Theater

Ten Things Theaters Need to Do Right Now to Save Themselves

In No Particular Order

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Robert Ullman

1. Enough with the goddamned 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.

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.

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.

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."

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.

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 frank.video@seattle.gov.

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.

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.

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.

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.

 

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Posted by LENA BRICK on May 23, 2014 at 3:57 PM · Report this
279
Hello, mrj742! Carolyn here, or as my mother sometimes calls me: Carolina. I am really glad that you care about diversity in casting — and while it’s true that my skin not as dark it was when I was living under California sun — last time I checked I wasn’t white. My mother didn’t learn Spanish because her parents were afraid of discrimination in the small town in Texas where they raised their kids; I am bummed that I missed out on the chance to be truly bi-lingual but I love that as an adult, I can explore my connection to Latin American culture through my chosen medium: theatre. So, you are upset by me playing a role because according to you: I am not hispanic enough. I cannot even count how many times I have heard from directors after auditions something to the effect of: “We really wanted to work with you, but we just needed a blond for this role.” Or: “We just didn’t know what to do with your look.” Or “You just didn’t fit in with the family dynamic we’re trying to create.” Okay...so I am not white enough to be the girl next door and not Hispanic enough to play Marisol? Where DO I fit in then? And what does a small theatre company do when they don’t have an actual Puerto Rican gal from NY for a role like Marisol? Not only can they not afford to hire out of town, but then (oh, boy!) we have to have a conversation about taking work away from local actors.

There's a lot to talk about.
Posted by CMM on February 28, 2014 at 1:22 PM · Report this
Robert Patrick 278
It would also be very helpful if the theatres were not dependent on the success of the plays for survival, i.e., if they were dinner theatres or coffeehouse theatres which made their living selling food and drink. Audiences which would not go near a play will drop by for dinner and watch a show if there is one. In my particular environment, Los Angeles, the most sensible thing a theater could do would be to have free onsite parking. People would come no matter what the show if they saw a sign reading, "FREE PARKING THEATRE."
Posted by Robert Patrick http://robertpatrick.wordpress.com/2009/05/28/a-strain-of-laughter/ on February 28, 2014 at 9:55 AM · Report this
277
Once again, we have the argument that actors shouldn't be paid for our work, we should do it for the love. But if we are rehearsing 8 hours a day, 6 days a week (then going home and spending another 3, 4 hours on our "homework," (which we DO), then doing 8 shows a week,that is a full-time job.
(You COULD go with the 99-Seat model they have in L.A. But then you cannot fine an actor for tardiness, or prevent him/her from taking another, better-paying job, even on opening night.)
You say actors don't deserve to be paid simply based on talent. But isn't that why anyone, anywhere, in any profession, is hired? Nepotism aside, aren't most employees brought on board because of their ability to do the job? That ability comes from experience and, yes, education. Many people, in many professions, enjoy their jobs. Does that mean THEY shouldn't get paid? Is hating your job a prerequisite for compensation? And would you ask the directors, designers, playwrights, stage managers, administrators, and artistic directors to work for free (or very little money?) Sure, you could get a bunch of inexperienced, bad actors, but your shows are going to tank.
The fact is, 98% of actors are not working at an acting job at any given time. The majority of us work other jobs between (and often in conjunction with) acting gigs. Is it REALLY too much to ask that we get paid when we are giving you our time, energy, and resources? We are doing a JOB, and, yes, we DESERVE to be paid for doing that JOB.
Posted by Alyzu on February 27, 2014 at 1:31 PM · Report this
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Sorry Brendan. I forced myself to get past your utterly pretentious (and inaccurate) headline to scan some of your ideas and they seem to be that of someone rather young and limited in perspective.

Theatre doesn't need "saving". It has existed and thrived for as long as human beings have existed and it has adapted itself to every age and generation.

Apparently you cannot imagine "theater" as being anything other than Shakespeare and mainstream institutions and dedicated stages for "old" people. It isn't. "Theater" is a performance experience, which means it's YouTube and movies and Netflix series and sidewalk improv and more.

And it's doing quite well.

The problem isn't theater; it's people's narrow definition of theater that's the problem.
Posted by CEashe on February 27, 2014 at 11:08 AM · Report this
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ss
Posted by CEashe on February 27, 2014 at 10:57 AM · Report this
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Easier link (since HTML isn't allowed) www.ibj.com/arts
Posted by Lou Harry ibj.com/arts on February 26, 2014 at 8:25 AM · Report this
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Responded on my blog. Thanks for the provocation: http://www.ibj.com/lou-harrys-ae-2014-02…
Posted by Lou Harry/IBJ.com/arts on February 26, 2014 at 8:23 AM · Report this
272
It's too bad Mr. Kiley was so indelicate in his commentary, because much of what he says is actually quite correct. American theater today faces a host of challenges, most of which can be categorized under "Supply" or "Demand". On the "Demand" side, we have a government that has provided effectively zero support for the arts (I think this discussion is equally applicable to theater, dance, classical and opera). We have public schools that place the arts at the top of the go-to budget cut list (if they have any arts programs at all). And Broadway, our biggest stage, is a for-profit entity - unlike almost every other stage in the country - teaching people that anything on stage needs to be an adaptation of a film that came out at some point in the last 30 years. And that's just a partial list.

On the supply side, we have colleges and universities churning out class after class of graduates (at both the BFA and MFA levels) with no hope of ever earning a living in the field. And lets admit it - while many faculty are high-quality and incredibly engaged, many...aren't. Some of those graduates are exceptionally talented, but it won't matter. They're lost in a sea of other faces. Many others have little talent, and will most likely start their own terrible little companies doing terrible little shows in terrible little spaces and generally giving the craft a bad name. Admit it - we've all seen these shows.

There is too much supply and too little demand. Theaters need to work on both sides of this equation. Increasing demand will take a long time, and alone it will not be enough.
Posted by Erik J on February 25, 2014 at 11:45 AM · Report this
271
Didn't we already do one Shitstorm at The Rep, based on this article?
Posted by Clapper http://anhourofplay.wordpress.com on February 25, 2014 at 11:01 AM · Report this
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1 WRONG, about shakespeare. Do more, and more of ALL classics..
Learn...! Develop skills..!

2 WRONG, about new playwrites...rush to produce less, prepare more, develop more, team build, develop style, workshop more, and with more skill...quality, not quantity.

3 - 10
RIGHT ON, I basically agree with the rest of your points.

Now stop complaining and get on with it..!
Posted by Deadplaywrights on February 25, 2014 at 9:36 AM · Report this
269
The theatre, as it is today, has opted to re-tread the old and familiar over the new and risky. I even wrote a one-act about this very topic. Will any theatre present it - no. Only proves my point. comment by wr_maxwell, struggling playwright.
Posted by W.R. Maxwell on February 24, 2014 at 10:48 PM · Report this
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Dumping Shakespeare is a terrible idea. People like Shakespeare, people want to see Shakespeare, people are willing to pay to see Shakespeare and will pay to drag their kids to Shakespeare. Given that Shakespeare is so reliably popular with theater audiences, why the fuck would anyone drop Shakespeare?

Seems to me that the first two suggestions aren't about trying to save theater, it's about making theater conform more to your personal taste, which favors novelty. Well, not everyone shares your taste and you should get used to that and suck it up.

I think the reason theater audiences prefer the old to the new is because theater itself is an archaic medium. People go to the theater in lieu of turning on the TV or going to the movies or surfing YouTube because they are looking for a classic experience, something that connects them to the past, to share something with people who lived decades or centuries or millennia ago. When people want novelty they turn to the newer media.
Posted by I have always been... east coaster on February 24, 2014 at 1:55 PM · Report this
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Before you completely dismiss grad schools, know two things:

1) Anyone who is a successful artist and wants the stability that a salary and retirement plan offer once they get out of their 20s *needs* to go to grad school. It's the only path to getting paid to teach your art.

2) There are *plenty* of worthwhile grad programs out there working on new and devised works, cutting-edge technology, and exciting movements. The tenth item on your list is lazy, because anyone who knows how to do research could look up a few and be impressed.

(That being said, I'm all for recommending that theatre artists tour when they're younger, be dangerous when they're younger, and save grad school for later on if at all. But I won't and can't dismiss it for all of us.)
Posted by Paul Schreiner on February 24, 2014 at 1:49 PM · Report this
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Before you completely dismiss grad schools, know two things:

1) Anyone who is a successful artist and wants the stability that a salary and retirement plan offer once they get out of their 20s *needs* to go to grad school. It's the only path to getting paid to teach your art.

2) There are *plenty* of worthwhile grad programs out there working on new and devised works, cutting-edge technology, and exciting movements. The tenth item on your list is lazy, because anyone who knows how to do research could look up a few and be impressed.

(That being said, I'm all for recommending that theatre artists tour when they're younger, be dangerous when they're younger, and save grad school for later on if at all. But I won't and can't dismiss it for all of us.)
Posted by Paul Schreiner on February 24, 2014 at 1:46 PM · Report this
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I'll say one thing for Annex's late-80s production schedule: it didn't leave us time to preach.
Posted by Chris Jeffries on February 24, 2014 at 9:38 AM · Report this
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Just wanted to say that we have survived 6 years with our useless MFA's, producing classics, having sensible productions cycles, and with out drugs. However we were drunk.
Posted by illwillthegreat on February 24, 2014 at 8:41 AM · Report this
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All that advice an not a word about hiring more actors, directors and playwrights of color. We just had a production of Jerry Springer the Opera that managed to cast only two actors of color and now we have a production up of Marisol with a lovely, and surely talented, white woman playing the title role.

Try harder artistic and casting directors.
Posted by Goodbye to All That on February 24, 2014 at 6:47 AM · Report this
262
1. Might better read with enough with the semi-literate, slothfully-executed Shakespeare.
2. Audiences don't buy "what they don't know." They buy something they do and then walk out with something they didn't. Finding really good hooks is what many theatres suck at.
3. Producing dirty and fast is more expensive than it looks.
4. Yeah great, discounts for everybody.
5. Child care. With volunteer sitters? Oh - no you mean pay the sitters not the artists. In a place that serves alcohol. For 1% of your audience. Ok great WHAT.
6. Who's gonna do that? Oh right the nouveau riche.
7. Yeah no liability issues there.
8. You think audiences need encouragement to be obnoxious and quite enjoy themselves doing it?
9. Replace "actors" [everyone else in a theatre deserves a living wage, just not actors?] with any number of talent-requiring professions that are just as arguably necessary to society on more levels and, quite frankly, gfy. Actors not getting paid means a)their health falls apart or b)they can't afford to rehearse, which means, hooray, people paying full ticket prices for profoundly amateur awfulness!
10. Theatre might not make money, but acting programs draw in the bucks without fail. Some of them are compelled to choose half a class every year who might get work someday, and pad it with another half eager to pay to fail. Doesn't exactly encourage high teaching standards across the board. So just as many people don't learn to make theatre doing a diploma or undergrad as do. Which sends people back to do, you guessed it, an MFA once reality sets in. Or, they quit. All training is extremely buyer-beware.
Posted by mrj742 on February 24, 2014 at 3:04 AM · Report this
261
How about dirty, fast Shakespeare for young people that tells us something we don’t know?
Posted by ?m?p?d? on February 24, 2014 at 1:20 AM · Report this
260
Fer Real Comte. In the name of all that is holy please let this article die.
Posted by Facebook is stupid on February 23, 2014 at 10:15 PM · Report this
259
Perhaps you have some good points but your #1 makes me think they happened by accident.
Posted by mambeaux on February 23, 2014 at 4:53 PM · Report this
258
i have a point that's not related directly to the story - but it is related. playwrights need to stop giving their product away. i understand they want to have their play produced. but the royalties for plays are abysmal. i met a writer in Los Angeles who had a recent production of his play. he received the SAME royalty that he was paid during the world premiere production of that same play...30 years earlier. yes - in bigger venues you have some room to/options to negotiate the royalty and % of the box office. but comparatively, that's a small number of venues. why would i want my play to be produced at Theater ABC in Milwaukee for....$40 royalty per night/show when the theater is bringing in $1,500 per night on ticket sales? how equitable is that? not every playwright can produce their own work (which is ideal).
Posted by belairjeff on February 23, 2014 at 2:12 PM · Report this
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PS doing Shakespeare onstage is the true test of any actor.
Posted by HPlantagenet on February 23, 2014 at 12:21 PM · Report this
256 Comment Pulled (Trolling) Comment Policy
255 Comment Pulled (Trolling) Comment Policy
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Just one quick thing . . . The world premier at Washington Ensemble Theatre isn't an adaptation of Shakespeare, it's Charise Castro Smith's THE HUNCHBACK OF SEVILLE.
Posted by Corning on February 23, 2014 at 10:20 AM · Report this
COMTE 253
Holy - people are STILL kvetching over this article more than FIVE YEARS later?
Posted by COMTE on February 22, 2014 at 8:31 PM · Report this
252
I like a lot of your ideas, but how can you possibly write about success & survival of theater companies, yet twice in the article bash the idea of actors making money at it?
The union is not the problem. The problem is people who think actors should donate their skill & time to other people who are making money off of them.

Actors Equity gives many concessions to small theaters & in-development shows. In fact, probably too many, as is illustrated by the current uproar about National Tour salaries.

You said "Nobody deserves a living wage for having talent and a mountain of grad-school debt.". Really? So that doctor & lawyer & writer & teacher should all just be doing what they are trained to do & not expect a living wage? Do it for the love?
Try going to get your oil changed for free, just because someone loves working on cars.

I think the real problem in the arts is people who devalue the people onstage & expect that anyone who wants to perform should accept some sort of clergylike vow of poverty just for the privilege of entertaining an audience.

Pay your performers. Then you will have performances onstage from people who are not there because it is a hobby.
You'll have better shows because of THAT, and will subsequently have a better box office.

It's a pretty clear business model, no matter what industry: better product = better sales.
Your actors ARE the show. Put your focus on that, because that's all your ticket buyers are focused on when they arrive.
Add the gimmicks like a bar or babysitters later.

Then again what do I know... I only did my first of many shows on Broadway 20yrs ago, am currently on a National Tour, have been part of developing several known shows on Broadway, AND have worked in all levels of regional theater across the country through the course of my career.
Maybe I'm wrong in thinking the actors are important & worth your dollar.
More...
Posted by DougStorm on February 22, 2014 at 1:20 PM · Report this
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EVERYONE deserves a living wage, period.

Unions are the reason why most working people, including artists, have a LIVING WAGE, as opposed to a so-called minimum wage which in fact is code for poverty/starvation wage.

Posted by xangodiva on February 22, 2014 at 10:05 AM · Report this
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The level of ignorance about the theatre displayed by both the original author and most of responders is astounding. Don't open your mouth until you actually know enough to contribute intelligently to a discussion.
Posted by 42 years a working pro on April 2, 2012 at 5:53 AM · Report this
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You have some great, innovative ideas. BUT:

Since when does leaving at intermission earn someone a free drink? It's the ultimate faux pas. If you want to peace out at intermission, you can go home. Having someone in the lobby after the show tipsily discussing why they left the performance early isn't going to help build audiences or community. And a free drink will just encourage people to leave at inermission MORE.

Secondly, it is very clear that you are not now, nor ever have been a working actor. It is very easy (VERY easy) to get your new work under an Equity Showcase Code, which stipulates that the union actors in the production must be paid a whopping... anything more than the non union actors. One dollar will do it. So will a metro card. Come to New York: it's how our fringe festivals work, and why we have more of them. There are hundreds and hundreds of new works performed under showcase codes every year.

And your'e right, no one deserves a living wage simply for being talented and educated. But EVERYONE deserves a living wage for work performed. Including those who perform work that can ONLY be performed by someone talented and educated. That right is equal across all industries, unionized or not. Even in freelance journalism.

Jessica (a working actor)
Posted by jessiek01 on March 9, 2012 at 2:34 PM · Report this
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You have some great, innovative ideas. BUT:

Since when does leaving at intermission earn someone a free drink? It's the ultimate faux pas. If you want to peace out at intermission, you can go home. Having someone in the lobby after the show tipsily discussing why they left the performance early isn't going to help build audiences or community. And a free drink will just encourage people to leave at inermission MORE.

Secondly, it is very clear that you are not now, nor ever have been a working actor. It is very easy (VERY easy) to get your new work under an Equity Showcase Code, which stipulates that the union actors in the production must be paid a whopping... anything more than the non union actors. One dollar will do it. So will a metro card. Come to New York: it's how our fringe festivals work, and why we have more of them. There are hundreds and hundreds of new works performed under showcase codes every year.

And your'e right, no one deserves a living wage simply for being talented and educated. But EVERYONE deserves a living wage for work performed. Including those who perform work that can ONLY be performed by someone talented and educated. That right is equal across all industries, unionized or not. Even in freelance journalism.

Jessica (a working actor)
Posted by jessiek01 on March 9, 2012 at 2:32 PM · Report this
247
I used to work with the comedienne-guitarist Charo, the Spanish lady with the fractured English. She used to say: " A lot of people get me meexed up with William Chakespeare (sic) because no one know what the 'ell either one of us is talking about.....
Posted by Wajo on February 25, 2012 at 4:47 PM · Report this
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I disagree pretty strongly about the Union. Several of us in AEA are doing just fine. I agree it would be nice to have a wider wing span though-but I would guess if smaller theatres could involve us in new work, they couldn't pay us ANYTHING, much less a living wage.
Posted by SMNumberONE on February 17, 2012 at 8:35 PM · Report this
245
'Nobody deserves a living wage for having talent and a mountain of grad-school debt. Sorry.'

You mean like writers?
Posted by Amyzing on February 17, 2012 at 12:51 PM · Report this
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We are Virago Theatre Company www.viragotheatre.org in the SF Bay Area, and we approve of your message! Love the bit about alcohol and leaving Shakespeare behind!
Posted by Laura Lundy-Paine on February 16, 2012 at 11:40 AM · Report this
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More often than not one simply must have an MFA to even get looked at by an reputable company. I'm not an artist to make a living; it is my life. With that said, my plan to attend graduate school came from hundreds of applications being rejected solely because I was 'qualified in hands-on experience' but didn't have an MFA.

I don't think stopping the pursuit of education is the proper way to feed our starving theatres. Spend a few months abroad. Governments support art in a way that makes the people support art. I think if our country recognized how critical art is in our lives, people would be more apt to go to the theatre on a Friday night than staying in, watching the Kardashians, and binging on junk food.

That's all.
Posted by theneedlepointsnorth on February 16, 2012 at 7:39 AM · Report this
Canadian Nurse 242
I'd love to read an update, 4 years later about whether Brendan still agrees with these 10 points. How have things changed in Seattle theatre since 2008?
Posted by Canadian Nurse on February 15, 2012 at 4:32 PM · Report this
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You're an idiot. You say want to save theatre, but you want the people who perform in it to starve. Without a living wage, and without education, no one can afford to perform, or perform WELL, in plays - new or old.

If you have such disdain for the people working in this indusry, why are you even "trying" to "SAVE" theatre in the first place?? GET A CLUE.
Posted by NicDR on February 15, 2012 at 1:46 PM · Report this
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A lot of good points were brought up here in the main article and in the comments so I'll leave the line by line response out of my comment.

What I'd like to address is the oversight on the part of the writer to acknowledge that there are other options to help make theatre more viable. We can't just lower our standards of pay and raise our standards of product and then do all the same stuff we've been doing for hundreds of years . Audience participation has always been a part of the theatre... (even in Shakespeare) that's not a new idea. And it certainly wont save the theatre. The fact is the theatre is wasteful industry. Notice nowhere are ideas of creating effective systems to address the issues theatres face ever presented.

I think it is important to rethink the kind of art we make - yes, I agree. But, I think we need to work to be more relevant - a new piece about the plight of the working man may be effective for one community, but can we really discredit the power of Death of Salesman. Miller's acute diagnosis of the symptoms of being a worker veiled in the illusions of the American Dream may never be topped. It is our job to know which is going to find more draw in a particular community - in other words, we have to connect to the zeitgeist.

It is imperative to rethink HOW we make our work - no, I do not mean our artistic process. I mean the tools and instruments of our trade... it kills us. And until we sort out those issues we will be rearranging the same old stuff calling it more effective - all the while just maintaining the status quo.

You can look at the color pink and call it brown... and no matter how you yell about it, no matter how many people agree with you, no matter what you do, outside of actually changing the color in front of you into brown - it will always be pink.

All this said - you know your community better than I do - so if you really think the ideas you have proposed will make a difference - I'm all for that. But - maybe - just maybe you might admit that you're angry, unsettled and dissatisfied and that your manifesto for change is really just an idealization of how you want to do theatre by changing very little about how you currently do it.
More...
Posted by kolluri on February 15, 2012 at 12:21 PM · Report this
239
Many of these ideas are terrible, but the passion with which you write them more than makes up for their lack of merit. Bravo.
Posted by paxton on February 15, 2012 at 12:14 PM · Report this
238
Mullin: Actors Equity Members Project Code exists to allow union actors and writers and other professionals work on full productions in cities like Seattle every day, without benefit of union contracts (as long as no one gets paid). You can work with your friends in Seattle as often as you like. Research it.
Posted by Erik Gratton on February 15, 2012 at 11:38 AM · Report this
237
The main point is alcohol. Alcohol, oh and how about cigarettes? The theater has always been the home of Dionysus. In fact the theater is a giant bar. If you get drunk enough you will enjoy anything. The theater is a den of alcoholism. The problem is that alcoholics are unreliable egoists who all stab each other in the back, steal ideas from each other, and drown themselves in cycles of self importance then self hatred. It is hard to get out of the theater. My advice is, if you are really good looking and can seduce a lot of people, you can join a union and get a lot of money on TV, which is for high class whores. You will convince yourself that its about talent and you will have tons of money so you can treat people terribly in revenge for how you were treated in live theater (while drunk). The live theater is hard to do today because it is dead. God died at the turn of the last century. Theater is Dead. It's dead. Why not just go to a place that actually says "bar" so everyone is not fooled that you are just a bunch of lousy alcoholics. You can pay them for the actual service: alcohol. Thanks!
Posted by flippycannoo2 on February 15, 2012 at 10:07 AM · Report this
236
You are one crazy ass bastard. And I LOVE everything you've proposed! Theatre companies: post this--like Martin Luther!

I would add a #11. Get grade school, middle school and high school students in to see a play! If we don't develop a new generation of theater goers, we are truly doomed.

Great work, Brendan!
Posted by nutotech on February 15, 2012 at 8:45 AM · Report this
235
will - Oh YES you do have to pay royalties to Samuel French or any other royalty company regardless of being and educational program or having a small house. My 200 seat middle and high school theatre program pays royalties like anyone else - as a matter of fact our Samuel French show just closed (to the tune of $1,200 bucks in royalties for a $5.00 ticket price in a very small house.) I've paid them on all (over) 100 shows I've produced in educational theatre settings. I don't know what schools you are dealing with, but if they aren't paying royalties (other than for public domain works) then they are breaking the law.
Posted by brozyzy on February 14, 2012 at 7:02 PM · Report this
234
You had me until the graduate school comment.

I'm not saying I think people should go to graduate school. I am saying that I don't think it's anyone else's place to say wether another person should go to graduate school. There are as many reasons to go and many reason not to.

Referring to the comment above about meeting Erik Ehn, who went to graduate school. If you wanted to work directly with him now you're best chance would be graduate school at Brown. 5 years ago? Graduate School at CalArts.

I don't think Erik is a has been. There is a lot of faculty at a lot of schools that aren't. There are a lot of graduate programs worth enrolling in if you've got a reason that makes sense.

That being said there are a lot of crap programs with faculty who are not working much. There are definitely too many people going to graduate school and too many programs out there to meet the unnecessary demand. It's a boated market.

I went to graduate school, and I believe it was the right decision for me. My time spent there HAS led to me being more profitable, financially and artistically. And at all times i was out in the world, making theater on and off the campus. I didn't crawl under a rock and study for 3 years to emerge out of some debt cocoon. And no I didn't have anyone supporting me.

It's also worthwhile to point out that a number of colleges and graduate schools, because their mission is education and supporting experimentation and field advancement, are the presenters, producers and sources of funding for a lot of new work and the artists making new work.

