Shakespeare play, especially if abridged or modernized. Personally, I'm bored by the end of Act 1, and so are a lot of people, most won't admit it, though, because they're always taught that Shakespeare is THE ultimate playwright.

    I never thought about offering child care at a theatre before. The idea is a good one, I think. If parents don't have to find, hire, and pay a babysitter other than the cost of tickets, that would work out well.

    Building bars... I would disagree when he says to pump the patrons with booze, but seriously, a bar/tavern atmosphere in a comfortable, "arty" location should work in a lot of areas.

    The article provided a lot of food for thought.
     
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2008
  3. Van

    Van CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    Let me post a quick reply of, "look it's another hipster doofus with a writing gig for a "fringe" paper." I'll follow that up with some well thought out criticism in a couple o' hours.
     
  4. DaveySimps

    DaveySimps CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    Looking forward to the follow up.

    ~Dave
     
  5. bdkdesigns

    bdkdesigns Active Member Fight Leukemia

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    Woohoo, grad school is worthless for me!

    Actually, I don't agree with that. What I have learned here has been invaluable to me. Even if you take away getting to work on a new system install, I wouldn't want to trade this opportunity.
     
  6. philhaney

    philhaney CBMod CB Mods

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    Methinks the article should be more appropriately named "10 Ways For Fringe Theatres To Save Themselves."
     
  7. Van

    Van CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    Below are my responses to an article that recently ran in “The Stranger”, a weekly, from Seattle. The opinions represented here are mine and mine alone.
    -Van J. McQueen

    Just as an aside, I spell-checked my work, the errors present were cut and pasted from the original online article. - VJM


    October 7, 2008
    Theater
    Ten Things Theaters Need to Do Right Now to Save Themselves
    In No Particular Order
    by Brendan Kiley

    Robert Ullman
    1. Enough with the god****ed Shakespeare already. The greatest playwright in history has become your enabler and your crutch, the man you call when you're timid and out of ideas. It's time for a five-year moratorium—no more high schoolers pecking at Romeo and Juliet, no more NEA funding for Shakespeare in the heartland, and no more fringe companies trying to ennoble themselves with Hamlet. (Or with anything. Fringe theater shouldn't be in the game of ennobling, it should be in the game of debasement.) Stretch yourself. Live a little. Find new, good, weird plays nobody has heard of. Teach your audiences to want surprises, not pacifiers.

    I would be interested in learning exactly how many Shakespeare pieces Mr. Kiley has actually seen. Perhaps he doesn’t want to fund Shakespeare in American Communities, but as an employee of a Theatre that received a rather significant grant from the NEA for doing just that, touring A Mid Summers Night Dream through 7 western States and Hawaii with a troupe of American and Vietnamese actors, I say, “Let there be MORE funding!” Who is to say doing Hamlet isn’t “stretching” oneself. A well balanced diet of the weird and the expected is good for the souls.

    2. Tell us something we don't know. Every play in your season should be a premiere—a world premiere, an American premiere, or at least a regional premiere. Everybody has to help. Directors: Find a new play to help develop in the next 12 months. Actors: Ditto. Playwrights: Quit developing your plays into the ground with workshop after workshop after workshop—get them out there. Critics: Reward theaters that risk new work by making a special effort to review them. Unions, especially Actors' Equity: You are a problem. Fringe theaters are the research-and-development wing of the theater world, the place where new work happens—but most of them can't afford to go union, so union actors are stuck in the regional theaters, which are skittish about new work and early-career playwrights. You must break this deadlock by giving a pass to union actors to work in nonunion houses, if they are working on new plays.

    Where has Mr. Kiley been? What theatres is he attending? This year alone we at Artists Rep are producing; Two world premieres, Three West Coast premieres, Two Oregon premieres, One Portland premiere, An Olivier Award winner, A first play by an award-winning Portland author and a new adaptation by a Tony Award winning playwright. In addition to these facts Play development is where it’s at. The funding is good, and lots of people like to be in on “the Creative Process”.
    “Playwrights: Quit developing your plays into the ground with workshop after workshop after workshop—get them out there.” Um, Mr. Kiley, work-shopping is how you “get them out there”. As to the last point in this paragraph of misstatements, Actors Equity Union has been allowing Members to perform at Fringe Festivals, and Non-Union Houses for decades, and in certain cities, such as Portland Umbrella contracts exist that basically only require that the actor inform the union that they are working.