Everything else, I'm with you all the way. But, this generalization that no one or everyone should go to graduate, or do anything really, is lazy thinking.
Posted by iangarrett on February 14, 2012 at 5:03 PM · Report this
Frostwolf Aazimuth 233
It has literally been years since I've looked at The Stranger, and to come upon this so randomly through a Facebook post is amazing. This takes me back. I lived in Seattle in the early 90s and one of the best theater experiences I ever had was "The Fatty Arbuckle Spookhouse Review" by Chris Jeffries, right there on the Annex's stage. I remember meeting Erik Ehn then too, and I remember New City Theater and workshops with Irene Fornes among others. And yes! Drop out of MFA programs! Can I get a witness? The student loan debt - it's enough to make a person write serial manifestos!
Posted by Frostwolf Aazimuth http://troyalbanytrance.wordpress.com on February 14, 2012 at 3:08 PM · Report this
232
I once knew of a theater company that produced unknown and new works (sounds like what you're suggesting, no?)
Yeah, the closed because no one ever came to see their shows.
Shakespeare and well-known works put butts in seats, which sells tickets, and creates a patron base who are more willing to see something they've never heard of.
If you want to do lesser-known works, or new works, you need to have a patron base that already loves you and is willing to take that risk with you.
Don't stop doing Shakespeare - stop doing Shakespeare badly.
Posted by theaterpatron on February 14, 2012 at 2:04 PM · Report this
231
David Perez is my new hero; on the other hand, this article is my new toilet paper.
Posted by Pitt90 on February 14, 2012 at 11:45 AM · Report this
230
Hahahaha! Funniest thing I have read in a while. So theater artists should not expect to get paid enough to live AND provide child care to their audiences! OMFG. Sure, communities in the USA vastly under value and under support the arts, and new plays and younger audiences are vital to a vibrant theater. But this, for want of a better word, rant is either provacative for it's own sake or belies a level of ignorance about the professional theater that undermines its credibility. But it gave me a good belly laugh. Call it Whining for Guffman! "Corky St. Clair: What the city council did was really... give me a challenge, and it's a challenge that I am going to... accept. It's like in the olden days, in the... days of France, when men would slap each other with their gloves... say, y'know... "D'Artagnan!"... y'know, "how dare you talk to me like that, you!," and... smack 'em! "
Posted by Theater Pro on February 11, 2012 at 1:51 PM · Report this
229
We do most of this at Open Circle, actually, though increasing the number of productions is unsupportable with limited people resources, at least if we want to keep up the quality. (We also sell to a sizable crowd of people who don't go to theater.)
Posted by Gary Zinter on July 14, 2011 at 3:38 PM · Report this
228
I do like some of these ideas. Sadly some of these sound rather high-minded and not entirely thought through.

From what I have read I mainly have one response. You clearly have not worked in professional theatre or the entertainment business... or maybe you did and where bad at it. My undergrad professors all had long lists of achievements and still currently work on high profile endeavors. I have run into very few has-beens. I also went there to learn from them and well... I find if someone has been doing something for 40 years they probably know a thing or two. People with degrees in Theatre are doing far better than the business majors who currently fill our Starbucks orders.

Also I have seen shows produced with no money and no time and a short run to boot. It does not go over well. When I go see a show that is performed by Equity actors and has well trained stagehands then the quality tends to be higher. When the show has all of it's lines and no feedback and lighting that isn't just on and off with no color... I can enjoy the show.

As for new works. I love them, I wish it was all I could do as a designer or technician. Sadly there are very few theatres that I know of that do well just doing new works... actually please post one... just one that can afford to pay the electric bill... and I may reconsider. People like to see the same garbage. How many movies have the same plot? How many pop songs are repetitive? People actually tend to dislike the unfamiliar.

Looking for ways to improve the theatre is great. Claiming things like unions, education, and plays that everyone loves seeing (take a child to see Peter Pan done by a good company and tell me some classics aren't worth doing)does not seem like you are thinking it all through.

Sincerly,
Makes a damn good living with talent and quickly disappearing debt.
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Posted by BillyHoyle on July 13, 2011 at 9:31 PM · Report this
227
If audiences are to be encouraged to heckle performers while performances are still in progress, I think someone should be permitted to stand behind you and periodically shut down your computer while you are composing these love notes to the stage.

You silly goose.
Posted by yourmountain.mymolehill on July 13, 2011 at 8:53 PM · Report this
226
'm fine with a couple of these ideas, like Child Care matinees and more world premieres, but most of this is garbage. This jerkoff wants to deunionize and not pay actors? Good idea, because we've all seen the quality of community theatre actors! He wants to have a night where we heckle the show? Sign me up! Maybe they could line up and kick me in the balls during curtain call while they're at it? Encourage the audience to skip the second act for a free drink? That'll save the theatre a lot of money AND make a real statement that we think our productions are worthwhile endeavors! All theatre profs are has-beens or never-weres? I guess that's why I'm starring in a show for a ten week run at one of the biggest theatres in the area. You know, cause I'm such has-been/never-was. Enjoy your badly acted, cheaply produced, hastily written shitty season, you douchebag.
Posted by eckerdhawk on July 13, 2011 at 5:54 PM · Report this
225
I agree wholeheartedly with #8 -- I read a comic once where the main characters put on a play that incorporates audience responses (Actor: Who has deactivated my beautiful frogs? Audience: He did!). I distinctly remember thinking, "Man, I want to go to a play like that!"
Posted by Pen on July 11, 2011 at 9:29 AM · Report this
224
I'm a successful actor/director/producer in Minneapolis. Re point 1 -- Shakespeare often is among the best-selling (if not THE best selling) show in a theatre's season! Toss that, and toss half your audience base. Point 2 following on its heels also can be death to a theatre company -- ALL premiers?? C'mon! Unfortunately, new works don't pull audience in as well as recognizable titles (even in a "new works" area like Mpls/St. Paul. Companies need to have a mix, unless new works is your niche. And then, you'd better have some good backing or a damn cheap space in which to produce. Point 7: the biggest barrier is insurance costs!! When you serve alcohol, even for one night, the insurance premium is HUGE! And ignore the laws? Bad advice. I think not. Point 9: "Nobody deserves a living wage for having talent and a mountain of grad-school debt." Doctors? Lawyers? Engineers? Astro-physicists? College and university professors? They don't deserve a living wage? Really? Then who does? Or does Kiley really think that only artists aren't worth their due. SCREW YOU! Point 10: Graduate school is about networking, plain and simple. I can't tell you how many places I work where half to company knows each other from grad school. And these are folks who have been in the business for years (some for decades). Sure, you can gain the networking by working professionally, but that's AFTER you get your foot in the door and primarily on a local scale. For work nationally, many people get their first work at a company through relationships gained through schooling. It gives you a HUGE leg up! Points 4, 5 and 6 are very well taken and worth heeding. I especially love the childcare idea, if a theatre has the space to do it. And point 6 is a very astute observation and one that can really make a difference, not only for the artistic community, but for the city as a whole.
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Posted by dcoral on July 11, 2011 at 8:01 AM · Report this
223
I would stand to argue that no one should expect a living wage either, especially in the hand to mouth world of theatre where audiences are rarely guaranteed.

It'd be nice if we could all make a living wage to do theatre. And it'd be nice if we all had ponies too. It'd be nice if arts money and well-funded patrons fell like manna from the sky and everyone could afford to make their living doing theatre.

And then there is reality, where the only way that can be a reality is if every house charged $50-100 a head, still got dozens or even hundreds of patrons a night to pay that price, and watched their finances to the dime. The amount of money it takes to pay everyone a living wage every single week, every single month, is relatively infathomable to all but the big houses even if your troupe's doing remarkably well.

In other words, the notion of everyone in theatre making a living at it is a pipe dream. In fact, I'd even argue the notion of the top quarter of thespians making a living at it is a pipe. I'd have to argue that no one in general deserves a living wage, let alone no one in theatre. You certainly are entitled to take the steps to try and earn one, but the willingness to work in itself doesn't certify you the right to have what you want.

Who deserves and doesn't deserve what is a matter of subjective opinion that can vary from person to person in general, anyway. I can argue that we deserve the right to free speech, the right to pursue what we want in our lives, the right to feed ourselves and get a job if need be... but no one deserves, no one ought to be entitled, to anything in the theatre. That attitude of entitlement in large part is why theatre has culturally stagnated over the last 40 years. Art is borne out of a sense of urgency, and there is no urgency in entitement, a sense borne out of the need for comfort.

No one in theatre should expect poverty. Which is why everyone in theatre should invest effort in building a workable career outside of theatre just in case Broadway and/or Hollywood never come calling, and just in case you never land that livable stream of AEA income with the big houses in town.
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Posted by Gomez http://misterstevengomez.com on November 17, 2010 at 1:25 PM · Report this
222
No-one should expect poverty. Everyone deserves to earn a living wage, in the theater or out of it.
Posted by silverface on November 16, 2010 at 10:57 AM · Report this
Laurence 221
A lot of what you say is valid and would be great if it happened. I live in London and the subsidized theatres there are DESTINATIONS for meeting friends and hanging out and drinking. The National, TheYoung Vic, The Royal Court, The Almieda, Hampstead etc. and you know who drinks the most? Young People ! And a lot of them put down their drinks and go into the theatre and see something - sometimes its great, sometimes its crap but they watch it - and when it's over the come out of the theatre and drink more ( adding to the theatres coffers) and TALK ABOUT THE PLAY. But those theatres are user friendly, there aren't a lot of conveyance charges, and restoration charges and service fees. You go their websites and you buy tickets and you see your locations and they are welcoming. Theatres in the US tend to make it all traumatic and as if they are doing you a favor by selling you a ticket. The theatregoing experience begins with the purchase of the ticket and US theatres have forgotten that.
Posted by Laurence on September 24, 2010 at 3:32 PM · Report this
220
Based on the defensive comments from theatre folk here, Seattle theatre is doomed. As an infrequent and frustrated theatre-goer, good-riddance. I'll go to Vancouver for my twice annual theatre fix. Brendan nailed it, but you ignored him. Dumbshits.
Posted by Agatha Christie on November 24, 2009 at 7:01 PM · Report this
219
Fringe theater sucks. It's like watching theater by 10 year olds, poorly made & shallow.

Raising the number of shows from 10 to 27 per year, just makes more bad theater.

Funding will never be replaced with babysitting patrons' kids and a free beer in the lobby during intermission for those who want to bail on the second act.

MFA Theater grads know how to professionally run a theater, solicit & select plays, market to audiences, raise money, design, and perform it. And they earn a wage for it. They aren't leaving a worthy show for poorly made, poorly written dreck with no audience outside of your friends and family.

There's nothing more painful that watching a bad live performance. And that's why theater companies are dying in small cities. It's bad theater.
Posted by Gertie on November 23, 2009 at 9:12 AM · Report this
218
I live in Charlottesville, Virginia, so congratulations for making it that far, I suppose. But no congratulations for the tone in which this article was written. It's almost impossible to respond thoughtfully to what you say because of the pompous, presumptuous way in which you say it. No bullshit is one thing. Condescending and simplistic is another.

There are, however, good points hidden in here. I appreciate the attention paid to creating a more communal, participatory, anti-reverential style of theater. Where alcohol is concerned, well, sure, I like it as much as the next girl, but ideally, I would like theatre to stand on its own, to inspire conversation and community, even when the audience is, well, sober.

Yes, there are good points. There are also bad ones. Though I only wish to address one of those: No more Shakespeare (for five years, five months, whatever)? Really? The #1 idea you can think of to revitalize our "drowning" theaters is to outlaw the performance of one of the greatest writers for the stage that's ever lived?

Shakespeare is not the problem. Mediocre performances of Shakespeare are the problem. Sure, I've seen some shitty Shakespeare in my time, but I've also seen some shitty new work and some Shakespeare that will remain with me for the rest of my life. Don't tell us what to perform and what not to perform -- just encourage us to do it WELL. Original work, Shakespeare, classics, moderns, experimental performance art -- none of these is the problem OR the solution in itself. How it's done is what will make the difference. We, as theater artists, have a responsibility to be as critical of ourselves as I have been of this article -- as rigorous with ourselves as we can be. We must not limit the What of our work, but set the highest possible expectations for the How and the Why.

Thanks for reading, if you still are,
--Sara, from Charlottesville
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Posted by allforhecuba on November 18, 2009 at 7:59 PM · Report this
217
i strongly disagree with 9 and 10. On one hand you say we should respect the artists or they will leave like Neko Case, but then you don't think they should make minimum wage, because that's basically what any artist in theatre is making. And what's wrong with a little education. It'll only make our theatre and our lives better.

but i like your other points.
Posted by november theatre on July 9, 2009 at 12:54 AM · Report this
216
This list, from the ever pretentious Mr. Kiley, needs one thing added:

11. To save your theatre, don't let critics in the door who will only see the first act of a play and then trash it.

I find it hard to believe that THE STRANGER or Mr. Kiley actually support theatre or the arts in Seattle. They trash it at every opportunity they get.
Posted by Theatreboy on June 25, 2009 at 1:33 PM · Report this
215
I worked in theatre, now I teach theatre. I teach theatre because I am a GOOD teacher who happens to also be professionally trained and experienced. Yes, we usually have to slow our own careers to focus on our students, so yes, I guess we could be considered has-been actors.

However, do not assume that what is being taught is mere rhetoric and a suitcase full of disconnected audition monologues. The good ones teach innovation, tenacity, technique and how to create your own work in an often hostile, unsupportive and apathetic society. All excellent fodder for creating fabulous new theatre.

Public school needs to create an educated community of students who are exposed to the arts and TAUGHT how to watch it without say, texting during performances. Theatres need to create material that is relevant and engaging and leaves students never reaching for their cellphone. This is possible.

Theatres and funding agencies need to extend a hand to the drama/theatre teachers in our schools and build a bridge through the backstage stagedoors; they need support. Most teachers have a core of a few supportive parents or other teachers, but try to teach and work while justifying their existence on a daily basis. We can't change parents attitudes, but we can build in the kids. In turn, kids get exposure to the career option and the invitation to be an audience member for the rest of their lives.

Developing your audience this way is a no brainer. Many regional theatre do this, but there needs to be an national incentive or directive to develop it further or we will hear the snap of many more companies while we sit around and think about it some more.

Just my 2 cents.
Posted by Christine BT on June 20, 2009 at 8:34 AM · Report this
214
Unlike. In fact, big middle finger. Good Shakespeare should be going on all the time. and every play being an exclusive premiere in every theatre in the country is patently ridiculous, that's hundreds of thousands of low-quality plays per year. Producing dirty, fast, and often is what we already do, anything much faster or more often leads to shitty productions of crap plays with bad acting. Admittedly, Hollywood gets away with this, but they can blow things up without worrying about audience safety. I can agree with some of the rest, though. Liz is correct about the media support problem.
Posted by Rew on May 13, 2009 at 11:51 AM · Report this
213
OFFS... Brendan did a good thing, even if he didn't hit the same exact attack vector that you might have used... he DID managed to make a handy list of our problems, and shake the lazy brds in the cage... Now get to work, and choose to use Bill's shit if you like, or to pay artists if you like, or serve alcohol or offer babysitting in that scary storage room, but for FAWKS sake please stop whining here.
Posted by Rev.Smith on April 29, 2009 at 10:45 PM · Report this
212
We just did a play at Freehold that people said they loved and "The Stranger" couldn't be bothered. THAT'S fuckin fringe theater.
Posted by sprflycat on April 27, 2009 at 2:56 AM · Report this
211
An newspapers should only hire writers who don't expect a living wage but do it just for the giddy love of typing.
That should do wonders for the quality of investigative reporting and list making. Oh, wait, The Stranger has already figured that out.
Posted by Shylock on April 17, 2009 at 12:23 PM · Report this
210
And newspapers should only hire writers who don't expect a living wage but do it just for the giddy love of writing. That will do wonders for the quality of investigative reporting and list making. Oh, wait, The Stranger has already figured that out.
Posted by Shylock on April 17, 2009 at 12:20 PM · Report this
209
Show me any fringe theatre that has a "rehearsal space" on site where they can hold babysitting/theatre games (and boy, does refereeing that mess sound like a riot!) during the show without ruining the show and I'll give up Shakespeare for 5 years. And if they DO have a rehearsal space besides the stage itself, don't you think it is probably being used for, um, REHEARSAL for the next exciting new
project--number 22 out of 27 this season! I am sure it is, since the actors don't deserve to get paid and they work during the day at Starbucks and they can only rehearse at night... unless they can't because of a conflict which you can't object to because you aren't paying them, after all. So let's see, we have 8 of our cast of 15 available tonight....which scene can we work on? What's that? The reheasal room is booked for babysitting? Oh yeah, I forgot. Let's go drink some alcohol cause that solves everything.
Posted by Shylock on April 17, 2009 at 12:45 AM · Report this
208
Some valid points, but I'm sick of smack talk, and The Stranger is so bratty. You pooped your diaper-- congratulations. Number 9 upsets me. A society that pays artists a living wage is a goal to shoot for, however unrealistic at this time. #2 and #4 are right on the money. Again, overall, this is so soapbox-ey and random it makes me want to gag. Next time spend more than 20 minutes writing a piece like this. The world of theatre deserves more thoughtfulness and less petulance. From one attention whore to another.
Posted by byron on April 16, 2009 at 10:29 AM · Report this
207
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
All grand advice! Here's some more: do your plays in places which make their living otherwise--cafes, coffeehouses, bars, art galleries, churches, schools--so that your show's success or failure is not crucial.
If you want to see 59 Picture Pages about the Caffe Cino, where it all began, they start at
http://caffecino.wordpress.com/
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
Posted by Robert Patrick on April 15, 2009 at 11:23 PM · Report this
206
Will,
Perhaps you should review copyright laws and the fair use criteria our theaters in our country and our educational institutions have to obey.

Number of seats has nothing to do with whether you have to pay a royalty. Also, it being for educational purposes also does not preclude your from paying for the Dramatic rights or Royalties. Non-musicals can be produced for $75 per performance musicals are in the 150 -300 range per show. High school theatres usually are in the 500 to 700 seat range because the student body has to be able to attend assemblies in one day, so they are usually have the size of the student body.

As for new plays and such and plays with the age range close to the students, I agree, but even with Playscripts.com that caters to the high school scene, finding a play that is not a one gimmick play or teaches the students how to act and grow as performers is very difficult to do. The new plays are usually more expensive, also.

As for Greek, you try putting The Orestia or Medea in front of a group of today's adolescents and see if they will want to perform it. At least with Romeo and Juliet they can sword fight and connect to raging hormones making them do things they shouldn't do.

Kiley makes good points, but must realize that the regional system was designed to model after the rep. system in Britain and Canada. The Federal Theatre Project helped get them started and now they are institutions. Institutions don't change overnight. That is why they last. They endure through the old, rich people donating money to them because they believe in the art they produce. To say theaters need to change and produce all new work, is to doom theatre to theatre that only caters to the iPod generation that would rather watch Hulu than be engaged with a real discussion of human desire and pathos.

Shakespeare is still valid, so is Miller, and with a few exceptions the reason why their plays are produced more than new playwrights by Regional Theatres, is because they are better playwrights and their plays reveal things about the human condition that other playwrights have copied and continue to copy, period.
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Posted by delonea on March 21, 2009 at 5:42 PM · Report this
205
A lot of great ideas, but I disagree with #2. I'm from Chicago and see a lot of theater, and the very worst experiences I've had in the theater were new works. I've seen world premieres of stunningly bad scripts at the most respected theaters in this town (Steppenwolf, Goodman) and tiny storefronts too. I see no reason for theaters to put crap plays into the world, and I see no way that the push for new works that you recommend could help but lower the bar. Practically any play ever published has life left in it; unlike television or film, the audience who has already seen a certain play is too small to be worried about, the vast majority of people haven't seen it. The only plays that are truly "over" are the ones successfully adapted to film. I'm willing to call "Streetcar" dead.
Posted by Paul Y. on March 16, 2009 at 3:10 PM · Report this
204
NY actor here. Ask me and I say there is a valid reason to be doing and re doing Shakespeare. Simply put, the work is the best. Not meaning to take anything away from contemporary playwrights but some of this new crap is sickening. Anything merit worthy should be produced over and over. Be it Mamet, Letts, Williams. August Wilson!!! If it's good it's good. Stop looking for ways to promote mediocrity. Some of these weird playwrights could use an 'MFA' to get some structure to their work! And we wonder why theater audiences are diminishing! But back to Shakespeare, any real actor will agree that remounting of a good production you happen to be involved in HELPS YOU. And 'that' you cannot say about every writer. I was sent this link and had to get in on this but I am not a recurring here so if you want to comment on my comment hit me at briandcoats@gmail.com, I ain't scare of y'all. Haha.
Posted by Brian D. Coats on March 16, 2009 at 11:05 AM · Report this
203
As an actor, possibly one of the last things I want to happen is to be booed and jeered while on stage WORKING. Especially to an audience that showed up an hour earlier to get liquored up, as suggested. Most drunk audience members won't have the wherewithal to discern if the acting is bad, or if it's the directing or the writing, before they start throwing the veg like in the Bard's days.

Now, granted, SOME shows encourage such interaction, and so be it. But there's already too many instances of theatre audiences behaving like they're in their living rooms.

Something a playwright friend of mine suggested years ago that I actually think is quite brilliant and will encourage better work, is if audiences can leave, during the show at any time if the work doesn't draw them in. They go to the box office and get a refund based on when they leave. If the show's bad, you'll know RIGHT AWAY. (I do acknowledge that this idea is of a similar nature to booing and heckling, maybe just more passive-aggressive.)

Brendan, feel free to disagree, just know that I may show up at your office and boo you while you work should you write anything that sucks.
Posted by MaddyMann on March 15, 2009 at 10:57 PM · Report this
202
SG: that reads alot like
a) your audience doesn't trust you / the producer [ evidence: several 'community theatres' have a faithful following that will put up with a little weird once/year because they are loyal to the talent/quality of the season].
or
b) you're being blind to your market/venue - if you need edgier theatre, get into the city (or away from community theatre) where there are edgier people.
Posted by Rev on March 10, 2009 at 1:15 AM · Report this
201
"Find new, good, weird plays nobody has heard of. Teach your audiences to want surprises, not pacifiers."

Oh, really? You try doing new, good weird plays nobody has heard of in a community theater and see what kind of audience you get, zero!
Posted by SG on March 4, 2009 at 7:21 PM · Report this
200
read read alot alot of the comments
all these souls need to put all this energy into theater productions and stage them
EVERYWHERE!
Protest all over
not just kvetch and not think about tired old plays written in cause to effect linear narrative ways
YOUNGER PEOPLE face a devalued languagethey communicate intuitively and instinctively withmany many interruptions
these are the post-cyber wellpost-mtv impatient ones
theater is not nor will it be even what it was 5 yeaRS AGO
IT S NOT WORTH BICKERING ABOUT
SHIT OR GET OFF THE POT
A third world psychehas infiltrated our sad superannuated economy
the Chines will disassemble our alphabet
Posted by beauregard on February 8, 2009 at 3:49 PM · Report this
199
couldn t agree more with all your aforementioned ideas about theater.
you forgot to mention overfocussing on Aristotle (who wrote as response not ant prescriptive dogma)
Posted by beauregard on February 8, 2009 at 3:36 PM · Report this
198
um.some of you must have your heads up your asses or you don’t actually do any theatre in the professional world. brendan kiley’s comments are not researched and have no basis whatsoever in reality. get a clue. he doesn’t think people should be paid a living wage for their talent? WTF? okay, i will make sure to tell my plumber that the next time he fixes my kitchen sink.

Unions are going to bring theatre down???? yes, i am sure he’s right. I mean, Actor’s Equity has only been around since 1919. what a fuck wad.
Posted by mitty on February 7, 2009 at 3:06 AM · Report this
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Two (very late) cents:

- Only one person (that I spotted) brought this up, but: most people working in theatre are terrible with money, accounting, finance, etc. They don't have to be I-Bankers, but if you have any competent experience with this, walking into production meetings and administrative offices as I have is mad frightening.

Ditto with other "simple skills" that aren't strictly necessary but debilitating in absence: technology (most theatre folks I worked with still struggle with Office) and organization. There are exceptions, obviously, but in my time as an actor it hurt to see us struggling for money and have it leaking out from so many efficiencies (and makes the entitlement arguments so much less credible).

- This has been beaten to death, but stop blaming critics. The Stranger is harsh, crude, and self-loving, but it is 30% of what most audiences are thinking in their heads watching the same performance. Don't blame them for publishing their honest opinion when you delude yourself into pretending "real people" are much kinder "in real life." No, they aren't.

- Everyone deserves a chance at a living wage, and that is exactly what standard jobs are for (the kind my illiterate great-grandfather did to get his first house shortly after immigrating). But if I drop my job at McDonalds to manufacture specialty costumes for emperor penguins, do I deserve a living wage? No, because there is no need in society for emperor penguin costumes. Society tells me this by not buying them.

Similarly, when you become an actor you risk society deeming you as worthy of its dollars and attention as a penguin-costumer. This isn't kindergarden, this isn't GWB presidency: you are rewarded for your RESULTS, not your effort or ideology.

Sadly, we don't go out and pay for theatre as much as we used to (and should). This is a risk theatre artists take.
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Posted by Pablo on January 19, 2009 at 4:25 PM · Report this
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Wow, Kev. That's a fancy union card you have on that lanyard there.

Holy shit, it's laminated, too?
Dayum, fanboy!

a) some of us have left the 20th century behind - look into it.
b) Pro theatre existed way before unions, outside of unions, and will surivive well past
c) Millie plays a mean set of keys, no matter the venue. Respect.
d) perhaps 20th century american, union-possible, minimum-bennies theatre isn't what we should strive for? *horries!*
Posted by Amethyst on January 17, 2009 at 12:34 AM · Report this
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Unions are what have made professional theatre possible in the 20th Century in the US. Without them and the living wage and minimum benefits negotiated, we'd all be watching plays in Aunt Millie's front room, underscored by her piano accompaniment. The intermission cookies would be decent, though.
Posted by Kevin on January 15, 2009 at 2:32 PM · Report this
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Educational institutions and houses that seat under 400 do indeed have to pay royalties. You're just incorrect about that, Will.

About theatre education: There are a large number of people who work unpaid in fringe theatres whose day jobs are teaching in university theatre departments-- myself included. We're not all has-beens or never-wases-- there are plenty of us doing the work right now. My own company specializes in new plays by emerging playwrights-- precisely what you think we should be doing-- yet you would have people believe that I'm a worthless prat because I teach at a university.
Posted by melissa on December 22, 2008 at 6:22 PM · Report this
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offs - SP: playwrights.
Posted by Smith on December 18, 2008 at 1:00 AM · Report this
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Radically Realistic:
I just had to post [ Hulk. Smash. Stupidness]. I am a theatre producer, owner of a production company, and also one of those *ranting writer*s you’re insulting. While accusing Mr. Kiley of skipping journalism classes and somehow not offering solutions (uhm, check the title of his piece??), you forgot how to even read. Oops!
He does NOT say that AEA talent cannot work non-union houses. He said, in #2, "fringe theatres are … 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... ". Yeah- can't afford: no joke. Oh, and I’m not even an actor either, and I found THAT in 2 seconds – in the same article to which you were responding.
Epic. Fail.

The point is unions need to do more than arrange a 'possibility' of cross-mingling: they have to evolve to help not just their dues-payers, but help the industry that provides those dues/paychecks; allow more new work exposure to more union talent (and vice versa). ‘Separate but equal’ don't work. The increase Kiley suggests in shows/scripts = more good work out in the world = more work for all of us AND happy audiences. It's one of those 'win-win' things. And it was clear as day. Oy!

Ok, since I'm responding -next: Have you seen a fringe festival? THOUSANDS are willing, worldwide, to watch/pay for trainwreck after trainwreck. [ see also: Hollywood films, pulp publishing, post-Dark-Knight-Returns-works by Frank Miller, American politics… ] Because occasionally these things yield a few nuggets o' gold.
'Lower the overall quality and standards of theatre' is a separate function (usually of bad design, directing & acting), and has nearly nothing to do with the programming of a season. The standards of theatre, by the way, clearly need changing, otherwise natural selection will kill theatre where it stands. Saturating a market? That seems about as worrisome as pouring a gallon or two of water on the Sahara in this case. Saturate away. Plenty of theatres are shrinking seasons and they are also crap, so increasing programming is no proof of crap, lower standards, nor what will generate income. Kiley even gives an example: and Annex did not oversaturate the market nor die out from trainwrecks. Audiences are brave; they don’t fear the occasional trainwreck, just like some folks like a good rollercoaster or horror movie or Mariners game.
Those theatre folk stuck in old thinking, the 'realistic' or defensive "But we caaaaaann't... that's tooo harrrrrd" arguments, like yours and a dozen others here, are contributing to the momentum of the problem, not the solution. Grow legs and Evolve already. Be audacious & sanguine. Drop your excuses -pretend none of them exist (odds are you need to examine why you're making excuses). Pretend that theatre could be anything you want. Act like a grownup who wants success, not someone who fears change. Create a new paradigm.

I take Kiley's comment about MFA’s, (though unnecessarily acerbic toward a teaching community perhaps only half-dysfunctional), to really be directed to the fact that most celebrated theatre luminaries were no less shiny before grad school than after.. it isn't often skill or education that separates grad school theatre successes from non-schooled, it's 5-digit debt. But if you're lucky enough to have money to blow, have a fabulous time.
Learning from 'working' artists does not = able to learn to be great. In fact, some of us, when we were in school complaining about teachers always doing shows, were actually lamenting the fact that these accoladed 'professors' can be quite incompetent at the science/art of teaching, and would have made much better ‘guest artists’ than professors. American colleges could use more balance, and less ‘accredited, conference-going contributors to the field’ in theatre departments and replace their sorry parttime asses with better experimenters, innovators and educators.
One more thought about Brendan’s #10 & 9: Lending $40K of mid-to-high interest credit/debt for a degree (seriously, look into the list price for tuition at SPU, Cornish, and others) to then make $8 to $15/hour, part-time & seasonally, for the following several decades? Doesn’t seem any more ethical than sub-prime loans or kicking a sick puppy. We have enough theatres in town to offer plenty of hands-on education. I think loaning money for these pricey degrees should be criminalized.

Otherwise, yes; the free market should help determine if we get a living wage or not. Yes, a baby night, ala Reel Mom's is totally in order. A new business model for artist housing is overdue. Audience surveys must be utilized as often as possible (hell, even my car dealer calls me after a $20 oil change to make sure there isn't anything different he needs to do or any other way he can serve me). And there's at least a dozen other things that should change too.
But for fuck's sake, read the article and don't 'mislead the public with YOUR uninformed opinions'. Then read it again, between the lines - like designers, directors, actors, playwirghts, et al, do.
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Posted by Smith on December 18, 2008 at 12:54 AM · Report this
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First of all, to say that someone who has talent and should not have a living wage for it, regardless of whether or not it is a seemingly petty or common talent (cough*ranting writers*cough) goes against the entire idea of, um, working. Is it right for anyone to make a living wage for doing something that everyone else can easily do or be well compensated for a job that is done poorly? Hell no. There is a reason why people get fired or not hired back.

I honestly have no idea where you're getting your information from regarding quite a few items. For example, M.F.A. theatre programs (and yes, there are ones aside from acting, directing, and dramaturgy, did you know that?) these days, in order to be a professor for even undergraduate theatre programs, or at least the bigger-named players, one has to be a current contributing member of the theatrical community. That means even publishing a certain amount of items in a certain amount of years, going to conferences, having so many designs, accolades, accreditations (which have their own requirements, of course), etc. That's actually a complaint of some students – that the professors are off doing too many of their own shows and having their own careers so much so that they aren't teaching as frequently as would be preferred. On top of that, if students go to certain schools, professors have worked on Broadway and other top theatres and tours all over the world. Also, Equity actors can actually work in non-Equity houses -- it just takes some negotiating. A trip around the AEA website would have shown that. I'm not even an actor and I found that information within 5 minutes. With all due respect, Mr. Kiley, you do know how to report the news first and foremost, don't you? I thought they taught that in high school journalism classes, or at least they did in mine. No degree required.

What all cities need to do to in order to prevent the "haves" from taking over the trendy artist neighborhoods is to have rent-controlled areas, buildings, individual apartments – whatever -- for artists who are actually producing work. Tax deduction records will easily show whether Sally Sculptor really sells her work, thereby contributing to the community, or merely dabbles with it in her free time. Whatever hobbyist artist the income-earning artist chooses to have on her lease is then her own business.

The childcare idea isn't a bad one and some company should test the waters. However, also realize that perhaps some parents like the idea of going to the theatre so that they can have a nice child-free date night with a nice dinner prepared by someone else accompanied by a nice bottle of wine. And I've got news for you: if people really do want to do something, they'll find a way to do it and will splurge on a babysitter for an evening if they have to. The parents also need to step up and ask that theatres to have a babysitting service. If theatres see that they can make that much more money off of all of the parents, then why wouldn't the theatres comply? Money coming in = the theatre stays put. The theatres in turn could offer cheaper tickets to parents who enroll their child/ren in an evening with the theatre babysitter (less than the cost of the full-price ticket/s and the babsysitter's rate, obviously). It's a win-win for everyone involved. Or maybe theatres could have a Baby or Youngster Night. Whatever. There are plenty of options -- the goal is to find a realistic one. They do exist if you try to come up with them.

In general, please do not mislead the public with your own uninformed opinions and please also attempt to offer actual solutions. Saying things such as "produce dirty, fast, and often" would, for example, only saturate the market and lower the overall quality and standards of theatre. Who in their right minds and shrinking wallets would be willing to pay to see trainwreck after trainwreck after trainwreck after trainwreck? Instead, we all need to let theatre OWNERS and PRODUCERS know what you want (believe it or not, the actors don't pick which shows the theatres perform -- they just do what they enjoy and accept a paycheck like everyone else) and how badly you want it and they will have only one option: to comply.
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Posted by Radically Realistic on December 11, 2008 at 7:13 PM · Report this
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Shame on you. These are hardworking people, people with families and bills, just like everyone else. People who work 90+ hour weeks, and multiple jobs, to just make minimum wage. They deserve a living wage. They deserve to be treated as professionals. They deserve not to have their honest, hard work mocked and patronized by someone who thinks that the entertainment industry is comprised of people selfishly indulging in their hobbies or bloated senses of self-importance. How insulting. We all can't be doctors, lawyers, and administrative assistants. Get off your high horse and show some support your community.
Posted by DC Theatre Technician on December 11, 2008 at 9:07 AM · Report this
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I think he has a point.... to a certain extent.
Posted by adh22 on December 6, 2008 at 4:01 PM · Report this
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I'm a theater critic in Texas. This column has it 100 percent right on. You can't see me from there, but I'm giving this writer a standing O.

No. Mo. Shakespeare!
Posted by first-nighter on December 4, 2008 at 9:49 AM · Report this
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w/r/t: cultish

Well-called, Auntie K
Posted by Smith on December 1, 2008 at 7:07 PM · Report this
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I agree with the plucky spirit of this piece but question some of the advice. Many of the ideas sound good until you think them down to earth. For example, the child care idea sounds brilliant until you remember what a litigious world we live in. Any venue providing child care may open itself up to tremendous liability. No struggling arts organization barely keeping the lights on should beg for trouble with more bad advice as in Point #4 re: alcohol, "...liquor laws in your way? Change them or ignore them." Fortunately, it's not that hard to get a license to sell beer and wine and be legit. Also, an attitude like "Expect poverty" only perpetuates an innate lack of self-respect for artists. You might get some of the people some of the time to pledge their allegiance to the good work of a theater in a community, but good will also means consistently paying people for their time, even if you can only pay them a small stipend. Asking a whole company to drink this columnist's Kool-Aid with the self-loathing attitude of "expect poverty" sounds cultish to me.
Posted by Auntie K on November 17, 2008 at 4:24 AM · Report this
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Childcare/theatre games at plays.. brillant.. and it would also make the world a better place full of happier children (or at least kids who enjoy a good improv). As a not nouveuriche adult with children, childcare can actually double the price of the tickets- making it more expensive to go, and less of that expense going to fund theatres.
Posted by elizinSD on October 31, 2008 at 9:29 AM · Report this
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Ionash- write reviews yourself, post em on a blog. Get your friends to start reading and writing them. Soon enough you'll start getting trustworthy reccomendations of shows to see. You might even get comps if you promise a review.

Don't like the media? become the media.
Posted by Rex winsome on October 29, 2008 at 10:47 AM · Report this
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Run more theatrical reviews, Stranger! It's a dying art! I know that you are a Seattle paper, but theatre happens in colleges, in bars, in bedrooms, in the park, in big venues, and even in Kirkland! We in Seattle are known for our Fringe and for our theatre, but you wouldn't know that if you only read The Stranger.

That being said, I am forwarding this to every artist I work with...
Posted by Emily H. on October 28, 2008 at 6:50 PM · Report this
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YAY LIZ!
Posted by idontwanttoregisterwiththestranger on October 27, 2008 at 1:42 PM · Report this
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here's a crazy idea for you to try, Brendan- stop recommending shows (W.E.T., Streetcar) before you actually see them.
Posted by brueso on October 27, 2008 at 10:12 AM · Report this
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I just moved to Seattle from Chicago, where I majored in theater at Northwestern (not as an actor, not that it matters). I'm currently not working in theater, for many reasons, primarily financial.

I never felt like learning about the range of Chicago theater was difficult, perhaps because I was in the loop as a professional-in-training. Now that I've stepped outside of that inner circle, I find myself in a new city where I have no idea where to start finding quality theater.

I agree with the posters who have said there needs to be some sort of a review outlet. If there is one, online or in print, it's certainly hard to find. Whoever said there should be a Yelp for Seattle theater was genius. I can find a good Vietnamese restaurant near my house WAY faster than I can find out if that intriguingly-titled play downtown is worth $30. Browsing listings is like browsing a used book store-- you might find something incredible in an unknown title, or it might be complete crap. Problem is, paperbacks cost under five bucks and do not require too much of a time investment if they're awful.

Besides reading company's websites, which always glow in adoration of their own work, where can someone trying to figure out the scene read reviews?

Not to mention-- if someone as interested in finding good theater as I am gets lost, what happens to the average person?

Here I am. I'm 22, prime target age. Hell, I have friends who trust me for theater recommendations. I want to give people my money but don't have enough of it to waste. Show me where I can learn about Seattle theater, so I can get my butt in a seat. Please.
Posted by lonash on October 25, 2008 at 2:12 PM · Report this
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on the subject of number 4) Get 'em Young: Seattle Children's Theatre works their butts off to bring new young audiences to the Theatre and consistently produces many wonderful original works for younger audiences. On top of that they also do shows such as last years High School Musical to attract new audiences to live theater that normally wouldn't come to see a show with out the Disney name. Audiences who then come back for this seasons "A Tale of Two Cities" or "Good Night Moon". Here is The Stranger's review of that show.
http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/Content?oid=439291
I mean, this is just silly. Lets be real here.
I like that with this "Ten Things" article you are provoking the Seattle Theater Community to be stronger and smarter and work harder, but it would be nice if The Strangers reviews echoed the same points and values you are making here.
Posted by mr on October 25, 2008 at 11:44 AM · Report this
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Margaret brings up some great points. Theatre's strength relative to film and television is in it's visceral connection with the audience. Most Establishment theatre acts like we're still living in a pre-film world, ignoring this audience interaction advantage. Pre-film theatre traditions are designed to keep the audience passive, uninvolved, even captive, silenced and invisible.

These traditions also serve a demographic that is older than margaret (in terms of age or mentality) people who want theatre to be the status symbol of an exclusive club. These people have to be let go, immediately, because they demand the exclusion of everyone else.

The future of theatre needs to reject the traditions that enforce the old style and purposes. There are a few very simple things to do on a night of performance to make this happen. Mingle with the audience before, during intermission, and after the show. Perform on the same level as the audience. Keep the house lights on. Look at the audience and subtly react to them when performing (preferably without derailing the show). Let people unwrap candies and crack beers during the show. Let people come and go as they please. If you're doing compelling theatre, giving the audience these freedoms will not result in side conversations, cell phone chatting or other disrespectful behavoir (at least not amung the 16-25 year olds we typically perform for). It'll take some actors a little while to get used to these distractions, but performing under such circumstances is not impossible. I just did it last night.

Having a crowd of over 50 to 100 people (depending on the show and the venue) at this kind of show might be impossible, but far as i'm concerned, if our costs are low enough, we don't need more than that on any given night.
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Posted by Rex winsome on October 24, 2008 at 11:39 AM · Report this
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Hello. I was excited to pull up this page and find that the discussion is still going on. I have read everything you’ve said. You* amaze me with your passion, your dedication and your intellect. Having said that, I am writing to represent some groups that haven’t had much play in this blog – I am the audience. Without me, you have no theatre. I am an essential part of the equation. In the best theatre I feel like I am part of the production and I love every magical minute of it. In the worst theatre, I feel ignored, put upon and dismissed.
I also represent another group – I am one of the last of the baby boomers. For better or worse, (not the best time to be bringing this up) we are running the country and we are the “pockets” for which you are competing. You need to make theatre that is relevant to me and my tribe. How many shows here in Seattle have characters 40 and older? Are you talking about issues that are relevant to me? I like my theatre like I like my music – golden oldies mixed in with new stuff.
Theatre in Seattle during my stay (15 blessed years) has taken me to great highs and lows. I have seen some of the most amazing theatre here. However you have hurt me deeply when you made me love you and then you dissolve into nothingness when the money runs out.
I am attending on Monday night because you need our help and support. If we are not part of the solution, the problems will continue. You must let us in. You cannot continue to treat your theatre groups and troupes like special clubs that require hazing and special handshakes. You must stop treating us like we don’t “get” you. Theatre belongs to all of us. You need us. We need you. Let us help.
I too will use my real name. I am the director that gave Paul Mullin his first acting role as the drummer boy in the family Christmas pageant.

P.S. Can we stop the character assassinations, especially on Brendan? I would like to think that we are all playing on the same team.
*please note that “you” in this context refers to all of you who have written in the blog.
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Posted by Margaret Mullin on October 23, 2008 at 7:33 PM · Report this
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My name's actually in my moniker--Lyam is short for "lyam-hound" in the original Welsh. I'm not hiding anything; I just like the tag.

Also, I'm not concerned with revolution; I'm interested in EVolution, and I don't think anything needs to be left out of it or behind it for not being "radical" enough. What concerns me is audiences who reflexively cringe at the first whiff of transgression, the willingness of (some) larger organizations to cater to such audiences, and OUR failure to find that other audience, and/or to find mechanisms for expanding that audience, and/or to find ways for growing our endeavors into something bigger.

I don't see much utility in the concept of "selling out"; presumably, we all want to SELL, even if we insist on doing so on our own terms. What interests me is that musicians operating on the cheap and outside the mainstream appear to have SOME avenues for experiencing mainstream success, while one can only "graduate" from fringe theater by refusing to, well, do fringe theater anymore (or radically changing the capacity in which they do so, i.e., going Equity as an actor and directing or producing on the fringe). It's not that I think there's something immoral about this, or that it isn't a valid lifesyle choice (or even a valid aesthetic choice, since, by all means, people who want to see Neil Simon should be able to, and the people who want to do it for them should feel similarly at liberty). What bothers me is that when we get defensive about words like "professional", when we place too much faith in processes of "vetting", we essentially imply (and please correct me if I'm wrong; I'd actually LOVE to be wrong on this) that giving up the freedom to do non-mainstream theater is a sign of maturity and/or an indication of "seriousness" as an artist.

I'd really just love for there to be a market for crashing, dissonant theater the way there's a market for crashing, dissonant music. Maybe it's a fantasy. Or . . . Maybe there's something WE can do to make that happen, and maybe this discussion is part of that.
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Posted by thelyamhound on October 23, 2008 at 1:01 PM · Report this
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Funny, in my dictionary, "wrong" is shorthand for "factually incorrect"...
Posted by COMTE on October 23, 2008 at 12:57 PM · Report this
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Yes, we can't really know if ANYTHING is ever 'wrong' or 'right' our lives are frought with inescapable uncertainty, blah blah blah. But, we (not just me, everyone) use words like "wrong" as shorthand for "i have a different understanding than you about the concept of ____" See how "wrong" is shorter and more direct? More practical and useful?

I'm not interested ideological purity. But if we consider every assessment as equally valid because we can't know anything FOR SURE, then there's no point in ever speaking at all.

I'm interested in getting something done. if radical theatre is only something that we piddle around with on the side, or read about in class and romanticize, or occasionally visit like a tourist at an exotic locale, then shit isn't going to get done, and your more inclusive understanding of "selling out" is not valid or useful.
Posted by Rex winsome on October 23, 2008 at 11:50 AM · Report this
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Well, everyone has their own definition of "selling out", Rex; some of the people who've been involved in this discussion would probably consider attaining professional status as "selling out"; others would probably suggest compromising ones values - whatever they may be - in exchange for "filthy lucre" as such.

But regardless, at some point EVERYBODY becomes a sell-out in somebody else's eyes, as the line that proscribes ones beliefs is tightened by attempting to achieve an ever-restrictive adherence to some increasingly unattainable definition of "ideological purity".

So, really, it's not wrong, it's just different, keep that in mind.
Posted by COMTE on October 23, 2008 at 11:31 AM · Report this
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My psydonym is Rex Winsome, google it and you'll find all my shit's on the table. My blog is rwinsome.blogspot.com, my theatre company is Insurgent Theatre, our website is insurgenttheatre.org my real name is Ben Turk. We're currently based out of Milwaukee Wisconsin, but are hoping to be performing in a basement, blackbox, or dive bar in your neck of the woods (every neck of every woods) within the next 12 months.

Now, let's stop talking about me, and start talking about a revolution.
Posted by Rex winsome on October 23, 2008 at 11:30 AM · Report this
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Well, for everyone using a pseudonym, I can only take what you say so seriously. In a recent private email to Kiley, I pointed out that contrary to the literary world there is no strong tradition of acting/writing anonymously or even pseudonymously in the theatre. (AND do NOT start in on the Shakespeare/Bacon thing.) Comte, Kiley and I have all been going at it hammer and tongs here, and staking our names on it. If you can't bring your name and reputation to the table, I'm not sure how far you're going to be able to take your "revolution."
Posted by Mullin on October 23, 2008 at 11:18 AM · Report this
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COMTE - independent artists of all types have slacker jobs. Working administration at a big dinosaur of a theatre can be a perfectly legit slacker job, but it oughta be treated as a slacker job.

The dinosaurs are not gonna sheltering us from "the big one" that might hit someday, they ARE "the big one" slowly sapping the life out of our art. If we're passionate about this art, then we oughta be PISSED to see it sucked dry and fucked up by dinosaurs.

We need to start looking at this as an "us or them" relationship. We need to forgo borrowing the scraps from their props department in favor of retaining the actors they lure out of our companies with empty promises of "hitting it big".

Thelymhound - That difference between music and theatre is becoming less and less relevant. We've left the age of mechanical reproduction, and in the age of virtual reproduction (where recordings can be mass produced by anyone at no cost) CD's aren't going to be profitable anymore. If you look at the indie rock community, the emphasis is shifting to live performance.

This is an oportunity for saavy theatre artists to drop our association with dinosaurs and dead playwrights and build associations with these other much more exciting and growing communities.

And COMTE, you're wrong about selling out. "It's really only selling-out if you give in to the establishment ethic, and stop doing the radical shit on-the-side."

Our future lies in making our radical work our focus and center and relegating our slacker jobs with the dinosaurs to "shit on-the-side". Anything less than that is selling out.
Posted by Rex winsome on October 23, 2008 at 10:14 AM · Report this
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Also for the record - This has been fun, and fun is the only reason I jumped in to begin with. I'm actually quite pleased that we in the theater are all doing what we're doing, and I hope we remember that the REAL goal is to do it more, do it better, and do it for more people.
Posted by thelyamhound on October 23, 2008 at 9:49 AM · Report this
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Just for the record, I'm not "gunning" for anyone, and I came out against "war," if you'll recall. I will continue to see everyone's shows here, big house or little junk shop, as I can afford. I like the push and pull between canon and iconoclasm, large and small, mainstream (for lack of a less tiresome and reductive word) and fringe (ditto).

I say "calcified" simply because I mistrust institutions reflexively, and so use "codified" and "calcified" almost interchangeably. My concern is that, as currently run, the vetting process in question keeps actors who seek professional status as defined away from the junk-shop aesthetics that, for me (lest I be accused of laying down maxims) are simply more interesting. And again, I'm not against it happening or existing; I'm only suggesting that we not take it too seriously. I'm hard-pressed to think of an art-form where the "vetted" are responsible for innovation (though, to be fair, it is often the vetted who finally bring those innovations to a mainstream audience). I can't speak for anyone else, but for my part, it's not so much that I wish I could "exploit" those actors who have taken that path; it's usually just a desire to work with actors I already know, trust, and have worked with, only to discover that they've become unavailable.