    3. Produce dirty, fast, and often. Fringe theaters: Recall that 20 years ago, in 1988, a fringe company called Annex produced 27 plays, 16 of them world premieres—and hang your heads in shame. This season, Annex will produce 10 plays, 4 of them world premieres, which is still pretty good. Washington Ensemble Theatre will only produce three plays, one of them a world premiere. (An adaptation of... Shakespeare!) What else happened in 1988? Nirvana began recording Bleach—and played a concert at Annex Theatre. By the next year, Nirvana was on their first world tour. The lesson: Produce enough new plays and Kurt Cobain will come back from the grave and play your theater.

    I can only respond by characterizing it; “Produce Crap, poorly, and a lot of it.” If a poor little rich kid heroin addict is your idea of an Artistic Savior…..perhaps your not worth saving.

    4. Get them young. Seattle playwright Paul Mullin said it best in an e-mail last week: "Bring in people under 60. Do whatever it takes. If you have to break your theater to get young butts in seats, then do it. Because if you don't, your theater's already broke—the snapping sound just hasn't reached your ears yet."

    It’s all well and good for Seattle playwright Paul Mullin to say such a thing, wait a minute, Who? Yes it’s the goal to get kids and younger folk to start attending the theatre. It’s the bigger goal to get the younger folks in AND keep the older moneyed folks in at the same time. You are not going to do that by producing “fringe” schlock that consists of acid hardcore techno blaring from speakers while a naked man screaming beat poetry into a microphone is fellated by a woman covering in peanut butter and chocolate, and calling it “Art”. Breaking the theatre to preserve it sounds not dissimilar to the Bush plan of “Fixing the government” by de-funding every department and then calling them broken and contracting for those services through KBR.

    5.Offer child care. Sunday school is the most successful guerrilla education program in American history. Steal it. People with young children should be able to show up and drop their kids off with some young actors in a rehearsal room for two hours of theater games. The benefits: First, it will be easier to convince the nouveau riche (many of whom have young children) to commit to season tickets. Second, it will satisfy your education mission (and will be more fun, and therefore more effective, for the kids). Third, it will teach children to go to the theater regularly. And they'll look forward to the day they graduate to sitting with the grown-ups. Getting dragged to the theater will shift from punishment to reward.

    This is not a half bad Idea! I actually agree, as a parent and a professional working in the theatre I would love to see more families get out for an evening at a show. I think the implementation might be a little more difficult than expressed as definitely, in the short term, it will be an added expense to the bottom line to employ state licensed, qualified child care. Providing anything else would be foolish and asking for a lawsuit in this society.

    6. Fight for real estate. In 1999, musician Neko Case broke up with Seattle, leaving us for Chicago. (It still hurts, Neko.) When asked why in an interview, she explained, "Chicago is a lot friendlier, especially toward its artists. Seattle is very unfriendly toward artists. There's no artists' housing—they really like to use the arts community, but they don't like to put anything back into the arts community." Our failure abides. Push government for cheap artists' housing and hook up with CODAC, a committee that wants developers on Capitol Hill—and, eventually, everywhere—to build affordable arts spaces into their new condos. (CODAC's tools of persuasion: tax, zoning, and business incentives.) Development smothers artists, who can't afford the rising property values that they—by turning cheap neighborhoods into trendy arts districts—helped create. To get involved with CODAC, e-mail [email protected].

    Two in a row!!! I’m behind this wholeheartedly! As a matter of fact I would even go so far as to back a plan for Federal and State Tax Credits for anyone working in the Entertainment Industry as I believe the services they provide to the Public far outweigh the minor amount of compensation they are allowed by most theatres.

    7. Build bars. Alcohol is the only liquid on earth that functions as both lubricant and bonding agent. Exploit it. Treat your plays like parties and your audience like guests. Encourage them to come early, drink lots, and stay late. Even the meanest fringe company can afford a tub full of ice and beer, and the state of regional- theater bars is deplorable: long lines, overpriced drinks, and a famine of comfortable chairs. Theaters try to "build community" with postplay talkbacks and lectures and other versions of you've spent two hours watching my play, now look at me some more! You want community? Give people a place to sit, something to talk about (the play they just saw), and a bottle. As a gesture of hospitality, offer people who want to quit at intermission a free drink, so they can wait for their companions who are watching act two. Just take care of people. They get drinks, you get money, everybody wins. Tax, zoning, and liquor laws in your way? Change them or ignore them. Do what it takes.