There may not be a practical fix, but then, I'm not making a practical point. I don't think its possible (or even desirable) to make every play a premier, either, but if we're talking about points of departure for what we'd like to fix, well . . . here we are.

I don't really go to punk shows per se; it's easier to type "punk" than bore you with the hyphens and hybrids that make up my CD collection. But here, in my 30s, I do still like music that makes my fillings rattle. I don't know if that means I'm young, arrested in my development, or simply suffering from some sort of pathology. Ask me in another 10 years. :) But a quick thought on that--yes, having a different band playing every night makes a difference, and having a distributable product like a CD helps you shore up that audience. But then, an audience for any one night at Neumos could fill a whole run at most fringe houses in town. I'd like to know how we find people with THAT level of specialized interest. Is that something the press facilitates? Or our marketing departments?

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Posted by thelyamhound on October 23, 2008 at 9:43 AM · Report this
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Kurt is coming back wheither you produce new plays or not.
Posted by Secret on October 22, 2008 at 10:10 PM · Report this
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www.seattleperforms.com
Posted by COMTE on October 22, 2008 at 9:54 PM · Report this
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Granted, yet another web site won't solve everything, but anybody have an example of a site that does theater listings and community reviews well?

Seems like that would be more useful than a shitty little blurb buried in the hooker ads in the Stranger.

I'll let you theat-re types figure the rest out.
Posted by jseattle on October 22, 2008 at 9:36 PM · Report this
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So, Paul, why did you decline membership in Dramatists Guild? I just joined.
Posted by weasle on October 22, 2008 at 8:02 PM · Report this
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Yeah, and despite Paul failing to recognize the critical point that, the only reason AEA members in L.A. GET to "work for free" in theatre is because those same members have determined it MIGHT get them a SAG or AFTRA call from the TV & film casting agents who troll the 99-seat waiver houses like Johans on the Reeperbahn,
I'll be watching his six o'clock just the same.

I may vehemently disagree with him, but that doesn't mean I don't TRUST and RESPECT him.
Posted by COMTE on October 22, 2008 at 7:22 PM · Report this
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I'm with Comte. I'm not down for a war. As much as he's simply wrong about the very small and simple point I've been trying to make, and as much as he can blather on and on and on with countless red herrings about "professional" versus "amateur" carefully avoiding it (it being that sometimes AEA folks WANT to work with for free to develop new work but can't here, but can in LA and New York, and not by asking ad hoc permission of some choke point local union don either) as much as all those things, if you come gunning for Comte, figuratively, literally, whatever, assume you're gonna have to go through me. And I won't be the only one either.
Posted by Mullin on October 22, 2008 at 7:09 PM · Report this
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"Calcified"? In what sense? The only people I've heard complaining about the vetting process, I mean REALLY complaining, are those who express frustration because the process doesn't grant them license to do the very thing the process is in-place to prevent, namely to exploit people who, by virtue of going through that process, have expressed the desire to NOT be exploited.

I certainly can't argue with the quest to find ones audience; that's the dilemma EVERY theatre, regardless of size, has to confront and overcome if they're going to be successful. And yeah, the punk shows do seem to fill up - at least so I hear, having not been to one in ages (live punk shows being a young person's millieu - I'm just too old to slam in the pit, or even stand in the back nowadays) but - and someone please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong about this - I don't think the "scene" is so large that it could support more than the two or three clubs and score of local bands who perform in them on a regular basis (out-town-touring bands factor into this of course, I'm well aware). After all, that's one of the advantages the music/club scene has over the theatre scene; there's always a new show the next night, so it's a lot easier to get the same people to show up two or three times a week.

*Sigh!* Things were sooooo much easier in the "olden times", when theatre's only real competition was bear-baiting or the occasional beheading, and all you had to worry about was The Plague, or a radical change in the religious beliefs of your rulers, or trying not to burn your theatre to the ground!

:)
Posted by COMTE on October 22, 2008 at 6:40 PM · Report this
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I'm really hoping to hear this same kind of spirited debate on Monday. This has certainly been one of the more interesting threads on the Stranger in quite some time.
Posted by Geni on October 22, 2008 at 6:07 PM · Report this
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Chris, I don't think anyone "sucks balls"; what I find, rather, is that theater is theater, and the difference between shows at big houses and shows at little houses is usually a matter of special effects and tech support (the importance of which can't be underestimated).

Well, and patrons. Which is perhaps the MOST important thing of all.

Which, of course, is just my subjective opinion. But if we're admitting that the opinions we hold might just be our own, oughtn't we to admit that the vetting process is just a calcified, codified version of someone's subjective judgment? Yes, this is how canon is formed and traditions established; yes, this is how we build upon the knowledge of the past and avoid repeating mistakes. But I tend to think that having gone to school or put time in on equity productions says more about your capacity to deal with those systems than with your capacity to learn, the breadth or depth of your knowlege, and/or the quality of your work.

Do you think music professors decided that the Clash were worth remembering? Hell, did music professors OR the market canonize the Velvet Underground?

Which makes me think, if anything, that what fringe theater needs to do better is FIND its audience, and in THAT, we can learn from music. Because punk bands don't seem to have all that much trouble finding punk fans. There's an untapped audience for what we do, and we just need to figure out where they're hiding.
Posted by thelyamhound on October 22, 2008 at 5:24 PM · Report this
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Heh, heh . . . I liked the "up against the wall!" flavor, but yeah. The one difference worth noting is that music, like cinema, can create a distributable product--a CD, cinema--whereas theater requires that the personnel in question (at least the actors, stage manager, and running technicians) to show up every night their product is to be consumed.

Also, I happen to like playing around in the canon. Shakespeare, Beckett, Brecht, and Artaud are, for me, proof that people have been COOL throughout history, that they understood that big ideas + sex + blood + whatever else you can come up with to fuck with the audience's collective senses = slam-bang entertainment AND enduring art years before we had a continuum from Throbbing Gristle to Sleepytime Gorilla Museum to re-acquaint us with that fact.
Posted by thelyamhound on October 22, 2008 at 5:08 PM · Report this
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Well, in that respect Lyam, there are no assurances about ANYTHING - scores of people die on the operating table every year because a trained, experienced surgeon or anesthesiologist bollocks-up the procedure; nothing is 100% guaranteed.

BUT, there IS an expectation that, if one has put in the additional time and training to get the advanced degree, or if one has performed a sufficient body of work at the professional level to qualify for an Equity card, that they WILL be better than the fringe actor coming straight off a general studies undergrad program. If they're NOT, they're either not going to land the role in the first place, because someone better, or more experienced will invariably beat them out of it, or if by some chance they DO, their deficiencies will be come readily apparent to an experienced director. And believe it or not, if an actor in an Equity production isn't cutting the mustard, they CAN be replaced.

So, the problem with the whole issue of subjectivity we've been bandying about here is that it's just that; subjective. YOU may think that actor in that Rep production sucks donkey balls, but the person next to you may not. And more to the point, the person who hired them, for whatever reason, also clearly disagrees with your assessment. So, maybe you take issue with the director's choice, but that calls into question the qualifications of the person who hired THEM, and so-on and so-on. At what point does one have to at least tacitly acknowledge that, one's opinion regarding the relative merits of a particular actor, or director, or playwright, or whomever - is simply a matter of personal taste, of opinion, and perhaps one not shared by others who are equally qualified to judge (as much as one can ever be), and who therefore have the right to express equally valid, if not completely contrary opinions to your own?

There are certainly plenty of people just in this discussion thread, who have taken umbrage with MY opinions, but that doesn't mean I'm wrong; just as I have to grant to them, if I respect them as practitioners, that some of their points may turn out to be RIGHT.

But, they're going to have to do one heck of a job of convincing me first, just as I imagine I would have to do the same to get them to change their respective opinions.
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Posted by COMTE on October 22, 2008 at 5:01 PM · Report this
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But, Rex, who's going to be on which side in the coming war?

Many of the people I know who do fringe theatre at night, spend most of their days earning their livings in the very "establishment" theatres, unions, and organizations you'd see destroyed! They may not be actors (although in some cases they are), but rather administrators, teachers, technicians, designers. They work in the establishment theatres because they prefer that to working shitty temp or corporate jobs elsewhere, and at least it's in the same field as their undergrad or MFA degrees.

These day jobs provide them with the financial stability that in turn allows them to spend most of their "leisure time" creating work about which they feel passionate, if in fact they don't share the same passion for the mainstream product as the organizations for which they toil during the day.

Also, in my experience theatre tends to be much more collaborative than music; three, or four, or seven people at most are needed to form a band, but in some cases the CAST for a show is going to exceed that number. Plus, there's a fairly limited pool of good stage managers, designers and technicians, and it's essential to the health of the community that they circulate between companies. And then there's all the barter that goes on: your company loans me some costumes, and I loan you some props in return, yadda-yadda.

The environment in which fringe-level theatre takes place simply couldn't support a purely competitive, Darwinian model; without some level of self-serving altruistic symbiosis, none of the fringe would survive. We may just be the scrappy little mammals scurrying beneath the feet of the giant, plodding dinosaurs, but at least those dinosaurs will provide much needed cover when the Big One hits, not to mention a few tasty morsel that occasionally fall to ground from their ravenous, gaping maws.

So, really, don't knock the dinos too much; they come in handy sometimes.

Another thing to consider: the fringe has always shared the DIY ethic of the punk and later grunge scenes; it's really no surprise to anyone who's been around for any length of time, that Seattle simultaneously developed a rep as a hot fringe-theatre town at the same time the music scene was garnering similar attention. There was in fact a fair amount of cross-pollenization going on between the two in the late '80's and early '90's. And that "punk" ethic still drives much of the fringe to this day.

Annex, the theatre of which I've been a company member for more than 20 years operates as an anarcho-collectivist ensemble: the people who show up to the meetings make the decisions, and everything, from selection of programming, to who will be artistic director, to who's going to dump the garbage that week are made on a consensus basis. We operate on the narrowest of margins: the production budget for the show I just directed was a whopping $300, but I had an incredibly talented team of young, eager, creative designers and technicians who have done some truly incredible things with that small amount of cash - and in fact, I don't think we even spent it all.

So, the real problem with your "up against the wall, mutherfucker!" attitude is simply that, for a lot of theatre practitioners in this town there is no "us versus them"; it's all "we": we work in those "establishment organizations", and while we may not always think what they do is great, or noble, or inspiring, or whatever, being there is what makes it possible to do all the punk-assed crazy shit we do at night.

And who knows? Maybe having a few of the punks running around the Halls of Establishment might even have a beneficial effect on them - there IS something to be said for "changing the system from the inside."

It's really only selling-out if you give in to the establishment ethic, and stop doing the radical shit on-the-side. After all, biting the hand that feeds you is a time-honored revolutionary practice!
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Posted by COMTE on October 22, 2008 at 4:37 PM · Report this
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I get all that, Chris, but I don't really see where MFA or AEA in any way assures an auditor that an actor can do all (or in fact any) of these things. This is more a culture-wide problem than a specific theatrical one: we use education and accreditation as shorthand for things that we can't be bothered to measure for ourselves, but for which, in fact, the accrediting institutions cannot really account. Which means that a lot of that is taken on faith, even at an Equity casting call.

I've never heard anyone complain (too much, anyway) about my "quantifiable skills," but there are no letters with which they can be confirmed. If there are specific skills required of me for a given show, I assume I'll be auditioned on that basis.

The point isn't that ALL an actor does falls into the subjective category, but the question as to whether an actor is "good" or not certainly does (and we're not even touching upon actor-writers, generative theater artists, etc., categories of theatrical artist that lie outside the audition mills and contingencies of regional theater).

I don't necessarily buy that Equity is a club; I recognize its legitimacy as a union, and that it's more than an "anvil" when it comes to making theater a viable pursuit. But just as the future of music is often written in basements and garages by people whose technique only emerges over time in direct response to content, theater might not have the room to evolve at houses where houses need to be filled to pay the (well-deserved! and still paltry!) wages of its artists. And it's a shame, I think--maybe not a big shame, but a little shame--that you have to take yourself entirely out of the one kind of art in order to practice the other. No one tells a "professional" musician who's following the work that he can't have his art-punk band on the side; this seems like the functional equivalent. A lot of that is because of the commercially cumbersome nature of live theater, and the contingent nature of acting, in particular (how do you act when no one has a project for you?), so I don't blame the union for it. I'm just sayin' . . .
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Posted by thelyamhound on October 22, 2008 at 4:10 PM · Report this
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I've read the first 100 or so of these comments and i've noticed a couple of interesting threads weaving through here. There seems to be one group (we'll call them The Establishment) saying: "We CAN'T do these things, Brendan! Give up The Bard? Published works? Equity? Our aging donors? Oh no, that's IMPOSSIBLE!" and another group (we'll call them The Fringe) saying "damn it Brendan, we're already doing a bunch of these things, but we're losing our asses anyway!"

These two groups clearly have conflicting interests. As much as it's nice to all get along and be friendly with each other, there comes a time when we need to recognize when we're at cross purposes. When the relationship between two groups naturally OUGHT to be antagonistic.

By antagonistic, i mean The Fringe needs to start pushing The Establishment out of the way. We have to stop letting them define what "theatre" is, need to stop supporting artists who sell out, betraying theatre for a shitty but paying (and poorly at that) role with The Establishment, and need to stop kissing ass whenever The Establishment takes a dump.

The reason The Stranger and the majority of young people are more excited about (and give more press to) the music scene is that independent musicians are independent. They have thoroughly distanced themselves from radio friendly pop, and from old folks who shit their pants when they hear Sinatra or Bach.

It's becoming increasingly clear that this is the model Fringe Theatre needs to follow, and it starts at the artist level. Have you ever listened to indie rockers or punks rip each other up for even listening to radio friendly schmaltz? It's devastating, and it indicates a real passion for the kind of music they play. If you compare that to theatre, where we're expected to congratulate an artist who aquires immense debt in an MFA program just to be groomed for the equivalent of an opportunity to play in Celine Dion's back up band (or worse, actually, at least Celine Dion didn't die hundreds of years ago).

I hate to say it, but it's begining to look like time for a war.
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Posted by Rex Winsome on October 22, 2008 at 3:52 PM · Report this
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Brendan, consumer protection is just one small facet of why these professions have vetting bodies; another is to maintain standards of ethical and professional conduct; to help ensure their members maintain up-to-date skill-sets; and to act as advocates for the profession and its members, among the many other functions. And I would have to say, based on my experience as a union member and a representative of union members, Equity, AFTRA, SAG and the other performers unions fulfill these functions admirably - you may not like HOW they do this, but then, nobody's twisting your arm and forcing you to join, are they?

And just like any other similar professional association, Equity cannot guarantee 100% of the time that the actor you see on stage at The Rep or 5th Ave is going to be "better" than some inexperienced amateur, but your definition of what "better" is just as subjective as the qualities you're criticizing to some extent. That being said, there ARE nevertheless quantifiable measures of ability: you can tell when the singer doesn't hit the note, or when the dancer stumbles, and even usually when the actor drops a line, and given a choice between an Equity actor and a non-union actor, you have much better odds of the former having the education, training, and experience needed to successfully achieve those objectives than you do with the latter. That's one reason why audiences are willing to pay more for a production at an Equity theatre, because there is an expectation on their part that they will be seeing professionals engaged in a higher-quality of performance. Yes, it is somewhat subjective, but not completely so, and to argue otherwise is simply ignoring the obvious.

And while there may not be a "professional league of painters and sculptors" NOW, there have been such associations in the past, and even today there ARE numerous professional associations of writers, singers, dancers, musicians, photographers, composers, choreographers - and many other artistic pursuits that recognize and adhere to standards set down by their governing agencies. So, the argument that just because SOME artistic disciplines aren't governed under any sort of adjudicating authority, therefore acting (which DOES in fact already have such agencies) is somehow exempt from such vetting - simply doesn't wash.

Paul, the more pertinent question is NOT whether someone can be a "professional something" while at the same time they engage in artistic pursuits; the issue is would that artist (and we'll take WCW as the example, since you bring him up) would consider themselves a "professional" in both arenas? Williams continued his medical practice during his entire tenure as a writer, and in fact, even drew inspiration from it; he most certainly didn't abandon it when people started buying his poetry. But, so far as I'm aware at least, he never considered himself to be, nor did he ever identify himself as a "professional poet". So, really, what's your point?

Ah, but here's the rub: you wouldn't "call Equity and ask for someone" to play a plumber, but if you can GET an Equity actor to play a plumber, and NOT have to pay them a living wage, then everything's cool, right? So, you'll take the "professional", but only when the terms suit your own needs and purposes, that is, when you can get them on-the-cheap.

Really, you've got a bit of nerve calling the union you QUIT a "club", then criticizing it from the outside because it doesn't allow you to exploit its members in exactly the manner the union was created to prevent! The system you describe as "unworkable" is only so - IN YOUR OPINION - because it doesn't let you get away with paying union actors next-to-nothing in exchange for their labor, which is really all you seem to care about. If you want to cast actors who are more concerned about "doing the art" than "making a living doing the art", then you've got a sufficiently large pool of volunteer labor already at your disposal. But, apparently even you yourself don't consider them "good enough", because you keep harping back to the notion that "if only the UNION would let me use their members at fringe theatre rates of compensation, THEN everything would be hunky-dory!"

You can call Equity a "club" Paul, but that's a statement of opinion, not of fact. Actors Equity Association is a LABOR UNION, recognized as such by the National Labor Relations Board, the Associated Actors and Artistes of America, and the AFL-CIO; none of which are in the business of sanctioning "clubs". Just because YOU happen to think of it in such a manner, don't make it so. You got a problem with labor unions, again, that's your opinion to express, but I don't have to watch you sit at your computer and INSULT the tens of thousands of actors who have chosen to associate themselves with AEA, who recognize the collective benefits of union solidarity, and who actively strive to improve the lot of working actors across the country, especially when, by your own admission, you'd prefer to use UNION ACTORS in your shows, IF ONLY they wouldn't be so uppity as to demand things like living wages and safe working conditions!

So far as I can tell, you seem to be suggesting the system is "unworkable" because it doesn't let you do what you want, which apparently is to have the union roll, over, play dead, and get out of your way. Somehow, I don't think that's going to happen, regardless of how much you kvetch.

Lyam, I don't for a moment believe in the idea that ALL an actor does falls into the "subjective" category. There are plenty of quantifiable criteria that come into play when casting: can the actor do the dialect? How do they handle a rapier or quarter-staff? How quickly can they memorize dialogue? Do they take direction? Can they perform certain specific physical actions required by the script such as: dance choreography, hitting that high "C", or doing that back-flip, or landing that punch? Whether Paul wants to admit it or not, he, just like any director worth their salt, is going to cast an actor in a role based as much on these measurable quantifiers as for the subjective ones. And the more of these demonstrable, quantifiable skills an actor has, the better their chances of landing a role and successfully portraying it.
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Posted by COMTE on October 22, 2008 at 3:23 PM · Report this
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No line crossed. Just like to know who I'm tussling with. We seem for the most part to be vehemently agreeing.

And for the record to all: Chris Comte is a gentleman AND a professional (in whatever sense one could mean it). He certainly has the standing to speak on any subject regarding the theatre he chooses, but I humbly submit this is because of his body of work and immense dedication, and not because he's got three letters at the top of his resume.

(I do love and admire you, Chris. You're just caught defending the wrong approach for our art at this time.)
Posted by Mullin on October 22, 2008 at 2:55 PM · Report this
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Sorry to have been overly familiar; it's possible we've met, but I don't think so. If I did, well, it was my honor, and sorry I've forgotten about it; I'll blame drink.

I was only addressing "you" (or rather, the "author function" of your comments) because I sympathized with some--hell, most--of what you said, and because I know COMTE (in the meat world, even!), and, since I was directly addressing him, it seemed only fair to do so to you.

Agreed on our distance from the exigencies of the marketplace and such; otherwise, sorry if I crossed some line or other in addressing your arguments.
Posted by thelyamhound on October 22, 2008 at 2:31 PM · Report this
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To thelyamhound: You speak as if you know me. Do you? I'll respond only this one to an essentially anonymous poster.

I could give a shit if anyone ever calls me professional. "Professional playwright"? Hah! Why not "professional cooper" or "professional candledipper"? Our art form is so far from the exigencies of the marketplace that to speak in terms of protection for the workers is quickly moving from the absurd to the obscene.
Posted by Mullin on October 22, 2008 at 2:19 PM · Report this
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Brendan - "A closer analogy would be a professional league of painters or sculptors—which, of course, doesn't exist."

Mmmmmmmaybe . . . Or maybe a closer analogy would be a workers' union like any other--Teamsters, AFL-CIO, whatever. Only, you know, without the money.

I think there's a legitimate use for such a union for performers, because I think there are performers (and other artists) who function like workers. Some people really are artists the way other people are doctors or plumbers.

Some of the rest of us are artists the way other people are epileptics: it seizes us, it wrecks us, and it's just possible that you won't get us to stop unless you cut into our brains.
Posted by thelyamhound on October 22, 2008 at 1:51 PM · Report this
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Geez, it looks like I picked on COMTE the whole time, but the later portion also speaks a bit to Mullin. I guess what I wonder is, Mullin, if you and I both agree (and I think we do) that the term "professional" doesn't speak to the quality of our work, why do we covet (and I think we do) that appellation? I mean, I KNOW why we want the money, but that's sort of a different topic. I'd love to be paid, but as to how I'm known, I'd rather people say that I'm good than that I'm professional.
Posted by thelyamhound on October 22, 2008 at 1:40 PM · Report this
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This "amateur dentist and lawyer" argument is totally specious. Those regulations are about consumer protection. If Equity successfully protected regional-theater audiences from bad acting, you might have a case, but...

A closer analogy would be a professional league of painters or sculptors—which, of course, doesn't exist.

Imagine this: A bureaucracy of gatekeepers between artists and galleries that tell curators who they can and can't show in their galleries. Sounds totally counterproductive, doesn't it?

Equity was founded in the early 1900s, back when rapacious producers and theater owners really fucked actors over.

We don't live in that world any more, especially not after the rise of the nonprofit model. So what's Equity for today? And how's it helping? And if your union is so goddamned great, why are so many "professional" actors still migrant workers who can't afford houses?

The system is broken.
Posted by Brendan Kiley on October 22, 2008 at 1:38 PM · Report this
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You've gone off the rails, Chris. Should I throw out my volumes of William Carlos Williams because he made his living as a physician?

What does art have to do with board certification anyway? If I wanted plumbing I'd hire a plumber. If I wanted someone to act like a plumber, I'd hire an actor. I'd either audition them or cast them based on my knowledge of their work. I sure as hell wouldn't call Equity and ask them to recommend someone.

I actually sit on that side of the casting table, remember? The "AEA" at the top of an auditioner's resume is usually only of interest in that it means that I probably can't work with them in Seattle. It sure DOESN'T mean they're automatically qualified for a role.

It's a club, Chris. You know it. I know it. And it's time the folks who aren't, like us, on the inside knew it, too, so maybe we can talk about changing a an unworkable system. Unless, of course, as seems to be the case, Seattle members of the union have little or no say in how they govern themselves.

It's time to throw the tea the harbor.
Posted by Mullin on October 22, 2008 at 1:35 PM · Report this
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Okay, Mullin, COMTE . . . You're both pretty. And you've both got some good points.

When you make the comparison to a doctor, dentist, lawyer, or accountant, you fail to acknowledge that art, by its very nature, deals in the subjective (often the radically subjective). It also ignores that musical history, for the last 50 years or so, has been largely driven by people who only know (or knew) three chords, who coasted on a vain hope that someone might buy a "product" that was invented while its hopeful inventors were probably slaving away at day jobs.

I think we need to first agree that education, professional status, and legitimacy (whatever that is) are all very different things, that an educated artist simply doesn't differ, necessarily, from the autodidact in the way that an accredited physician differs from an inspired amateur because the human body, at least on the surface and in principle, is a fixed system that operates according to consistent rules. One might posit that the human condition, truth, beauty, or any of those abstractions on which artists hang their respective hats are also fixed systems, but such an assertion is fundamentally untestable. To call study of the human condition a soft science is to greatly flatter its empirical veracity.

To be "professional" is a matter between you and your landlord, or to ponder when determining how much longer you can take the cycle of working during the week and making art with the rest of your time. There's nothing either ignoble or, truth be told, PARTICULARLY noble about being professional, though it's always a laudable goal. A band that plays covers of the Eagles for weddings is "professional," and so is Nick Cave (though one suspects he had to toil for years as an "amateur" before his experiments created a marketable product). Professionalism produces mediocrity as surely as does amateurism; I won't mark my career any more than I already have by listing the successful, mainstream, professional playwrights I consider mediocre, but I'm sure I'm not the only one here who could name a few.

Sometimes, I'm paid a nice wage for my acting work; sometimes I'm not. If I'm professional in one capacity and not in the other, well . . . fine. But I submit, in that case, that the word "professional" is the one that speaks least to my legitimacy (again, whatever that is) as an artist.
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Posted by thelyamhound on October 22, 2008 at 1:28 PM · Report this
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Sounds to me like you already have, Paul.

Keep that in mind the next time you're looking for a doctor, dentist, lawyer or accountant - I'm sure the self-proclaimed "professionals" in those fields will be just as good as those hoity-toity, elitist "board certified professionals" - and a lot cheaper too!
Posted by COMTE on October 22, 2008 at 12:56 PM · Report this
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From Comte: ". . .the end result of diluting the very concept of professionalism until it becomes essentially meaningless, and therefore completely irrelevant.

If anyone can become a "professional" simply by virtue of self-proclamation, then eventually NOBODY will be, because there's no longer any demonstrable distinction between what a professional is and is not."

Sounds perfect. Where do I sign up?
Posted by Mullin on October 22, 2008 at 12:14 PM · Report this
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I turned Equity at 19. I walked away from it. I was offered membership in the Dramatists Guild at 23. I declined. I suppose that makes me an amateur, and I will most certainly give your email address to anyone who seeks further clarification the non-pejorative connotation of that word.

The day I seek accreditation from a sanctioning body for my standing as an artist is the day I choke on my own bile.

And you know me well enough, Chris, to know I pit my chops, professional or otherwise, in acting or writing for the stage, against the best in the business.

To an some (perhaps arcane) extent you're right: being a "professional" theatre artist is like being a professional poet or professional philosopher. As soon as you join the words together they become mutually absurd.
Posted by Mullin on October 22, 2008 at 11:53 AM · Report this
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Oh, and Paul, how does letting every Tom, Dick and Shirley call themselves a "professional" without some sort of vetting process "raise the game"? That's just a recipe for allowing things to degenerate into a state of abject mediocrity, with the end result of diluting the very concept of professionalism until it becomes essentially meaningless, and therefore completely irrelevant.

If anyone can become a "professional" simply by virtue of self-proclamation, then eventually NOBODY will be, because there's no longer any demonstrable distinction between what a professional is and is not.
Posted by COMTE on October 22, 2008 at 11:52 AM · Report this
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*Sigh!* I guess, if people want to continue to argue the point, without apparently bothering to READ anything I've written regarding the issue, then I'll just have to keep repeating myself ad nauseum.

So, just to make things absolutely clear: One does NOT confer "professional status" upon oneself; that flies against the entire purpose of distinguishing between a professional and an amateur in EVERY field of endeavor that embraces the concept. And as I also stated previously, this is something quite different from developing and maintaining an ATTITUDE of professionalism; there are a myriad of talented individuals in our community, who, while they may not have earned professional status, nevertheless conduct themselves in a manner that bespeaks of having a sense of professional demeanor. That, in and of itself, does not MAKE them "professional" in terms of certification, but it does indicate an aspiration toward such, and I heartily support the continued cultivation of that kind of attitude in our industry.

You know, there once was a time, not so many years ago, when people in many endeavors embraced the term "amateur" in its original meaning, "one who does for the love of". It was worn, not as a mark of shame, but rather, as a badge of honor, because it conferred the idea that the person so designated possessed a purity of intent that elevated them above such base considerations as financial remuneration for example.

Now granted, the word has been denigrated over time to be perceived as a pejorative to the point that now people view the word as being synonymous with "ineptitude" or "of low quality", but I don't think that SHOULD be the case at all. Most of us do what we do out of true love for the medium, for the work, for our fellow performers - and under those circumstances, I can't imagine why someone would be ashamed to be called an "amateur" IF the word is used in its purest, truest sense.

And Paul, if you truly wish to have the distinction of "professional playwright" bestowed upon you, I would think applying for membership in the Dramatists Guild (www.dramatistsguild.com) would be an excellent place to start.

On the other hand, if you want instead to simply "walk away from such empty distinctions" that's perfectly fine by me. I simply take umbrage at people bestowing appellations upon themselves which they haven't earned, and therefore don't deserve. If you, or anyone else for that matter, feels they HAVE earned the distinction of being called a "professional" in their chosen field, well, there's always a sanctioning body to vet that process; you just have to seek it out.

Or, quit bitching because you either haven't made the effort, or, they didn't approve your application.
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Posted by COMTE on October 22, 2008 at 11:40 AM · Report this
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Brendan,
Yes, the Rep is hosting this event and THANK GOD you'll be talking very little -- I think we've all heard enough from you at this point.

The fact that you say you can't list every play because it wouldn't leave enough space for your articles is laughable. Your articles are worthless, pretentious, uninformed, completely masturbatory and damaging to the arts community. Why do you even do the job you do? You're not good at it, you seems to despise art by your shear lack of respect in that you don't spend nearly enough time educating yourself. How many times do you read the play before you go review it? How often do you interview a development staffer or fundraiser of a theatre? How often do you sit down with the head of corporate giving at a company? How often have you put a production budget together? How many times have you fallen in love with a new work and poured your heart and bank account in it only to look at empty seats every night because some asshole at The Stranger was so busy patting himself on the back for his latest one-liner that he couldn't find space or time to print the schedule of the show or give it some preview press that is informed and enticing?

We all want great art. We all want great artists. We all want to be innovators but butts in seats only pay part of the bills. We need as many seats filled as possible and in the meantime, we all raise as much money for our art as we possibly can. That's where you could help -- list everything that's going on in the city -- from basement fringe to ACT. Let people know there's a wealth of stuff going on in this city at any given moment. Run preview articles that tell people why the play is important. We chose it for a reason -- help us tell the people why. Publish the dicounts and special deals that theatres offer regularly. There are student discounts, under 25 discounts, under 40 discounts -- there are plenty of way to see theatre cheap in this city. Help us spread the word.

We're OVER you Brendan -- and we're over The Stranger. You want to help? -- stop writing asshole articles, get informed and try to say something positive once in awhile.

And maybe you could take the garbage home in your car once in awhile...
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Posted by Whitney Burdsall on October 22, 2008 at 11:21 AM · Report this
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So Chris, what would you call me? I don't fit your definition of a "professional" as either a playwright or an actor. I believe you saw my work as both in Annex's production of TUESDAY. I stand by its quality, wearing both hats, at the highest of levels, but if I'm not a "professional" by your standards, or anyone else's, then I have to shake my head and walk away from such empty distinctions.

I'm surprised at you, my friend, driving this dichotomy when it's obviously the last thing we need in our efforts to raise the game in this good, but not yet great, theatre town.
Posted by Mullin on October 22, 2008 at 9:47 AM · Report this
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Jenner, are you talking about Open Circle? FWIW, they've moved to Belltown. The same building Freehold is now in.
Posted by louisep on October 21, 2008 at 11:37 PM · Report this
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Wow. That was fantastic.

What I learned: Pour liquor on it.
Posted by Curtis T on October 21, 2008 at 2:17 PM · Report this
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For all of you still reading this thread, the Seattle Rep has invited me to host a forum regarding this article on Monday Oct 27 at 7:30 pm.

I'll talk a little, but mostly it will be an open discussion, with you all talking to each other.

Booze will be plentiful and cheap.
Posted by Brendan Kiley on October 20, 2008 at 5:29 PM · Report this
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There is a theater troupe in seattle that is trying to do all you espouse.

Maybe it's time to take a second look at this hard working and original troupe, that has grown far beyond your first impressions long ago. They create new work almost every single time they open the doors and, while not all of it is ACT or The Rep caliber, there is some good stuff happening there -- every single show.

Hint: it's located on Dexter and Harrison.
Posted by jenner on October 20, 2008 at 4:10 PM · Report this
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C'mon, Comte...there's a bit of a distance between an amateur doctor and an amateur actor. Hyperbolize much?

No, I wouldn't want an amateur dentist pulling my teeth, but I'd be glad to watch an amateur actor perform a play. Sometimes (don't tell anyone) I prefer it. And sometimes (again, don't tell anyone) I'd rather work with the amateur...they're nicer to work with, a lot of the time. They aren't as prone to be divas.

We all know that there are a lot of us 'amateurs' who make a partial living acting. But simply purchasing an AEA membership does not a 'professional' make. AEA membership is about wages and safety. There is no inherent 'professionalism,' no talent edge, no guarantee of talent...it's not really even a union. A union helps out its members when they are out of work. AEA cares very little about assistance, or it would be concerned about the ecology of a theater community like Puget Sound.

Same goes for the Stranger's record. Comte's nailed you on that one, Kiley. Like the rest of your so-called newspaper, it's (not to put too fine a point on it) a load of crap. Poor writing, inexperienced or ignorant reviews and reviewers...why bother? The newspapaer either cares or it doesn't care about its reading constituency. Yours does not. And I don't mean the theater community...I mean the readers you ought to care about in order to keep from dying. The ones to attract. Who care about theater. Who pick up your paper to see what's really happening but can't find a decent damn thing about the theater scene, and stop picking it up.

Hmmm. Now I see the comparison. The Stranger doesn't care about the theater community, and it loses readers (other than the sex clubs and hipsters) and it eventually folds. AEA doesn't care about the theater community, and eventually all the good actors leave and the theater community folds.
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Posted by kjdahl on October 20, 2008 at 4:04 PM · Report this
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"Obviously Mr.Kiley has never run a theatre, been involved as a managing director of a theatre, or had producing experience, otherwise he would never had suggested such ill-conceived, scatter brained notions for theatres to "save themselves"."

Which is why at least one of the small fringe theatres I'm involved with (with a HUGE audience) is considering each and everyone of his ideas.

Don't agree with everything in the original article and certainly don't agree with every implementation, but there's a hell of a lot of truth there.

And I sure as hell ain't bagging on the Stranger. Yeah, LIST every show---that's what media is there for, as a reference. But reviews? Psh. The best and the worst reviews I ever got were from the Stranger, and the resulting box offices for the shows were exactly the same.
Posted by Roger Tang on October 20, 2008 at 12:30 PM · Report this
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Sean:

As a 23 year veteran of the Seattle Theatre Community, I have and DO continue to call them as I sees them; and the people around here who know me, know my history, my credentials, and my experience, while they may not LIKE hearing this, and in many cases certainly don't AGREE with it, respect it nevertheless.

A person can call themselves "professional", but self-selecting for that particular appellation doesn't mean it's true. The simple fact of the matter is that, unless you're being paid some semblance of a living wage, one sufficient to entail you to perform a particular task, job, endeavor, what-you-will, to the exclusion of any other form of employment - even if only for a few weeks out of the year, then you really AREN'T a working professional, and have no right to call yourself one, no matter how much you may BELIEVE it to be true.

Artists, and particularly performing artists, have an infuriating tendency to bandy about the term "professional" willy-nilly, to the point that the meaning of the word has been almost completely devalued in our medium. In many cases they do so without EVER doing ANYTHING that, in any other field or profession would acknowledge they've actually EARNED the right to call themselves such.

We don't have "amateur" doctors, lawyers, or accountants - and nobody in their right mind would put their trust in someone who advertised themselves as such. Furthermore, in order to be considered worthing of being called a professional, practitioners in these fields must undergo rigorous training, successfully complete exhausting testing regimens, and frequently be vetted by their peers. Yet, any actor (or technician) feels they have a RIGHT to call themselves a professional, if they've ever cashed a $50 stipend check. That's an insult to the very concept of professionalism, and denigrates those who HAVE trained, worked, and achieved actual professional status in our industry.

I don't have any problem with anyone who cultivates within themselves an attitude that strives to achieve professional standards of conduct and behavior; that's a laudable goal. But, as a card-carrying union member, and as someone who HAS, if only briefly in a 25 year career, been a working professional, I am not about to grant that title to any Tom, Dick, or Shirley who thinks they deserve it simply because they say so, when they have never achieved even the minimal level of accomplishment to indicate they've earned it.
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Posted by COMTE on October 20, 2008 at 12:06 PM · Report this
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Brendan --

I'd find your comments more convincing if you demanded of yourself the same standards you demand of us.

What, you can't even be bothered to read the play you're going to review before you come to the theater? You can't be bothered to stay the whole time?

signed, "the brown-haired woman wearing fake black side curls"
Posted by louisep on October 20, 2008 at 11:58 AM · Report this
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Obviously Mr.Kiley has never run a theatre, been involved as a managing director of a theatre, or had producing experience, otherwise he would never had suggested such ill-conceived, scatter brained notions for theatres to "save themselves".

A few of his ideas are old hat and have been tried (and failed), others are just so off the wall, that any theatre practioner applying them would be considered candidates for the loony bin, and shut up shop soon thereafter. As provocative as Mr. Kiley likes to be, a few of his suggestions are certainly valid. However, I think you'll find that theatres have already identified them and have already successfully incorporated them into their strategic planning.

Mr. Kiley's time would be better spent encouraging newspapers to review every professional show possible, print weekly profiles on theatres, actors and directors, employ intelligent and qualified theatre critics, quickly replace a theatre critic if they leave the job, and provide theatres with low cost display advertising. These are a few things that newspapers need do right now to save theatres.

John Neville-Andrews
Posted by John N Andrews on October 19, 2008 at 6:58 AM · Report this
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How about taking a look at your pricing or at least your ticketing policies. Just paid $14 for a ticket, $6.50 Ticketmaster fee, $1.50 service change and $2.00 theatre renovation fee (and they wanted more money for me to print my own ticket online). I don't have a problem in the world with a great $14 ticket price, heck I wouldn't even mind a $25 ticket price but I don't expect to pay everyone else in the pipeline too. Fool me and include EVERYTHING in the published price of the ticket and dole it out to those other parties if need be - it won't be nearly as painful to the customer if they don't see where their money goes and there would be no surprises when they log on or call for tickets. Steer clear of Ticketmaster and other selling venues that charges such obscene fees for such a small amount of work or at least offer the options of an open box office so that the customer has at least the option of avoiding those additional charges. Just got a great deal on a new small local company - 4 shows for $36 general admission seating any performance and absolutely no hidden or additional charges. And in addition to the two season tickets I previously planned to purchase I bought two more so that we could invite another couple to join us.
Posted by Chris on October 18, 2008 at 9:56 AM · Report this
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Theatre companies DO have to pay royalties to produce a work, even if you have a house of 30 people. That 400 thing is simply not true.

And don't congratulate Chicago too much. All publications have cut their theatre reviews. They DO NOT review every play, but only handful. There are, however, listings for every play.

Reviewers are often times unqualified. They are paid very little and a fair amount of them seem to be grad students who hate the theatre, but want to write and get paid to be pretentious and to perfect their zingers. Unless, of course, they're reviewing Steppenwolf. The ad revenue there is probably a bit too large.

I very much appreciate this article. I do think there needs to be more new work and it shouldn't be such a risk for a company to produce new work. I also think there needs to be more money spent on commissioning and workshopping new plays, so we disagree there. It is hard to find great new work, though not impossible. The main problem: WHAT ARTIST HAS THE TIME AND MONEY TO DEVOTE TO THE THEATRE FULLY AND WITH RECKLESS ABANDON?

Answer: none. Because we don't fund the arts the way we should. We don't run them like businesses (at least not most of them-- the ones that are doing new work). Why? Because there's not enough money in it. And we're too busy working three other jobs.
Posted by aj on October 16, 2008 at 7:58 PM · Report this
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We all like Shakespeare, you fucking dolt. Kiley's "five-year moratorium" isn't a lifelong ban.
Posted by Billy the Cid on October 15, 2008 at 5:31 PM · Report this
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The only people who don't like Shakespeare are the ones who can't understand it.
Posted by Mike on October 15, 2008 at 4:55 PM · Report this
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#7 and #8 RIGHT ON THE MONEY

hello, theater is entertainment. IMHO, give the audience a drink and some popcorn and you might have a 3/4 of full house EVERY night. Theater Companies need to think outside of the (black) box once and while.


Posted by kyle on October 15, 2008 at 2:58 PM · Report this
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This is going to be a reaction to both the article and the posted comments from COMTE. First, the article makes several strong points but I will agree with several replys in that some of the very lofty goals are unachievalve. My biggest disagreement is with point #9. While I am not an actor myself I make my living in tech theatre. Right now I live and work in Colorado Springs a city with no unions. However if I were to move 50 miles north to Denver joining the union would provide better working opportunities and wages. While yes I may be excluded from the the "fringe" the fact of enjoying eating once in awhile cancels that out. I don't agree with the statement "no one deserves a living wage for having talent..." I know the sentence continues but thats where I stopped reading. Brendan I feel that your article is like a mouse trying to yell at a group of giants. Great that you have found success in you systems but thats what they are YOUR systems. I work for a very succesful regional theatre, which hires both union and non-union talent, that built its reputation on Shakespeare.

Lastly I just want to comment on COMTE post that non-union acotrs and technicians are forgoing "professional status". That is true arroggance and ignorance. Go to a show being done by professional non-union theatres and tell them their not true professionals and see what happens.
Posted by Sean on October 15, 2008 at 12:56 PM · Report this
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Will -- What you said about Samuel French: totally false. Samuel French is all about amateur rights, and that damn well includes educational institutions. They make a large portion of their income from schools. And places like Tams-Witmark and Music Theatre International are particularly adept at soaking high schools and colleges for huge royalties. The Greeks are the same: unless you are using a translation in the public domain, be ready to fork out a royalty. That said, all theatre people -- not just high school and college drama profs -- would do well to seek out new work, unproduced work, obscure published work. The problem: that would involve doing lots of reading, and theatre people are notoriously uninterested in doing that kind of work. Furthermore, most have no idea how to even go about locating new work to read. It is a failure all the way up and down the educational chain.
Posted by TheatreIdeas on October 15, 2008 at 11:59 AM · Report this
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I am a director/actor from Chicago- you may be over praising our press. The Main newspapers cover little, but the big theaters. The Reader seems to be dying. I agree with getting rid of Shakespeare.

I would add one more idea: Big theaters need to develop new work by having small theaters be their experimental labs.
Posted by 98Lbs Weakling on October 15, 2008 at 11:19 AM · Report this
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Good advice, tell the Seattle theater community this. I have been shopping my below-the-belt farce around town and doors aren't quit opening up as I thought they would be. I know it's funny, edgy, if only Seattle would be interested in taking a chance. We need to develop late night theater in Seattle which would bring younger folks back to theater instead of just going to the movies. Look for "House of the Falling Sun" by Dylan J. Rosen.
Posted by Dylan J. Rosen on October 15, 2008 at 10:12 AM · Report this
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Greetings,

#11, Solicit and listen to feedback from the audience. What they like about this choice of material to perform and its performance. About what they might like to see coming up (existing plays, new work from living playwrights or local playwrights, looked for topics in new plays.)

And existing plays can be worthwhile. Note the recent performances of Eurydice, as one example.

-- from David Olson, Tukwila
Posted by davidolson on October 14, 2008 at 7:13 PM · Report this
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Dear everybody: Just to clear up a few points.

1. I do like theater. I want it to be higher quality, richer, more popular, better funded. That's why I offer this advice.

2. Of course I wish everyone could have a living wage. But artists of all kinds choose to enter a very risky, very popular profession. Anyone who takes such a risk cannot expect (and demand) a guaranteed reward. That's not the way risk works. (Or it shouldn't, anyway. Which is why the partial nationalization of our banking industry—when we haven't even managed to nationalize health care—is so maddening.)

I want you all to have the resources you need. But you've no right to expect them, just as I've no right to expect them just because I've chosen to work in a dying corner (arts criticism) of a dying industry (newspapers).

These are the risks we take for doing things we care about. I'm not trying to take something away from you—I'm just asking you to face facts.
Posted by Brendan Kiley on October 14, 2008 at 5:12 PM · Report this
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As a Chicagoan:

The Reader is certainly important to the theatre community, but in many ways it was Richard Chritiansen and Essie Kupcinet who made the theatre revolution of the 70's possible in Chicago. Their support and Christiansen's willingness to embrace, review and champion the fringe theatres that popped up all over the place is what made the difference. What any community needs is champions and supporters ready to make the difference.

As to the grad school argument, it sounds more like the author ran out of items for his list. Either that or he hasn't really learned much about the faculty he so blithely defames.
Posted by chicagogirl on October 14, 2008 at 4:09 PM · Report this
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Also, one of the things you fail to recognize is the need for good designers and technicians...I think a theatre is only as good as the respect it has for those of us who do the grunt work. Yes, we chose it, but it's amazing how expendable the higher-ups seem to think we are...until things go wrong, and then we get the blame.

Most LORT theatre Artistic Directors make six-figure incomes. And those of us down the line who are working 60-80 hour weeks, abusing our bodies, so tired that we're making stupid, dangerous mistakes, make a laughable fraction of that. When I sit outside on lunch figuring out how I'm going to pay bills this month and the Big Boss drives up in his brand new Mercedes to begin his day(he chose to leave the Beamer at home), it doesn't make me want to stay. And in theatre, where collaboration is essential, you abslutely cannot have a new face at the production meeting every single season. It would be like a major corporation having a new VP every fiscal year. Theatres need to remember that the important people aren't just the ones on the stage - they're backstage, they're in the shops, they're covering everyone's ass in rehearsal. Hire more staff, pay them better, and see how it goes.

Also, Shakespeare is great. It gets people in the seats. And some of the more recent Shakespeare productions are some of the most relevant pieces in theatre history. Don't get the guy in tights talking to the skull - get the man in battle dress talking to a body in a morgue. Don't settle for Romeo and Juliet on a balcony in moonlight, get them on a fire escape in the streetlight with gunfire echoing down the alley. I agree that doing the same tired stuff is pointless, but in the same vein, the classics are as relevant as we make them.
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Posted by mckayann on October 14, 2008 at 3:48 PM · Report this
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Circle Rep used to produce 52 shows a year in the Lab space. We got a budget of $100. (which no one ever actually collected from the management although you could if you needed it)Here is how it worked. There was no charge for shows and the theater seated less than 99 and it was within the company never publicly advertised and critics didn't come, so AEA was cool with it. We used a large room with a lighting grid in the offices so costs (rent + electricity) were budgeted in with ongoing cost of doing business. What really made it work is that Michael Warren Powell was a staunch defender of it. He selected plays and facilitated the discussion of the work with the playwright at the following weekly company meeting. We all knew each other's work and the discussions were critical but not what these discussions have become in recent years because they were critique among peers who knew each other's body of work. As you know many of these playwrights (Paula Vogel Lanford Wilson) Actors (Anthony Rapp) and directors (Joe Mantello)are now famous. We had a real home and a safe place to develop the work and show it to audiences, not TALK about doing it.
Posted by Melanie on October 14, 2008 at 1:20 PM · Report this
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Theater isn't the only type of performance in Seattle, people... and there are only so many pages in the paper.

We've got very active music, fine arts, theater, sketch and stand-up comedy scenes throughout this city... which ones should have their coverage cut back to accommodate the theater community?

You want space in the paper? EARN IT. Your shitty multi-racial version of Romeo and Juliet does not warrant 2 inches simply by virtue of being theater.

Or, hows about starting your own zine, detailing all 150 plays in town? Or even just a blog? Pass out the url on cards for audiences as they're leaving and treat if like Yelp.

Or you could, you know... bitch that no one is taking you seriously. That will really endear you to the rest of the art community.


Posted by helpyourselves... on October 14, 2008 at 12:51 AM · Report this
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What evidence is being used here to back up the assertion that theater is "dying?" The number of producing theaters in this country has grown every single year since the '60s. The trends say more people are attending theater today than at any other point in American history. Seattle may have had a boom, and may be experiencing a bit of a contraction right now, but I don't see any fat ladies on the horizon gearing up for a big syonara aria.

True regional theater (work that reflects the unique culture of the place and time the play is born in) is only just now in its adolescence, particularly in the Northwest.