    Ok, “two outta three ain’t bad”. Where do we start with this one? Um, it’s reckless, irresponsible and illegal-
    Tax, zoning, and liquor laws in your way? Change them or ignore them”
    WHAT? Did you just say IGNORE Tax, Zoning, and Liquor Laws? Non-Profit Theatres exist at the whim of The People, we above all else should understand that the rule of law applies especially to us, it is our duty to call attention, through our Art to injustices, and abuses of power, that is the very nature of what we do. To suggest, even for a moment that we liquor people up and let the have a party every night whether we have a liquor license or not speaks volumes as to the morals of the author and perhaps should be taken into consideration when weighing the validity of his other statement contained in this article.

    8. Boors' night out. You know what else builds community? Audience participation, on the audience's terms. For one performance of each show, invite the crowd to behave like an Elizabethan or vaudeville audience: Sell cheap tickets, serve popcorn, encourage people to boo, heckle, and shout out their favorite lines. ("Stella!") The sucky, facile Rocky Horror Picture Show only survives because it's the only play people are encouraged to mess with. Steal the gimmick.

    Yes, then let’s sing madrigals with a “hey nonny, nonny, and a ha, ha, ho.”, because there is nothing more enjoyable for a professional entertainer than being heckled and having stuff thrown at them. Perhaps Mr. Kiley would care to come clean the theatre after a “regular” night crowd leaves? I can only imagine the condition of a theatre after he leaves one

    9. Expect poverty. Theater is a drowning man, and its unions—in their current state—are anvils disguised as life preservers. Theater might drown without its unions, but it will certainly drown with them. And actors have to jettison the living-wage argument. Nobody deserves a living wage for having talent and a mountain of grad-school debt. Sorry.

    “Physician Heal Thyself”, because you have accepted a position at an “edgy” weekly publication that, if it’s like similar ones here in Portland, compensates you by getting you theatre tickets for free so you can then review for the paper, and it helps build your portfolio so someday you can make it big by working at The Intelligencer but in the meantime you’ll work for Powell’s books re-shelving peoples misplaced unwanted’s, just because you have given up don’t think to drag others down to your level.

    10. Drop out of graduate school. Most of you students in MFA programs don't belong there—your two or three years would be more profitable, financially and artistically, out in the world, making theater. Drama departments are staffed by has-beens and never-weres, artists who might be able to tell you something worthwhile about the past, but not about the present, and certainly not about the future. Historians excepted—art historians are great. If things don't turn around, they may be the only ones left.

    Flunk out much? Bitter? I’ve known some institutional types who were as described, but they are easily identifiable and any actor or technician worthy of continuing in the profession. If one has done ones research this type of staffing shouldn’t be an issue. As far as not knowing about the future and only about the past, I can’t even begin to address the stupidity of such a statement; Where does Mr Kiley think “the Greats” got there start, Do you think Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Gary Sinese, Jon Malkovich, would be where they are today if they hadn’t gone to Grad school? How does he think they met, when did they start their collaborative process, how did they learn to work well with others?
    I originally described my feelings about this article by describing the author as a “Hipster Doofus”. I stand by this assertion. Someone I feel most of his opinions personify the old adage “ A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”
     
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2008
  8. What Rigger?

    What Rigger? I'm so fly....I Neverland.

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    Can I get an "AMEN!" for brother Van?
     
  9. DaveySimps

    DaveySimps CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    AMEN. Much of what he wrote was echoed in our converstations last night at dinner.

    ~Dave
     
  10. garyvp

    garyvp Active Member

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    Not too relevant for community theater:
    1. Shakespeare - we do one every ten years.....R&J didi well, MSND was a bomb.
    2. New work don't fly with our subscribers.......and they keep us alive; mostly old standards and recently contemporary stuff.
    3. We do nine shows a year and have the right space to pull it off. At a point in time we have one show in production and two in rehearsal.
    4. Get them young - we score very high here. Whilst regular members tend to be older, we have many young cast members - ten years and north. We also have children's theatre.
    5. Child care - nope
    6. Real estate - nope
    7. Bars - agree with this conceptually - we sell beer and wine and have many post performance cast parties. Can't push this too far.
    8. Boring - no way
    9. Poverty - the beauty of community theatre is that most of the performers are either wanabes or failed (at professional) actors and tend to have real jobs and just act for fun; they really enjoy it. No unions or even paid staff, all volunteer.......we have lots of cash and a great venue.
    10. MFA - most of our actors who trained for this are MFAs - not sure what is gets them in the theater as none do this for a living.