And maybe adolescence is the right time for the "lets take $500 bucks and put on a play" ethos. I've seen it create great work. AND I've seen artists get stuck in the trap, after 20 years of exhaustive bootstrapping, of thinking that's the only kind of work they are ever going to be able to produce.

Everyone starts there. And as a clarion call to new playmakers to get out there and try something, I think what you have to say is great.

But over the long haul, idealizing rapidly produced, under-trained, zero budget garage-band theater subsidized by Starbucks barista paychecks is not supporting the best and brightest new work. It's telling the best and the brightest that their work has no future, no chance to be relevant to the broader culture, no right to be compensated for their talent. It turns playwrights into screenwriters and account executives and lord knows the world doesn't need more of those.

You want new work to get more play? Awesome. Don't you want that new work to get the kind of play it deserves? With committed professional actors focused on the project (and not how they're going to make rent), theater companies who have honed their skills and been selective about their workloads so they can provide the new work with the attention and resources it deserves, and a press corps that acts as true advocates for that work to their readers?

I love great fringe theater. I'm passionate about new work. I love it enough to support both with a NEW WORK-only citywide festival down here in Portland in January.

But I want that new work to be well covered, well funded,well attended and brought to life by trained professionals working at the top of their craft. And making that happen, as some of the other commenters have so astutely pointed out, is as much about inspiring audiences through impassioned media and audience engagement as it is about cutting down budgets and lowering the expectations of artists to get paid for their work.

So lower the barrier to audience participation with booze and daycare, by all means.

But don't tell the people working at the very forefront of our culture that they shouldn't expect to be compensated for their work. And do consider how you can use what you do best (impassioned prose) to stop heralding the premature death of local art and start inspiring people to take more risks, consume more theater (instead of Starbucks), and invest in local artists rather than spend another weekend buying some Hollywood producer another mani-pedi.

Make it a manifesto. We'll help you make it into a movement. But only if you treat our profession with the same respect that you treat your own.

-Trisha Pancio
Festival Director
Fertile Ground: Portland's city-wide festival of new work
www.fertilegroundpdx.com



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Posted by tpancio on October 13, 2008 at 3:07 PM · Report this
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Brendan, what a tsimmis you've cooked up. Bravo. I have to say that if I didn't agree with much you say, I wouldn't have worked to make ArtsWest actually utilize the applicable portions of your list.

· As of this season, we do pay actors, no less than minimum wage, including rehearsals. Not a living wage, but not the AG's accepted "They're volunteers being reimbursed for expenses" crap.

· I hate talkbacks in the theater (how self-indulgent can you get?). Our "talkbacks" are at Elliott Bay Brewery across the street or West 5 down the street. They do alcohol better than we do and we do better as a neighborhood playhouse when they do good business. Obviously, if you want a beer at ArtsWest, please go ahead and buy one. You can even bring it into the theater.

· We are producing 4 Seattle premieres in a 6 play season, one a world premiere that opens on the 22nd ("Black Gold"). I hope you'll come and write about it; it's one of the best plays I've read in years. But I won't force you to come, nor will I tell you what to write (that's not my job). I just think you'll like "Black Gold." By the way, all of our plays are contemporary, and have been for a couple of years now.

· We have a playwrights program in house and Mavis Lamb, who runs it, constantly is getting the writers to sh*t or get off the pot when submission time comes.

· Look, we're not a fringe theater (any more), but we're not a big theater, either. We'd love to use union performers more, but at $300/week for 10 weeks, it's hard to afford. (We're forced to rehearse 6 weeks for a 4-week run because the non-union actors have other jobs that pay them. We can't overtax them by rehearsing them for 40 hours in a week, which is what the union assumes you're doing -- they only think of pay on a weekly basis, not an hourly basis.)

Oh, and to Will who said that "you don't have to pay royalties for any theater under 400 people, and usually not at all because it's for educational purposes": that's crap. EVERY company, including educational groups, must pay royalties unless the piece (and its translation/adaptation) is in the public domain. Everyone has to pay. Even on free productions. There's no such law about not paying because of your building's size or how many performances you give. When you use someone's intellectual property, you have to pay for it, no matter what you charge. They deserve it. Ask an attorney or look it up.

Brendan, we agonize with the issues of the day and how to require conversation by producing plays about them, which is our mission. I write about them in my own blog...

http://test.artswest.org/?q=blog

...so you can get more insight into the ugly, sausage-making part of the process.

Thanks for caring enough to write this...
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Posted by Alan Harrison, Executive Director, ArtsWest http://test.art on October 13, 2008 at 1:39 PM · Report this
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Brendan:
I find your opinions so infuriatingly simplistic that I wonder if you can also see Russia from your house.
Martin Dinn
Posted by jmdinn on October 13, 2008 at 11:35 AM · Report this
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i read the stranger almost every week and it's pretty blatantly obvious that its a snotty, free, ad-rag that's good for late breaking happy hour updates and little else. (i know that is its raison d'etre). however, i like to laugh at the amateur agenda of its critics who mostly write like polemicists who've had a few too many happy hour libations. it's simple to get your show reviewed in the stranger...#1.Drink with Brendan, #2 rant about how everyone is so sold-out and stupid except you (and he) #3 Repeat as often as you need to UNTIL you get real work from having played him for those reviews.
Posted by thisbardsforyou on October 13, 2008 at 6:04 AM · Report this
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I know a dude down in LA who put on a play in his backyard. It was super successful. People came every weekend. It was impossible to get tickets it was so popular. They set up lawn chairs drank beer, people acted, other people clapped.

You thespians need to get a little more punk rock spirit I think. I'm reading a lot of excuses why these 10 things just simply aren't possible.

Nobody is going to pay you for making art anymore. That is the simple reality. Noticed the music industry lately? Stop complaining and deal.
Posted by BenskiBeat on October 12, 2008 at 10:03 PM · Report this
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Hey guys

I'm from Sydney, Oz (love the Internet), and there is a lot of talk of a similar nature - what to do about the dying theatre and live scene.

Thought I'd transplant some ideas I've read. No analysis of it, just posting it. I do feel there's a few good points here too:

© 2008 Australia Council for the Arts & Creative New Zealand Page 1 of 2

1. Arts organisations need to be aware of the social and cultural changes in their communities. If arts organisations do not adjust in line with such changes, they risk becoming irrelevant. Arts organisations that respond to social and cultural shifts, by engaging with and understanding their audiences are more likely to succeed.

2. Adopting an audience focus does not mean forfeiting artistic excellence or vision. In fact artistic excellence is at the heart of successfully engaging with audiences.

3. Consumption of the arts exists in a social and cultural context. Arts organisations create value for society and deliver “product” with emotional and social impact. More important than the number of people who attend or purchase is impact, and the extent to which the arts elicit emotions and connections. Arts managers ne to break into people’s hearts and minds; ticket sales and a loyal audience will follow.

4. To focus on delivering high impact arts experiences to their audiences, arts organisations need strategic leadership, and an organisation-wide commitment to refocus on their vision and on the audience

5. Much attendance at arts events is socially driven. Foster personal connection small group, socially-driven participation. Integrate performance and social interaction, and provide opportunities and reasons for people to invite their friends. Recognise the social context by offering information about local restaurants, bars, parking, and configure venues (lobbies) to facilitate social interaction

6. Arts organisations need to demystify their art form for new attenders: create opportunities for audiences to experience their art through mediated and live performance, use clear language that speaks to the audience (provide multiple versions for different audiences) and provide opportunities for engagement with artists and your organisation. Enlightened arts organisations offer access to the arts in new ways, for example:
o interactive and online engagement;
o dialogue with patrons through online forums, blogs, or inviting reviews. These engage the audience, offers insights into what patrons are thinking and provide an alternative view to art critics;
o invitations to open rehearsals;
o hosting and welcoming audiences – the Maori concept of manaakitanga – invite them in rather than performing at them;
o become arts concierges. Help people find the show they are most likely to attend; the alternative is that they might buy nothing, or choose one they don’t like and never return. Collect customer information at every touch- point and make effective use of databases and customer information to make relevant offers. Stop treating audiences as ’bums on seats’, and treat them as people.

7. Finding the resources to undertake new initiatives is a perpetual challenge. To survive, you can’t afford not to: reprioritise, forego one production and divert the funds to strategic audience initiatives, or vary marketing spend according to the relative difficulty of attracting an audience.

8.Seven Pillars of Audience Focus model provides a blueprint for strategic assessment and development as an artistically-led but audience focused entity. Its greatest power is when all layers in an organisation, from board to artists and administration, work together to share the concepts and develop a way forward on each of the seven parameters

9. Price is closely linked with value perceptions – and can be a powerful tool in increasing audiences and revenue.

10. Your website is a critical communications tool. Ensure it offers the information and content your audience needs – in the way they want to fin presentation was packed with useful strategies and data.

http://www.fuel4arts.com/files/attach/Young_TopTakeaways.pdf
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Posted by Eric Vigo on October 12, 2008 at 7:46 PM · Report this
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A fine set of recipes on how to spend money that doesn't exist.
You ignore the fact that most of the Seattle audience doesn't want to see new unheard of and mostly bad plays. The groups that are still surviving are doing stuff that was trendy twenty or fifty or five hundred years ago or censoring themselves to avoid offending that graying audience. How many groups have tried to new stuff and run out of money? There's also the Poncho effect, a few regional level theaters get most of the arts funding and there's nothing left to trickle down.
Cash strapped understaffed theaters can't branch out into free child care, real estate management of actor housing (why not just pay them enough to find housing?) and building new spaces or commisioning playwrights.
Theater, Live music, Bookstores, Libraries, cinemas and ,surprise,newspapers are all now marginal enterprises focused on aging demographics as younger people use different technologies.
A number of things can change this; cheap recession real estate, writers and actors with something to say to an audience that wants to hear it, or horrors, having the government support the arts like they do in Europe. Otherwise, it will fade away the way vaudeville did as the demographics goes.
Posted by nickn on October 11, 2008 at 9:17 PM · Report this
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"chris tharp brings up some good points although he/she seems to feel that they need to be administered by a cartoon anvil."

Hahahaha. Chris Tharp tends to do that when posting on internet threads while steaming drunk on Jamesons whiskey at 5AM.

Great discussion, anyway. I don't know about you guys, but I love The Stranger...

Chris Tharp,
Gritty Asian Port City
Posted by chris tharp on October 10, 2008 at 10:54 PM · Report this
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Gillian, I think I love you.
Posted by Stine on October 10, 2008 at 7:08 PM · Report this
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For the folks who mentioned "that yellow theater in the U. District" and "some theater in the UD": That is the Historic University Theater. Home to the wonderful Jet City Improv (short-form improv "games") and Wing-It Productions (long-form improvised plays). They produce constantly, every weekend of the year, and they do great work, and they're in the best financial shape of any fringe theater I've worked with.
Posted by shoo on October 10, 2008 at 6:13 PM · Report this
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from a Chicago Native and Current Dweller: Okay, Chicago is *not* artist-friendly. Sure, you can find "affordable" places to live, but they are usually not that desirable. Also, Chicago is lousy with development, and, sadly, now, all these new developments are going unsold. It sucks for those of us who are paying homeowners. Plus, the "artist communities" that do get built and sold to artists are usually sub-standard, and end up being in litigation with the owners. (artists) look up articles on www.chicagoreader.com see for yourself
Posted by mare on October 10, 2008 at 4:57 PM · Report this
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I appreciate that Mr. Kiley's article has spurred so much action and debate. It's exciting that so many people are passionate about making the Puget Sound theatre scene vibrant and exciting. As a former Seattle-ite, I've moved on to Chicago and still keep up with SLOG. This is a really great dialogue. I look forward to hearing about the actual work that is generated from this energy.

Break legs, Seattle! Break 'em good!
Posted by cityeric on October 10, 2008 at 3:09 PM · Report this
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Gillian:

If "Kill Sound Ball" isn't an implied #11 on the list, IT BLOODY WELL SHOULD BE!

I HATE that "game"... :)
Posted by COMTE on October 10, 2008 at 2:53 PM · Report this
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chris tharp brings up some good points although he/she seems to feel that they need to be administered by a cartoon anvil.

I like that chris mentioned more theater in smaller venues. Greek amphitheaters aside, this is the way theater was performed for hundreds of years. It was much more participatory and intimate.

Those of us who have been kicking around for decades can attest that the moaning, blaming and over-analyzing regarding theater and its supposed death has been going on forever. But you know what? Theater always *has* adapted and it has never died.
Posted by everycritic on October 10, 2008 at 2:09 PM · Report this
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I enthusiastically agree that the best way to fix theatre is as Bret Fetzer suggests: to produce and explore plays that highlight and embrace that in which live performance excels. (And this sometimes means learning about the old way in educational institutions.)

A way to fix theatre artists? Get out of dark rooms.

Losing contact with the outside world most certainly leads to loss of perspective on life and our place in it. Humor, resource, compassion, inspiration and fuck-it-all-ity abound with just a little bit of exposure to natural light and the natural (urban though it may be) world. Rehearse and do the books in rooms with windows. Get out and support other art forms--or sports, even. Stay in and support other art forms. Keep your blood sugar up. Take breaks.

Audience members don't care about how much work went into any production: that work is the same no matter the end result. Reluctant though we may be to let go of hours and hours of labor, that labor is for the end--hopefully holy shit--result.

Oh, and if the game Sound Ball could be eliminated from all classrooms and rehearsals I think we'd all be better off.

(Need I bring up again fixing the godawful Live Theatre Week ads? They make me want to die.)
Posted by Gillian Jorgensen on October 10, 2008 at 1:43 PM · Report this
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Several years out of the theater has given me some perspective... at least for the fringe scene.

Stop blaming the critics. Stop blaming the drying up of arts funding. Stop blaming the audiences themselves.

If fringe theater cannot be exciting and relevant now - during these times of crisis and upheaval - then it never will be.

Get out of the 100 seat houses. Do theater in rock clubs and cafes. Perform at political demonstrations. Make events in shopping malls, or in your own living rooms ('a la John Kazanjian). Do whatever it takes.

Is the theater dying? Yeah, probably, in its present state. But people will always react to live performance, so let's get onto it.

We'll get nowhere by boring folks.

Adapt or die.
Posted by chris tharp on October 10, 2008 at 12:14 PM · Report this
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Um . . . My italics tags didn't seem to work on that last one; assume paragraphs with #s in them are everycritic's, and that the remainder are mine.
Posted by thelyamhound on October 10, 2008 at 11:27 AM · Report this
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everycritic -

I take issue with #4. I’ve read some very compelling arguments against the myth that theater audiences are “dying out” and that only youth will save us.

I think you're largely correct; to me, the desire for a younger audience has more to do with noetic age than literal age. And it's not much better on or back stage. Have you ever tried to pick strike music with theater people weighing in on the options? Buncha squares.

#8 is very Augusto Boal but I don’t think many actors have been trained to deal with that level of participation and can’t imagine many of them liking it.

Well, I'm for it, but had my life taken a different turn, I'd be in competitive martial-arts, so it's easy enough for me to hop to a different paradigm for spectatorship.
Posted by thelyamhound on October 10, 2008 at 11:22 AM · Report this
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This will be long, and there will be typos.

COMTE, you're awesome. Who loves ya, baby?! David Perez, your comment was very insightful. I don't agree with all your conclusions, but I find no fault with your reasoning. I love flamingbanjo on principle. The fact that his (her?) points were so reasonable is just icing on thelyamhound's cake. To blank12357--your first couple comments had me cheering for ya, but the last one kind of made me want to throw feces. Bret - Yes. A thousand times, yes. And tiktok, I feel you. Theater runs on a perpetual subprime loan, and the payment is decades overdue. We can tighten our belts, go minimalistic, all that--I'm a physical clown and a fan of the Theater of the Absurd, so I'm game for that--but often, what we can afford is nothing at all; we have to be able to exceed that somewhat.

Brendan . . . First of all, thanks for getting a dialogue started, and for keeping The Stranger's trademark snark down to a nice, digestible 60% or so. Oh, and thanks for not letting Charles Mudede write the article. I'll probably bring up Giordano Bruno at some point, but I'll be fucked in every orifice (and not in a good way) if I'm gonna try to shoehorn Hegel into this mess.

I'm gonna try to clump concerns, here, because enough people have already replied, but also because I think some of your points restate the same issue:

I happen to like Shakespeare quite a lot, but there's enough poorly done Shakespeare in the world that I can understand your first dictum. I'd suggest that we explore other Elizabethan writers, or the Greeks, but I think your issue with Shakespeare is actually an extension of your second dictum, and part of a program that insists on the new. The problem, of course, is that theater's relationship with the "now" is kinda complex. There's nothing more immediate than someone standing right in front of you and telling a story, but after weeks of rehearsal, that story might already be yesterday's news (to say nothing of the months, sometimes years, that a script spends in workshop--more on that later). Because of its time intensive nature, theater, which might otherwise share space in the audience's consciousness with popular arts like music and cinema, ends up instead sharing space with painting, sculpture, ballet, opera, and other enlivening, enriching art forms consumed mostly by college professors, retirees, and earnest, aging liberal intellectuals who stopped making art in their 20s so they could actually afford to consume it.

Of course, if this weren't the case, there wouldn't BE such a thing as an MFA in theater. No one gets an MFA in postpunk; if that's your passion, you start a band and you look for your audience. I'd be surprised to find that any more than a nominal plurality of filmmakers went anywhere near film school. I admire academia; I also understand the mistrust displayed in the article, being without even so much as a bachelor's degree myself (not that this keeps me from engaging in the same quasi-erudite headgaming--I'm the one who wants to write a rock opera based on the work of Giordano Bruno [see how I brought that around?]).

I'm uncomfortable, though, with disparaging graduate school for the same reason I'm uncomfortable with the insistence on anyone's part that actors need, need, NEED formal training: I'm not convinced that theater is either a popular art or an academic one, that it should be as ubiquitous as pop music or cinema or condemned to the museum-like halls of the academy like compositional music and jazz. I think we could spend whatever's left of time itself exploring the extremes of both ideals without answering the question--and I think we should do precisely that.

This, of course, means treating theater like a lab, where we explore both canon and new work (new work that, hopefully, has canonical aspirations, however subverted they may be), where the academic can rub elbows with the autodidact and the populist in the hopes of ultimately birthing a true iconoclast.

A lab like this requires the luxury to produce failure, which means that no matter how much anyone "deserves" to earn a living (and actors surely deserve it as much as anyone else; it's just that I, being an ethical nihilist, am not convinced that ANYONE actually deserves anything), we DO need to be prepared to write off failed experiments (and even a few successful ones) as investments in the evolution of a form that always has--and always will, I suspect--struggle to be commercially viable.

COMTE makes a good point about people being in unions choosing the limitations that imposes (though I also like Mullin's comment about why that's still a shame). I think, in a way, union membership is useful and problematic the same way public funding for the arts is useful and problematic, i.e., you're stuck making the art the greater plurality of the public wants to pay for. Music and cinema have channels by which the underground becomes mainstream; the process is so slow, and so rarely successful, in this form that agreeing to be part of the laboratory and insisting on your reasonable financial due are nigh mutually exclusive. I'd be more than happy to be proven wrong (anyone?).

That said, there's one way in which we agree theater has become too much of a lab--the dreaded workshop. I swear to the deity of your choice, if the aforementioned Shakespeare were alive today, he'd only have written five plays, 'cause every actor who whined, "I don't understand this flowery language; could we write this more the way people talk?" would be given say over the next re-write. Yes, the wisdom of colleagues is invaluable; yes, theater is a collaborative art form. But at some point, a line of communication needs to be established between artist and audience. That'll never happen if a work is sheltered from that audience by an endless workshop process, if intent is diluted by the presumably friendly, but possibly contradictory, interests of other artists, and if any relationship with the "now" is compromised by a play taking several years to travel from first draft to opening night.

That DOESN'T mean I support the notion that theaters should be producing 20-30 plays in a season. You must truly be joking. I may support something of a punk-rock ethic in theater, what with my misgivings about academia, but let's not be ridiculous. If we're not willing to treat it seriously, we've got a LOT of nerve asking anyone to pay for it.

Bars (granting that the liquor laws in this state require so much hoop-jumping you might as well try to open a bar in Utah), boors, kids--yes, if it can be done. Real estate: of course.

Sorry this was so long. I like to hear (read) myself talk (write). Feel free to chastise me on that account (or whatever other you see fit).
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Posted by thelyamhound on October 10, 2008 at 11:00 AM · Report this
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"And Comte: We have been a little less comprehensive than usual in the past month, I'll give you that."

Past MONTH, Brendan? More like, PAST SEVERAL MONTHS.

Here's a quick-and-dirty breakdown of "The Stranger"'s theatre "coverage" for the past 3 1/2 months (archives are sooo helpful, donchaknow?):

Oct 9: - Saving our Theatres feature
- "Spring Awakening" preview

Oct 2: - 3 capsule reviews

Sep 25: - Twyla Tharp feature

Sep 18: - Dan Giola/NEA feature
- 3 capsule reviews
- "Le Faux" drag show review

Sep 11: - no articles/no reviews

Sep 4: - review of a performance no one is supposed to attend

Aug 28: - 3 capsule reviews

Aug 20: - Smoke Farm feature
- Nexus Project review

Aug 14: - Waxy Moon feature
- Implied Violence feature

Aug 6: - Carlo Scanduzzi feature
- 3 capsule reviews

Jul 31: - no articles/no reviews

Jul 24: - PONCHO feature
- 3 capsule reviews
- "Nocturne" review

Jul 17: - 3 capsule reviews

Jul 10: - Moscow Cats feature

Jul 3: - Sheila Daniels feature

Jun 26: - "Marvelous Party" review
- 1 capsule review
- Intiman/Disney feature

Jun 19: - Broadway/"Avenue Q" feature
- Todd Licea feature
- Intiman/Tony Party feature

Jun 12: - 3 capsule reviews
- Monroe Speedway feature

May 29: - Paul Mullin feature
- 1 capsule review
- Joe Adcock/Critics feature

Really, I could just go on-and-on - but, it should be pretty obvious what my point is by now, so just to summarize (again):

Going back to the May 29th issue, "The Stranger" has published a total of 48 theatre-related articles, (or about 2 1/2 per issue not bad - on the surface), of which a whopping FIVE were feature-length reviews, while 23 were "capsule reviews", averaging 350 words or less per - barely enough room to list the cast, director, playwright, title of the show, and maybe (if the reviewer didn't get completely dragged off on some irrelevant tangent) a few words about the production itself.

In addition, you've published 17 features or previews ranging from interviews with such relevant local theatre personages as Sheila Daniels, and Paul Mullin, to features about upcoming shows, changes in personnel, and the state of the local and national arts and theatre scenes, all the way down to fish-wrap-worthy filler such as the legal wranglings of a CAT CIRCUS, and an evening watching STOCK CAR RACES.

And in two entire issues - you didn't print anything theatre-related at all.

So, really Brendan, this would appear to be much more than just a recent aberration, and to suggest you've been just "a little less comprehensive than usual" lately would also seem to be gross understatement; unless you wish to argue that the above truly represents COMPREHENSIVE COVERAGE of the local scene.

And you wonder why people get so bitchy...
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Posted by COMTE on October 10, 2008 at 10:44 AM · Report this
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"I don't think anybody is asking for a living wage as an entitlement. You're right; that's not realistic. But a WORKER has every right to ask for payment for their WORK. Are you saying that acting isn't work?"

Acting is effort, but unfortunately payment/reward is received on results. If the work doesn't please the audience (which includes critics and funding sources/patrons), no money flows back to the artists. That's how it's always been, and always will be. We don't expect painters to get painted just for producing paintings--only if someone likes it enough to buy it.
Posted by tiktok on October 10, 2008 at 10:24 AM · Report this
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Tell Us Something We Don't Know.

To me that doesn't mean producing "premieres", it means producing ideas.

Unexpected ideas.

There aren't many of those in theatre.

TV and Film, which cost much more to make, actually do it better these days.
Posted by malachy walsh on October 10, 2008 at 10:09 AM · Report this
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I take issue with #4. I’ve read some very compelling arguments against the myth that theater audiences are “dying out” and that only youth will save us.

I do like #7 and miss UK theatres with their bars in the back of the house. It might sound crass, but on a Friday night when you’re coming off a stressed week, a glass of wine makes everything seem better, including the play!

#8 is very Augusto Boal but I don’t think many actors have been trained to deal with that level of participation and can’t imagine many of them liking it.