    I don't know how real theaters survive.

    Gary
     
  11. gafftapegreenia

    gafftapegreenia CBMod CB Mods

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    Van: Word.
     
  12. Grog12

    Grog12 CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    While I understand Van's points...for the first time I don't wholeheartedly agree. Here's why in a nutshell and if I get a chance to come back and digress further I will.

    Theatre is losing its edge. It is becoming stale because Artistic Directors are afraid to take chances. For every Artists Rep producing 8 premiers there are 10 other companies who are premiering nothing and sticking with Annie, R&J, Glass Menagerie and West Side Story because they put butts in the seats.


    The best theatre I have seen in the past ten years is either been at Fringe Festivals, or at Small Proffesional Community theatres that produce their own works.

    Yes we need money to survive. But god****it we are artists. From the lowliest technician to the highest paid actor/designer/technician and we need to remember that. Our job is to excite the senses, create conterversy and entertain. I want people walking out of my shows with a lasting memory of what they've seen. I want them to talk for weeks about it. Not because we did some stupid concept piece of R&J that has absolutley nothing to do with the script and people spend weeks trying to figure out what we were forcing on it; but because it was something exciting that touched on their lives.

    And Van...you know I have the love for you..but for a moment I'm channeling Derek...not all the errors present are from the original article ;)
     
  13. Van

    Van CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    That's ok Grog. I'll go back and double check errors. I thought I got all mine.
    I agree with you about pushing the audience, but it's such a delicate dance you simply cannot alienate your base. We took a huge hit a couple of years ago when we produced The Goat, we took a bit of one this year producing Blackbird and that's even with our very tolerant base. And while I agree we are artists, and we do need to do productions that stretch our abilities and talents, I think thumbing our noses at Traditional Stock, which is my take on Mr. Kileys statements, is cutting off our noses to spite our face.
    I think Fringe Theatre is an excellent venue to do the kinds of things we want to do, but this leads into a pet peeve of mine. Just because we want to do it doesn't mean people want to see it and we are, after all in a business. I think my Left wing leanings are well documented on here and in other place, but this is one area where I feel "Corporatism" is a very good thing. My feel is that Fringe works should be produced under the auspices of extremely strong well funded established regional, or even smaller Theatres. I feel a big issue in our business is that everyone who doesn't want play nice with others decides to create there own little theatre. This behavior tends to suck up funding and create divisive rifts in communities. Imagine a town with two or three strong large theatres that can afford to then fund smaller productions produced in studio spaces and with the support of a real staff. It's sort of a dream of mine, and I have heard a lot of the arguments to the contrary; " Yeah but then only some stuff gets produced, by whoever is kissing the ADs butt...." Maybe, that is a scenario but I feel that most people in our business know how to play the games, and I trust most ADs to do the right thing.
    I'm gonna go check my post again Thanks for the feedback, and know that I agree with you in principle.
     
  14. Grog12

    Grog12 CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    The sad thing Van is I also agree with you and know you're right. This falls under the same hat category as my technician/designer rant.

    Basically I know what we are and what we should be...Money is a reality in our buisness,and usually an unfortuante one.
     
  15. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

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    Not trying to denigrate anyone here, but didn't we have a similar discussion when we compared [user]Van[/user]'s Artists Rep season with that of [user]Icewolf08[/user]'s Pioneer Theatre Company? Not saying one is "better" than another, but the two are widely diverse. I would suggest Artists doing a "classic" and Pioneer presenting a "premiere." Of course, if either is a box office failure, what is the point of doing a show that no one attends?

    The most important word in "Show Business" is the latter.
    :)
     
  16. philhaney

    philhaney CBMod CB Mods

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    Yah, we have a saying at the Renaissance Faire, "Money maketh the shire go round."
     
  17. Van

    Van CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    Again I agree wholeheartedly! We do "classics" every once in a while, but the higher ups tend to shy away from what I would consider to be "cash Cows". I've brought up doing 1940's Radio Hour for the last couple of years, great music that everybody loves, good clean comedy, "bring 'em home" sentiment...... the response? Too many actors, too much money to hire a band. We have really long runs, typically 6 weeks, and Equity contracts do get expensive, as do the Musicians unions'. But I always counter with, what does it matter what it costs if its sold out every night?
    Usually when we do a classic we do a new adaptation, such as Chekhov's Three Sisters the original adaptation of which is being done by Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy Letts. < had to plug that donchaknow?>
     

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