I’m leaning toward agreeing with #10 even though the writer is being unnecessarily mean to professors. The students I see coming out of college don’t have a CLUE how to navigate around the real theater world.
Posted by everycritic on October 10, 2008 at 9:49 AM · Report this
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Paul,

I understand your frustration, but it's worth pointing out, if it hasn't occured to you already, that it wasn't Actors' Equity that prevented you from producing your show in Seattle, it was lack of interest on the part of a specific group of Equity performers - BIG difference.

I can show you a very EASY way to achieve your stated goal, but it DOES require participation from at least two Equity actors, and there may be a few relatively minor restrictions that might not be fully to your liking, but it IS possible; maybe you just didn't talk to the right actors.
Posted by COMTE on October 10, 2008 at 9:33 AM · Report this
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Re: your advice to playwrights.... I know 100 playwrights, and I don't know any who would rather have a workshop or reading than a production. Who turns down a production?!? The rich ones bribe/hire theatres. Most of the rest of us have gone the self-production route, in so far as we can afford to. But as others have pointed out: fringe or self production does not generate reviews, and theatre professionals also ignore them. A new play is likely to have 6 or 7 performances-- that's all the rent and tech we can afford--, attended and applauded only by its creator's friends and families.
As a non-Equity actor devoted to new works and a dedicated playwright, I have participated in maybe 500 premieres over 50 years. I stopped hoping to make a living at theatre long ago, and recently I have stopped expecting that local audiences will support challenging new plays that have not been praised in a high-visibility NYC production no matter how well-written or brilliantly acted they are. I've been on either side of the footlights during too many good productions where the cast outnumbers the audience.
My own scripts are all on my www. Stagepage.info web site -- while contrary to Will's post above Samuel French does not waive royalties for theaters under 400 people, or for educational purposes (!?!) my scripts are free to actors and directors and students and teachers. Use 'em to try out some of Kiley's ideas--
G.L. Horton Newton, MA
Posted by G.L.Horton on October 10, 2008 at 9:19 AM · Report this
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Will,
Everyone is required to pay royalties for non -public domain material for any size audience whether its 2 or a 1000 people paying or not. Being an educational institution makes no difference.

Now the article, while I would say that it is smart in many ways some of the ideas are simple unrealistic.

Shakespeare- Pleeeze! Why would you cut off your nose to spite your face. Shakespeare can be performed anywhere, conceived with opulence or simplicity, expands and exercises the imaginations of its audience by requiring them to listen to language that is metaphoric and symbolic in nature rather than literal. You think the theatre is drowning? Language is all but dead.

Premeires-
I am all for doing new plays. But frankly, most of it is crap. Written as television and movie scripts. Episodic in nature with an often sophmoric and trite point of view.

A lot fast and often.
I agree. But people don't have time to waste. Unless it's free it better be good. If you do 16 shows and 8 are garbage you will lose more patrons than gain new ones.

Get them young. YES!!!!!

Offer child care. Good idea. Sounds like legal issues could arise. Kid gets hurt-then someone sues. I guess more insurance?

Fight for real estate- Yes I agree.

Build bars.--No brainer.

Boors' night out. Could work for some shows.

Expect poverty. You have to pay the bills NO ONE is going to pay your rent, feed you, pay your power bills. Noble notion but unrealistic. Theatres have to make money; no one rewards failure (i.e.,granting institutions)

Drop out of grad school--
I have 6 students on Broadway right now. Several on TV and others making livings in the theatre, television or film. BTW- my "has been" connections got them those jobs.

Prof. Jim
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Posted by Prof. Jim on October 10, 2008 at 8:57 AM · Report this
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"Notice how the discussion immediately (in the very first comment) turned from "what we can do to save our theaters" to "how the critics don't give us what we deserve"?"

Hey Brendan,
This is a good article. You are clearly passionate about theatre & that's cool. I'm not saying "critics don't give us what we deserve"- I'm saying that it would help to get more media support. In my personal experience- it's helpful. Bottom-line. I'm not saying review every show- but listings are great.

I'm thinking, like you, of ways to help promote the independent scene.

I’m not blaming the Stranger, if there is blame, I accept it and I’m working towards changing it
(my shows are all new work, set in bars, cheap, & coupled with dancing/drinking/bands to create a less stuffy, more fun evening of entertainment)

I'm voicing the hope that the Stranger would consider a few creative solutions to give more media support to the theatre scene- like a top five pick list or "best of" monthly feature.

I don't live in Seattle, I live in New York, but I like your paper so much I read it online out here, so I imagine you have an excellent readership out there. That’s a lot of power over what people are choosing to do with their evenings.

It may have not have stopped the scene from dying but it could help the scene onto its next life.

Cheers,
Lizz
Posted by Lizz Leiser on October 10, 2008 at 8:53 AM · Report this
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"Nobody deserves a living wage for having talent and a mountain of grad-school debt. Sorry."

I don't think anybody is asking for a living wage as an entitlement. You're right; that's not realistic. But a WORKER has every right to ask for payment for their WORK. Are you saying that acting isn't work?
Posted by You had me until... on October 10, 2008 at 7:32 AM · Report this
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Mr. Kiley,
Why do you continue to support the theater on one hand and crush the people making it with the other? I am referring to number 9. It is of course practical to expect poverty as an artist in a consumer product obsessed culture, but that doesn't mean artist's should not advocate on behalf of themselves (as should teachers, writers, gardeners etc.)
I am beginning to sense that while you enjoy the performing arts you have some sort of personal animosity towards the people that actually perform them. Here is a thought for you, how does one fulfill your other 10 suggestions, while working multiple non-theater jobs to pay the bills? More importantly, someone who is spending all their time and energy working more lucrative jobs doesn't have the time and energy required to dedicate to rehearsal, research and training (staying in shape and up to date) to produce anything of quality.
Maybe you have never really talked personal finances with a performing artist. It is not uncommon to be given a stipend that comes out to somewhere around a quarter an hour, while a lighting technician working the same show most likely will be making somewhere around 100 times that. The inequity here is staggering. The 'labor of love' mentality towards the theater is literally starving it out of existence. How can you think a person should be willing to work multiple hours to buy a carton of milk? Nobody in this town is trying to get rich on stage. Most performing artists would be happy to make minimum wage, which is ridiculously low compared to the raising cost of just about everything these days.
Why shouldn't anyone with the education, talent and commitment required to even land a job in the spotlight not make a living wage? Especially when others in the industry (the tech persons, administrators, promotional people, etc) make that and more. I don't care what job you have if you make it to work on time and get the job done you should be adequately compensated for your time (yes even holier than thou writers).
You have this incredible opportunity to reach a lot of people. Why do you waste is by reiterating the common misconception that artists are trying to live 'high on the hog' so to speak?
Saying "sorry" doesn't make it ok to tell people they should happily kiss life's necessities goodbye.
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Posted by argh! on October 10, 2008 at 6:50 AM · Report this
80
FWIW, as a member (now former) of the Seattle theatre scene for over thirty years, there are other issues to consider.

http://www.cityartsseattle.com/seattle/issues/CAS108/CAS108_article1.html
Posted by Laurence Ballard on October 10, 2008 at 4:34 AM · Report this
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It's actually fairly easy to premiere new plays in Seattle. The problem is doing it continuously. The company I worked with was lucky enough to have our largest audience yet at our first world premiere, and were we to continue on in that fashion, then there would be ups and downs of course (no new plays are completely great, and some are completely terrible) but we would be able to survive and keep producing new work. However, there are few companies that want to only do new works, because, let's face it...we all see theatre, and we all see plays that we really like, and then we want to produce them and "make them better" because "we know how to do it even better."

It's unsatisfying to be a part of a theatre community (well...supposedly there is one of those in Seattle...I haven't seen it) and not put your hand into the years of history that have made that community possible.

What I believe should be happening in Seattle is a sort of last ditch effort to really boost up the scene. It's like what Brendan is suggesting. A continuous effort among Seattle artists to create and produce and develop new works, on a large scale. I'm talking about EVERYBODY getting in on putting on new works, so that a) The Stranger might actually review a new work in a fringe theatre, b) audiences will not have a choice between going to see this or that fringe company doing Angels in America or going to see some play they've never heard of, they will have to go see the new works (which would of course be helped by publications reviewing said new works and giving a hint as to what they are about...who goes to a movie without know at least something about it? Nobody. The same goes for theatre.), and c) create the sort of community in Seattle that works with one another instead of the same old few working with the same old few.

Don't get me wrong, I do not believe that producing a massive scale of new plays is going to necessarily save the Seattle fringe theatre scene (which is most definitely dying) but I do believe it could be something of a shot of adrenaline.
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Posted by Nathaniel Porter on October 10, 2008 at 3:01 AM · Report this
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In defense of the MFA, I just want to say that I personally believe there is legitimacy in training for the arts. (Remember, a sizable portion of the founding and current members of WET--who many people laud as the theater darlings of Seattle--hold MFAs from the UW.)

No one really wakes up one morning and decides to be an opera singer, but a lot of people think that they can throw together a piece of theater without having learned the craft and technique behind it--that because it is the art of human relations, anyone with the capacity for emotion and psychology can do it.
Posted by Desdemona Chiang on October 10, 2008 at 12:21 AM · Report this
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I post this from Los Angeles. More on why that is significant later.

I can only imagine Chris Comte is too personally aggrieved to note that though he has helped bring my plays to full production on so many occasions as a tirelessly devoted long-time Annex member and staffer, he and I can never be together as playwright and actor. No, that’s not quite right. He and I can never be together as playwright and actor, in Seattle. For if Chris and I wanted to, and had the wherewithal, we could get on a plane and fly a thousand miles South or three thousand miles East and develop a play together to full production, me penning him his signature role, in either LA or New York. And Equity would simply have nothing to say on the matter. Such is the power of union members to have a say in their own union in these towns.

Here in Seattle I can long to write plays for my favorite actors and long time friends till the cows come home, but if I want a full production, I’ll have to find non-union affiliated people I know less well to bring it to stage.

I’m not Kiley. I’m not out to kill the union. I joined Actors Equity when I was 19 years old. But when I moved out to Seattle I saw all the hot new work happening at young, non-union houses and I knew that if I wanted to be a part of it I’d have to risk my standing it what appeared to me then, and still does, as one of the most ass-backwards “cool kids” clubs I’ve ever encountered. (And I went to public high school in the 80’s.)

Chris, I think it was you who told me that if I wanted some sort of new works standing exception from Equity for Seattle, I was going to have to convince members here to support it. Well, I’ve tried. But only just a few days ago I was told by a friend and colleague, an Equity actor, whom I love and deeply admire that actors simply don’t care enough about new works to agitate for such a change. I tend, to my utter disappointment, to believe him.

Thus, here’s the simple syllogism that I’ve worked out. (I have perfect faith you’ll point out where my logic strays.)

Seattle could and should be a world class theatre city.
Seattle needs to produce world class new works to achieve that standing.
Seattle actors do not care about new works enough to wring an exception for them from Equity.
Ergo Seattle actors do not care enough to make Seattle a world class theatre

And so I’m here, in California, world premiering a new play called THE SEQUENCE with Bill Salyers. I know you remember, Bill, Chris. Bill helps me world premiere almost all of my new plays. Why? Because he lives in Los Angeles. And even though of course he’s Equity, I can work with him here.
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Posted by Mullin on October 10, 2008 at 12:02 AM · Report this
76
Ah, the anti-intellectual paradigm at work once again. Ignorance is wisdom; stupidity is knowledge - brilliant!

Yes, remember that please, the next time you have your teeth pulled by a drunk with a pair of pliers, or have your car repaired by the tweaker next door with a crescent wrench in his pocket - tell us how that works out for you, m'kay?
Posted by Thespis on October 10, 2008 at 12:01 AM · Report this
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Brendan didn't see the days when Annex was producing 27 plays a year; if he had, he would be writing stern articles about how pursuing quantity over quality results in many painful evenings of theater.

And truly, we (theater folk) can ill afford painful evenings of theater. People will see dozens of crappy flicks but won't stop going to movies, but they will see one bad play and decide they don't like theater. It's an awkward artform that audiences have lost the ability to easily absorb because few people grow up with it anymore (which is why SCT and its kin are so very very important [well, if you think theater is worthwhile] and should be given a lot more respect that they do for the intelligence and skill they apply to theater for kids). Production values are not what makes theater good; instead, recognize and make use of the unique qualities of theater (among them: the stage is an infinitely mutable space that is quashed when you build a massive realistic set in it; that the audience is in the room with you and you should talk directly to and with them; that theatrical time is elastic and can be stretched and twisted like silly putty). More time spent exploring the things that theater can do that other artforms can't is the only thing that will convince audiences that there's a reason to go to a play instead of staying home, watching cable, playing videogames, trolling the internet.
Posted by Bret Fetzer on October 9, 2008 at 11:57 PM · Report this
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Actually, Thespis, Longenbaugh's involvement with the theater community (or attempted at least—seen one of his plays? they SUCK) discredits him, in my eyes. He's too tied to the myopia so many in this thread suffer from. It's all about him, him, him as a poor suffering artist and not about the people who pay money and a few hours of their lives to see his work.

It's serious myopia. He's got it and he hasn't got a single original, interesting thing to say. If he did, he would have said it by now.

Not to mention... credentials don't make for good insight. I know a lot of well-educated morons and a few people who can barely read but are smarter than Kiley and everybody else on this thread combined. Just because you work in an industry doesn't mean you understand it. Actually, the outsiders usually understand it better.

So your argument that Longenbaugh must have good ideas about theater just because he writes bad plays is, in short, fucking stupid.
Posted by Iffygenia on October 9, 2008 at 11:51 PM · Report this
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Wow, Kiley, you've started a shitstorm here, haven't you.

I totally agree with everything you say in the article. Especially with regard to the booze.

My old group, Piece of Meat Theatre, would always serve copious amounts of alcohol at our shows. We'd open the house early, play rock and roll music. During a lot of our shows we'd even come out and hang with people beforehand, eschewing the whole "Oh my God we have to hide for the sake of PROFESSIONALISM thing. We did cheap, dirty, theater that took the piss out of everything and everybody. Others were doing similiar things in the 90's - Annex, Aha!, Greek Active, Theater Schmeater, Derek Horton, Printer's Devil...

I've been out of the scene for some years now and can't comment on the quality or lack thereof (it seems that WET are the new darlings), but your advice is simple: Keep fringe theater rough and young and vital.

Yeah. And fuck fringe Shakespeare, except for strange adaptations. You know how many eyeball-stabbingly boring fringe productions of "Hamlet" I've had to endure.

Like they say about the Holocaust, "Never Again."

If you want to go period, there are plenty of bloody Jacobean Tragedies out there, while lacking the height of Shakespeare's language, work on a good visceral level, which is what all theater should do, anyway.

But fuck it. Last time I did theater I got arrested, so what do I know?

Chris Tharp
Busan, South Korea
Posted by chris tharp on October 9, 2008 at 11:41 PM · Report this
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This may be a Seattle Paper, but i'm from NYC, and this is totally right on the money for our city too. Thank you.
Posted by Montserrat Mendez on October 9, 2008 at 11:25 PM · Report this
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So, please elucidate for us blank12357, exactly what kind of shit-hole job do you drag yourself to every day? And how much do you really enjoy living in the shit that others crap out on your head?

At least artists are struggling for something they believe in - which has to be one whole hell of a lot better than struggling for something you wouldn't otherwise give a good fuck-all about if it didn't provide a steady paycheck, right?

Awaiting your reply.
Posted by Thespis on October 9, 2008 at 10:50 PM · Report this
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I haven't read too much here about "valuable service to the community," blank12357. Is that the new standard for earning money in a capitalist economy?

Let's get this straight. We're not talking about hobbyists and kids right out of college demanding $60k a year. We're talking about the biggest non-profits corporations in the city--corporations that get hundreds of thousands of dollars of tax money to produce their work. And we're talking about the smartest, most experienced, most talented, and most marketable actors in the region.

A union actor at Seattle Rep, Intiman, ACT, Seattle Children's Theatre might make $10k for one project. The work hours are 8 hours/day, six days/week. Then they are laid off. The most accomplished actors in town are incredibly fortunate if they can land three gigs like this a year. It's even luckier if they get cast in three shows that don't overlap with one another--meaning that they have to turn down one job and thus lose a third of their annual income.

Meanwhile, the box office manager, the lead tele-marketer, and phone operator at those same companies have full-time twelve-month employment and are protected by federal minimum wage laws.

Maybe theatre people don't take themselves seriously enough.
Posted by rowlfdog on October 9, 2008 at 9:21 PM · Report this
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Most hilarious thread ever. I thought that theater people took themselves way too seriously, but I had no idea how bad it was. Reading this is like watching The Office.

I love the comments about how actors expect a living wage for producing such a valuable service to the community, a community that apparently has better things to do than to watch them. Also hilarious is the expectation that a critic has an obligation to say nice things and be kind and supportive.

It is amazing to me that so many of you would wish to air your narcissism in public. So embarrassing for you, hilarious for me.
Posted by blank12357 on October 9, 2008 at 8:21 PM · Report this
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Goddamn, you theater people sure know how to in the fuck hale before commenting. Don't forget: Less is more!

Dorky Park was mind blowing. Made me forget I was at the theatre.
Posted by lather brush on October 9, 2008 at 8:01 PM · Report this
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To: anon@hotmail.com

I worked with theatre and dance groups, as a musician for three years, providing live music for both performances and intermission/arrival/departure (for which, despite my many years of training, professional experience, equipment expenditures, etc., I was typically paid: $0, as I expected), so I got to see the inner workings of many struggling, and some not-so-struggling companies. Regardless of the artistic merit of their work (ranging from truly wretched to quite good), the lack of business sense was astounding.

Instead of figuring out how much money they had, or could reasonably expect to lose, budgets were routinely exceeded as "THE WORK!" demanded, credit cards were maxed out, and eventually family members were tapped to prevent total economic collapse. Every time this would happen I'd think "Surely they'll adjust their planning and expectations on the next project...", but no, yet another too-long run with too much overtime and last minute expenditures--lights, scenery, advertising, etc.

I understand the desire to make one's art as perfect as possible, but I also understand the need to pay one's bills. It's vital that artists, particularly the struggling non-professional, find a sustainable approach to their work, instead of working on feverish optimism bordering on delusion. If you know that the next piece of work is going to cost...something, you've got to make sure the current piece of work doesn't leave you with...nothing, or less than nothing, or you'll be unable to go on for very long. Conceive of works for which you can meet the budget. Take it as a given that whatever you have in your collective pockets is it, that the reviews will be scant or scathing.

The world owes you nothing as an artist.
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Posted by tiktok on October 9, 2008 at 7:52 PM · Report this
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how shitfaced do you get before you write this crap?
Posted by michael lane on October 9, 2008 at 7:27 PM · Report this
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Thanks for your "holy-shit list", Brendan. I feel like your article fails to explain your premise--what do you think is broken about theatre? Almost everyone I know thinks that it has to with unfair and uncertain economic conditions. Or they think that the work is irrelevant and boring.

I don't know how your prescription solves either problem. Encouraging the demise of labor unions is just bizarre. And it would be ineffective. As Mike Daisey wrote at length in your own newspaper, LORT theatre company payrolls are not dominated by actors and technicians anyway. They did away with that problem by eliminating long term contracts. There's no actor in town who makes wages for more than one show at a time; and IATSE technicians are seasonal, which at some of our big houses can mean work for less than six months.

Reducing these few contracts would not save enough money to significantly reduce ticket prices. Is that what you are hoping for? If not, who do you want to get paid that money?

Actors Equity was formed in 1913, and all of Seattle's major companies have used union performers since their inceptions--including during the so-called "boom years." I think you invented this problem.

As to quality of work, the idea that we expect better work if we rehearse less, use unproven scripts, and don't seek advanced training is not supported by your "holy-shit list" (or your paper's Genius Awards).

There are several fringe companies in Seattle who do all the things that you advocate: rush work to the stage, tackle projects that they don't have the talent to finish, and ask audiences to award them just for their effort. In my experience, The Stranger doesn't review these companies and when you do, you eviscerate them.

I've always wondered why the Stranger wasn't a stronger advocate for really experimental theatre. To do that, I think you need to stop spending column inches telling us all what you find boring about Intiman and ACT. Stop going to those places and really seek out those one-off presentations of risky shit. That doesn't mean the national all-stars who tour to On the Boards. It means sitting through 30 or 40 local shows that suck ass, hoping to find that one gem.
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Posted by rowlfdog on October 9, 2008 at 7:26 PM · Report this
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Is this whole paper one gigantic advice column now?
Posted by msm on October 9, 2008 at 7:15 PM · Report this
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One could debate the relative faults of Mr. Longenbaugh (of which there are many) at length Iffy. However, to his credit, at least he's a working theatre artist. He actually does theatre, has learned something about theater, and isn't afraid to get down in the muck of making theatre actually happen.

Savage used to fall into this same category, but gave it up years ago. I have no idea what Kiley's background is that would qualify him to bloviate on this particular subject. But, it's pretty evident he has no fucking clue as to how theatre is really created, not the day-to-day, nuts-and-bolts part of it anyway. And it's just as obvious he's never bothered to try to find out first-hand either.

So, before he deigns to hand down critical bulls from his ivory tower pulpit, perhaps he ought to spend just a little time engaged in the process. Then maybe people who actually do it wouldn't dismiss his lame-brained exercises in self-aggrandizement quite so readily.
Posted by Thespis on October 9, 2008 at 6:38 PM · Report this
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Give me a break, Rob. You reach for the Weekly because... John Longenbaugh is boring the world with about which candidates remind him of which Shakespeare characters?

Put the two sections side by side. Seriously. And tell me with a straight face that the Weekly's is more insightful/better for Seattle theater. You can't.
Posted by Iffygenia on October 9, 2008 at 6:06 PM · Report this
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I'm a bit confused as to what to make of the ever shifting attitude of this paper. Two years ago I had read an article that denounced fringe theaters for not taking enough chances, and then denounced those that did but perhaps fell a bit short. The article said, in effect, "You should take more chances! Why did you take a chance that I didn't like?!" I remember the author said that he used to be an actor, but "Got tired of the audition process". Hmmm, sounds like a lack of talent combined with jealousy to me.
But, I digress. Yes, theater needs to do something to give itself a kick in the ass. As a former Seattle actor (presently a Colorado ski-bum) I know how demanding the theater scene can be. Labor of love, indeed.
Brandon Hoskins
Posted by Brandon Hoskins on October 9, 2008 at 5:45 PM · Report this
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"Tax, zoning, and liquor laws in your way? Change them or ignore them."

Wow ok, I'll wave my magic fairy dust wand over the complex bureacratic nightmare of zoning and liquor laws (in my spare time, since you know, keeping a company afloat leaves me twiddling my thumbs most of the time). I'm sure that will make this all clear right up in a snap.

Or, that other great advice..."ignore them." Really? Yeah, my board and liability insurance provider will definitely go for that one.

This whole article smacks of being completely out of touch with the realities of producing theatre in a small, fringe company....along with the arrogance of thinking that you and you alone have come up with all of these spectacular ideas that no one else has ever managed to dream up, in decades of hordes of smart, experienced, committed professionals devoting their hearts, minds and souls to these pursuits. Surely you know better, and can think more profoundly about this in preparing a little column, than all of those who actually do this every day and have spent countless hours in rooms together discussing and debating all of these ideas and oodles more, but then ended up having to discard them when they proved completely unworkable.

How comfy the world of the theoretical, where one need only ever imagine and wonder rather than ever struggle in the complex, challenging real-world environment to really DO something -- like oh, actually produce theatre.

But wait, you trash the artists who try to survive by teaching in academic theatre programs for being out of touch and not having the chops to cut it in the real producing environment, don't you? Apparently artists aren't allowed to step outside the producing world to teach and still retain their credibility, but critics are. Fascinating.
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Posted by NonFantasylandTheatreProducer on October 9, 2008 at 5:34 PM · Report this
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Well, like most drunks, you have a few moments of lucidity surrounded by blithering, ignorant nonsense.
You've got about four and a half good ideas here. The booze idea is workable. A lot of theatres already do this. Perhaps even provide a shuttle from a nearby college to discourage drinking and driving? Okay, I'm with you on this one.
I'm also with you on your one a half points about getting 'em in young. It's not two whole points, though, since providing daycare is just an example of how to get them in young, not a whole seperate point. Again, good stuff.
Yes, agreed, new work needs to be encouraged. This is fairly obvious, though, so "tell us something we don't know".
And the boor's night out could be fun, if it's appropriate for the show. Afterall, a painter could put on a show where the viewers were encouraged to participate by adding to the canvas, and that could be cool, but I imagine a lot would find it insulting after they've labored to present something for your consideration.
As for the other stuff, I'm not going to get into a debate with you about the unions being an "anvil". This is primarily because a debate is supposed to be between two equally informed parties, and as you've so clearly made it evident that you have no idea what you're talking about, I won't get into that.
The other commenter is right about needing a small army to produce 27 plays in a season. It's just not feasable from, well, just about every standpoint, except for a few lucky trust-funded theatre groups. This is not to say that those theatres should be discouraged. More power to them.
Oh, yeah, let's do away with Shakespeare, that hack. Why on earth would anyone want to work with plays written by one of the greatest writers in history? Plays that continue to be relevent to this day. Plays that often are the inspiration for people to become actors. Besides, we all know that history has absolutely nothing to say to us. Jesus, man.
Artists don't deserve a living wage? Wow. That's just really... revolting. And stupid. Like "current administration" stupid. As a number of other people have stated, you wouldn't expect anyone else who has pursued their career in a professional capacity to work for nothing. But if you do, then I suggest that you get surgery by someone who is willing to do it for free. WTF.
In fact, you might want to consider retracting that one. Tell your boss you were drunk or high, tell him/her anything, just not that you really believe that. Because if it were up to me, I'd have you fired. Fortunately it's not up to me. However, I would suggest that if they want to let that stand, they should also provide space for Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and any other nutcase with a bone to pick and who wants to masquerade as a journalist.
And speaking of bones to pick, what's your deal with grad school? It sounds pretty personal to me. So I'm going to take it personally. I can imagine that it must really suck to be at a party, and have the focus taken away from your inflamatory, ignorant viewpoints by someone who is much smarter and better educated than you are. A lot of us did go out into the real world and found that, like you say, talent wasn't enough. That's why we, you know, went to grad school.
Grad schools are full of "has-beens"? What's your resume, Jack? (as in "never done jack") Man, hire a hipster while he STILL knows everything. You know that whole prolonged adolecence, too cool to clap, "indier than thou" thing you've got going? You should know that's only cute until you're about 25, and then it becomes just... pathetic.
See, those are just accusatory personal attacks that don't really accomplish anything, except maybe convince you that there's no reason to listen to me. Which is pretty much what your atricle did for me. I realize that sometimes you have to emulate Artaud, and push people to the extreme in order for them to change even a little bit, and if that's what you were going for, then all apologies, and much kudos.
Otherwise you might want to remember what Abraham Lincoln said about remaining silent and being merely thought a fool.

-Thesamus


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Posted by Thesamus on October 9, 2008 at 5:32 PM · Report this
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I find it patently absurd that in a community with 150 fringe companies, the Stranger representatives point to it's theatre review section on a given week and say "see we reviewed 7 plays this week", especially considering that one of those reviews is the touring show 'Spring Awakening' and another is Night of the Living Dead at SCT. The remaining reviews are all of fringe theatres that already have a significant foothold in the scene. How is this a representation of the The Stranger "getting out there."

Multiple times in my personal experience The Stranger has reserved tickets for a show and called 5 minutes before the house opened to cancel their reservation. Later comments were put on the SLOG indicating that the reviewer just didn't want to go see the production because they weren't impressed with the script. How on Earth is this beneficial to anyone? When a theatre company puts two months (give or take) of work to create a professional, engaging production and it is completely ignored by the only paper that many people under 60 care about, it's a travesty and completely unprofessional.

You, Mr. Kiley are the key reason that when I reach for a weekly rag, I reach for the Seattle Weekly. Your lack of knowledge or insight and your pomposity is an insult to anyone who respects the art of journalism.
Posted by Rob on October 9, 2008 at 5:10 PM · Report this
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Wow. All I can think is "child care at Spin the Bottle, perhaps in the bar?"

Where in the world do theatres already constrained for space put both the childcare space and the bar since minors aren't allowed in the bar? ;-)

Other than that, I'd love to offer childcare. But since we have enough issue getting one person to volunteer to run the box office (and see the show for free) and another (licensed) bartender to run the bar...where am I going to find yet one more volunteer to watch those kids? All the rest are busy onstage...do other theatres have companies of 50 people willing to do these kinds of fun tasks during a 5 week run of a show? I'd be interested to know...and will a parent leave their child with an unlicensed care provider from 8-10 pm at night?
Posted by JenMoon on October 9, 2008 at 5:05 PM · Report this
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...which is apparently 'Theatre off Jackson.' Huh. Accurate name.
Posted by K on October 9, 2008 at 4:39 PM · Report this
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Oh, for the record, Fortuna Mandolin, whoever you are...I'll be hauling my mates to that theater off Jackson, whatever it's called, just because of your comment and because they made a play all about Banana Bread Beer. So congratulations and thank you. Stuff like that needs to be experienced personally, I think.
Posted by K on October 9, 2008 at 4:37 PM · Report this
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I don't like top-10 lists, rowlfdog, but here are a few holy-shit moments:

Dorky Park (dance) at On the Boards.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (musical) in Los Angeles.

The Yellow Kid (play) at Annex.

Custer by Derek Horton (weirdness) at the Nippon Kan.

TheaterRun (ensemble play) at ConWorks.

Crave and Finer Noble Gasses (plays) at WET.

King John (Amy Thone kicking everloving ass) at the old CHAC.

Letter to Axl by Dave Schmader way back in the day (at Oddfellows I think) and Greek Active's Saint Joan (at Bumbershoot—I was too young for Re-bar).

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Nick Garrison kicking everlovin' ass) at Re-bar.

Several Implied Violence shows—at Smoke Farm, the first part of the triptych they performed in South Lake Union.

There's a few.

And Comte: We have been a little less comprehensive than usual in the past month, I'll give you that. But what I see in this thread is a thousand different ways of saying entitlement.

Notice how the discussion immediately (in the very first comment) turned from "what we can do to save our theaters" to "how the critics don't give us what we deserve"?

Keep blaming everybody else for your troubles, and you'll sink like stones.
Posted by Brendan Kiley on October 9, 2008 at 4:33 PM · Report this
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Brendan: what are the ten greatest theatre performances you've ever seen?
Posted by rowlfdog on October 9, 2008 at 3:35 PM · Report this
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And THAT Adrian, is PRECISELY why "doing 27 plays a year" is a BAD idea. As Gillian Jorgensen correctly pointed out waaaay up there, the shit-to-Shinola ratio for that level of production is so high (and certainly was back in '88) as to make it not worth the effort, especially when you just KNOW most of those 27 pieces, even the middlingly decent ones, if they ever get reviewed at all, aren't going to garner more than a couple hundred words worth of craptastic snarkism by the local rags.

So, it almost seems like Brendan is setting up a Straw Man: "Do lots and lots more plays, so we can shoot them down like so many ducks on-the-wing"; that may not literally be his intent, but that would certainly be the result.

As for his "We get out there" comment above, well, let's just look at the actual record to which he & Dan refer: In this week's edition we get two theatre-related articles; one, Brendan's "How The Stranger Thinks Seattle Theatre Can Save Itself" (with apologies to Mr. Daisey), and a sort of preview of a Broadway road-show. In last week's edition we had a dance review, and two theatre "reviews" of shows already half-way through their respective runs that do little more than tell us who the characters are, and what the basic storyline was. In the September 24th edition we get an interview with Twyla Tharp and no reviews. On Sept. 18th we have an 0p-Ed piece on the stepping down of the current NEA chair, and on the 16th, 3 "capsule reviews" of barely 300 words each, one of which spends almost more time talking about ANOTHER REVIEWER than it does about the show itself. And finally, also on the 16th, a review of a drag show at a local restaurant.

So, final score. In the past MONTH, "The Stranger" has published:

2 - Op-Ed pieces
1 - Interview/preview
1 - preview
1 - dance review (Seattle Center)
1 - drag show review (CapHill)
5 - theatre reviews (1 S.C; 1 C.H.; 2 downtown; 1 1st Hill)

Meanwhile "The Stranger"'s current Theatre/Performance Events Calendar lists some 90 separate events going on around town -

- ARE YOU GUYS FUCKING KIDDING ME?

I suppose I could swallow your malarky a little better, IF, by "getting around" you mean: "Anywhere we can conveniently walk to, or travel to in less than 20 minutes on the #10/#2 route".

Seriously, you guys aren't fooling anybody.
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Posted by COMTE on October 9, 2008 at 2:57 PM · Report this
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I'd prefer it if I didn't have to spend so much time clapping at the end. I do respect the actors and I do enjoy the show, its just that I'm done with my applause when the actors are still bowing and beaming and waving to the back row.

Forcing the obligation to show gratitude onto your audience ends the show on a bum note. Compare this to musicians who time their encore and exit to the crowd noise, always leaving the crowd wanting more.
Posted by blank12357 on October 9, 2008 at 2:52 PM · Report this
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49 Comment Pulled
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I agree with everything written here, except that Rocky Horror is a genius film on its own.
Posted by Dammit Janet on October 9, 2008 at 2:11 PM · Report this
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Tiktok:

Thank you for your comment. FAIL.

Okay, musician: get yourself a venue, but not for just a night... oh, no... for a month. Or two. Or a year. Go ahead, we'll wait.

Now, rehearse. Easy enough, except you have to have the whole band together for three or four hours a night, five nights a week. And your set-list is going to be two-to-three hours long. Oh, yeah... to keep Kiley happy, you don't get to do any covers; original compositions only, and you better not be repeating any of the stuff you used in your last gig.

Now, the stage. Well, for this particular gig, you need more than that rug you tape down for every show. You need a couple of walls, some chairs, some cups and plates. Not *too* much... we don't want to get accused of over-reaching, do we? The house doesn't supply those items, nor the lighting, nor the sound, so you'll have to work out with your bandmates who's going to do what. Good luck with that.

So, you do all that. And you put up your show that you've slaved over for a month, that you're not getting paid for, and for which you're neglecting your day-job. A "writer" shows up, sees the show once, and dismisses it as rubbish in a piece filled with sarcasm, cynicism, and inside-jokes.

You now have a three-week commitment to a show that no-one wants to see, 'cause they saw it got trashed in the paper. You may weep, now.
Posted by anon@hotmail.com on October 9, 2008 at 1:42 PM · Report this
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matt, i have got to tell you, the REVIEW EVERY SINGLE PLAY approach in seattle is not only unreasonable, its pointless. the SHIT i have seen in seattle has been epic (and yes, there is fabulous theatre and i've discussed it at length, please refer to my widely published works blah blah blah) but good god--some of the crap even the big three have turned out would curl your hair with its awfulness--valueless vanity projects pillar-to-post, i often felt like i was a captive, not an audience member. for that reason and others (limited space and time) SELECTIVE REVIEWS are the ONLY way to go...theater critique (and big influential papers like the stranger) is a small part of building a successful theatre community--very small. it is up to theatre to be GOOD first. we can't cheer for garbage.
Posted by adrian! on October 9, 2008 at 1:22 PM · Report this
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Oh sure - do it like Chicago which has 5 million people in the aggregate - god, are you folks silly.

Seattle has a population of about 600,000

Duh
Posted by Jan on October 9, 2008 at 1:15 PM · Report this
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Reviews are, indeed, not the be-all end-all. But they are press. Self promotion is great, I've seen shows sell out entire runs based solely on self promotion.

The backing of that self promotion by an established media outlet can only help with that.
Posted by David Rollison on October 9, 2008 at 1:06 PM · Report this
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I have been working in chicago theater for quite some time now, and while I do agree that chicago has large fringe scene, I have to disagree that the Chicago Reader is to be credited for butts in the seats. I have worked on plays that were critics choice in the reader, and shows that were ravaged by the reviewers. In terms of people coming to the shows I have to say that alcohol was more important, and self-promotion works better than rave reviews.
Posted by eloise on October 9, 2008 at 12:59 PM · Report this
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Dan and Brendon,

You are both either being naive or intentionally stupid.

Sure, The Stranger reviews plays. They put the name of the show and what the plot is. It is supposed to be a review, not a synopsis.

Your publication lends no credibility to the art form. By being so dismissive you turn your readership against it. Then, when the whole douchebag of hipsters that drool over your every word see that they aren't supposed to care about live theater, they don't.

I once saw Larry Ballard do a talk back for Copenhagen at The Rep. An audience member asked if he was concerned that the audience might not understand the difficult material contained in the show. He stated that he couldn't be held responsible for other people's ignorance.

I have remembered that quote for years, and he is correct, an artist is not responsible for the lack of knowledge of his or her audience.

The Stranger can be because The Stranger is a source for information. Do you seriously not understand what kind of sway that you posses? Do you not realize that you contribute to the death of an art form you claim to care about but do everything you can to discredit? It is your actions, your actual reviews and the people that review them that reflect your true level of understanding and interest in the Seattle Theater scene.

It's a punchline to you, and not a particularly good one. If you fellated plays with half as much exuberance as you slobber the knob of any half talent music act that wears a smaller pants size than you then people would be going to see theater rather then discussing it's death.
Posted by David "Pissed Off" Rollison on October 9, 2008 at 12:48 PM · Report this
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I'm only here to comment on #7. As someone who rarely goes to live theater but would love to start attending performances regularly, everything that Brendan said in #7 would be a HUGE incentive for myself and most of my friends to begin thinking of live theater as a viable source of our entertainment.
Posted by Callie on October 9, 2008 at 12:37 PM · Report this
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First, I agree that the local papers (free/weekly as well as daily) ought to give a bit more coverage to the local theater community. Coverage gets butts into seats. Butts in seats contribute dollars, and lead to greater commuity involvement (we all know that ticket sales alone don't support ANY of our theaters). That being said, I have to agree with most of what Brendan said.

I also have to respectfully disagree with Comte about the union. I've never had an interest in joining the union primarily because I just don't think the promise of an "occasional living-wage check" balances with the membership fees required by the union or the restrictive policies about working.

AEA needs to come to grips with the fact that not every market is New York or Chicago. With relatively few union houses in the city and far more talented actors (within and outside of the union) than available roles it is a losing proposition for everyone. Except the union.

Obviously no one is making much money on this, including the theaters.

I took a hiatus from acting over three years ago because of many of the issues Brendan brings up. My standard answer to any of my actor friends asking me to come see them in (yet another) production of (insert name of play here)is: "Why should I?". In order to be lured to the theater at this point I need a compelling reason. Is it a new story? A new take on an old one? Are the characters going to be engaging?

Sadly, the answer to the above questions is more often than not "no".

Theater needs to become relevant again. I love theater. I miss it. I want to like it when I see it.

Bravo to Brendan for at least laying out some great foundation for discussion.
Posted by Rob on October 9, 2008 at 12:35 PM · Report this
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While you bring up some legitimate points, I tend to agree with Comte. Your assertions on the union are uneducated at best.

It would surprise me if you had ever tried to create a working threatre production or tried to develop an acting career...especially in this town. There seems to be a mindset here that acting is a frivolous pastime and actors aren't worthy of a living wage. What other profession would you ask someone who is highly trained to work for nothing or next to nothing? None.

Babysitting/Daycare -- great idea. Bars -- good idea (one that most theatres try to set in place right away). Get them young -- absolutely! However, the remainder of this article is naive and insulting.
Posted by Ratch on October 9, 2008 at 12:29 PM · Report this
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And we continue to review a lot. The theater homepage currently has links to seven reviews and two previews, from the fancy-pants ballet to two kids putting on a hiphop play in a basement.

We get out there.
Posted by Brendan Kiley on October 9, 2008 at 12:28 PM · Report this
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The Stranger used to review every play that opened in Seattle. Didn't stop the scene from dying.
Posted by Dan Savage on October 9, 2008 at 12:06 PM · Report this
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1. Shakespeare is well-known, royalty-free and a proven draw. Why wouldn't a student in a High School want to learn about acting with A-grade material? Have you ever seen an original play written by a high-schooler? They look like, well, they were written by a high schooler.
2.Okay, nice idea, but see above. Writing plays that anybody will enjoy is hard. Getting people to see a new work, even if it's stellar -- similarly hard. There's a reason Broadway is so excited about licensing Mel Brookes and Disney movies. People are more likely to see a play that seems like a known quantity.
3. Covered prety well by Comte. Again, good idea in theory. But heavy schedule + small audiences - cost of doing business = bankruptcy.
4.Good idea. Booze and plays that feature nudity seem to be big favorites with younger audiences.
5. Liability = $.
6. Good idea. This does require a lot of financial and legislative help from outside.
7.Good idea, but a free drink for leaving at intermission? Man, I thought I'd heard 'em all.
8. I've done these. It's a lot to ask of performers who aren't getting paid (see #9.)
9. Wow, the "artists must be survivors, like cockroaches" point. I haven't heard that one 10,000 times before. Hell, if my dad hadn't been so emphatic about art equalling poverty, I probably wouldn't have been so enthusiastic about it in the first place.
10. Ha! Glad you said it and not me.

I know you are genuinely interested in promoting live performance, but sometimes it seems like you're delivering a wake-up call to an insomniac. It's not like people doing this aren't acutely aware of the harsh realities.
Posted by flamingbanjo on October 9, 2008 at 12:05 PM · Report this
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Publicity and venue are huge problems here. It's nearly impossible to get a decent notice in area papers, let alone a freaking review. BCT, for example, has been told in the past by reviewers that they won't get reviewed because their runs are too short - typically two weeks. And why are their runs too short? Because frigging Meydenbauer a) costs a fortune, and b) is booked solid. But where else could they move?

For the smaller community theatres, it's even more of a problem at times, because they have such tiny budgets and all-volunteer staff; trying to be able to afford a decent venue is crippling in this hyperinflated real estate market.

I'll agree with the alcohol, though; I know I always enjoy going to shows more if I can have a sip of wine at intermission. But a hell of a lot of the venues around here not only don't permit alcohol, you can't take ANY food or beverage into the theatre.

There's a market for theatre producing Shakespeare, or the tired old drawing-room comedies and musicals that every high school does, and for the most cutting-edge of fringe theatre. The problem is FINDING that audience - they're out there, but they don't know about us - and getting them to come to the shows.
Posted by geni on October 9, 2008 at 12:00 PM · Report this
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My fourth lavender martini arrived when half my friends got up and put on their coats.
"Wherer'r yus going?" I slurred. (Yes, I am a lightweight.)
"To a Christmas play. I think its an improv, singalong sort of thing."
After two cocktails, I'm anybody's, so this sounded like a great idea to me. But what about this recently arrived lavender martini? Luckily I had another great idea. I downed it.
By the time we got to the theater, somewhere in the UD, I was shitfaced, staggering and laughing my damn head off at all and everything. So were my friends, except for our designated driver who was too entertained by us to be embarassed. We're pretty cute drunks, or at least we thought so.

I'm sure someone told me that audience participation was encouraged, or maybe it just looked like it should be. Either way, we got into it. We laughed, we heckled, we cheered. When, at one point the performers broke into song, we joined in. I have no idea whether the crowd was enjoying our performance or not, but we had a fucking ball.

By half-time we were fading fast, but they only had plastic bottles of Coors at the "bar". You really can't keep a lavender martini buzz going with beer, so I think we were a little more subdued in the second half. It was a bloody good night though. I'm sure the performers enjoyed having an audience with a pulse.

Brendan is right. Theater usually has a great big stick stuck up its butt. Comedians and musicians know how to work a room, it'd be really good if an actor could do the same.
Posted by blank12357 on October 9, 2008 at 11:54 AM · Report this
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Speaking as a musician, I reject the idea that artists "deserve" a living. The market decides who ends up with a living. If you want to bypass that cruel system of reward allocation, try whining to your representatives to provide some arts funding, then resign yourself to producing the sort of staid crap that Middle America will reluctantly fund.

I still haven't figured out if theatre or dance are the more self-righteous classical art form, but I'm leaning towards the field that originated the term "drama queen".
Posted by tiktok on October 9, 2008 at 11:52 AM · Report this
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You managed to succinctly state what I, as a twenty-something jaded theater fan and artist, have been struggling to articulate for years about what is wrong with theater, and in the form of suggestions for improvement. Thank you.
I can only hope that a few fringe theaters take your advice, and hopefully I can get more of my friends to drop $15 on live theater.
Posted by Kitsu on October 9, 2008 at 11:50 AM · Report this
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The Theater off Jackson, that yellow one in the U District, and the Theater Schmeater all have cheap bars that let you bring drinks into the show. Theater Schmeater even has "the Knockout"--a shot of jack and a pabst for 5$. Theater off Jackson has Sgt. Rigsby there that had a whole play revolving around Banana Bread Beer, which could be found in the lobby.
Posted by Fortuna Mandolin on October 9, 2008 at 11:49 AM · Report this
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You've hit the nail on the head Brendan. I produce quick and dirty shows in both traditional spaces and warehouse spaces. The shows where we can sell our own alcohol for cheap are the ones that everybody comes to and everybody loves.

$1.50 cans of PBR are the answer!
Posted by Sir Learnsalot on October 9, 2008 at 11:45 AM · Report this
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Where's Mike Daisey? Surely it will only take him a matter of seconds to fire off his shitcannon.
Posted by Mr. Poe on October 9, 2008 at 11:41 AM · Report this
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Preach it, Comte.



Posted by RMDavis on October 9, 2008 at 11:32 AM · Report this
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David Perez is right on the money
Posted by Pissed Off on October 9, 2008 at 11:32 AM · Report this
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Brendan-

Your article INFURIATES me. Well, its no surprise that is comes from a weekly that makes its name on sensationalism. I expect as much.
In my tenure in Seattle as theatre student, then theatre artist, I was never foolish enough to think the stranger a promoter of the form. Even when your coverage used your powers for good, I knew it was a sad and brief exception.

YES, we should do new plays. YES. I worked at a new plays theatre in Seattle. Remember Empty Space? I think it was our new play “Ming The Rude” that you personally called a turd, and gave no encouragement for our attempt to create a new dynamic piece of theatre with some of Seattle’s best artists.

On top of struggling to accrue an audience of the under 60 crowd you mentioned, we were still met with the usual obstacles: board complacency, lackluster foundation support, and the vanishing of government support. STILL, we all fought the good fight and lost. Doing new plays by authors and artists unrecognized by the community is honorable, and fucking tough. You forget that we still have to pay rent, artists JUST to stay afloat. Also, we all have a lot to learn from doing classics. Our history is just as important as our future, and any good artist will tell you as much.

In regards to Offer Child Care, Fight For Real Estate, Get Them Young etc: Yes, Brendan, this would be nice. I would also like a pony that vomits money and glitter. Most theatres are operating on a deficit, as you politely ignored. These things would be great, and would be AWESOME resources. When I worked at Empty Space (for free) we had to take our garbage home because we couldn't afford a second dumpster. We, as most theatres still do, had to beg, borrow and steal. I don’t think these hopes are misguided, but you seem to think we just don’t want to offer resources to our artists, have a physical home, or build a new audience base. Yes, we WAN’T these things. I also want to GET PAID to produce plays, instead of PAY. I wish I was writing this letter from a desk the theatre purchased for me, rather then my cubicle at an Ad Agency. Your reductive view of how small and large theaters should run their shops lacks compassion and credible experience. Oh that’s right, you worked at ACT's box office.

One of the many reasons I left Seattle to found a theatre in Chicago was to escape the atrocious critical community perpetuated by The Stranger's Hipster Bullshit. You're sick of Shakespeare? I think listening to the rants of critics that are only partially adequate at their jobs is more tedious. At least Shakespeare contributes to culture more then a paper that features DRUNK OF THE WEEK.

To push this form into the future, and continue to do the important work gets harder every day. So how about instead of persecuting arts organizations, why don't we examine the circumstances that create these problems?

Ok now I am going to lunch, with the rest of my company, who like me work terrible jobs in offices to pay for this important endeavor. Do us all a favor Brendan: Until you actually work to make theatre happen, stick to what you know.

David Perez
Artistic Director
Pavement Group
Chicago, IL
More...
Posted by David Perez on October 9, 2008 at 10:52 AM · Report this
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Interesting article, and I agree with many of the ideas presented. However, I catagorically reject #9: "Nobody deserves a living wage for having talent and a mountain of grad-school debt". Yes, they do. Theatre artists provide a service to our communities, as do an insurance company, a sports team, or a doctor. And we need to be provided with the level of financial reward that allow us to continue to create powerful reflections of our various communities. Theatre cannot be only an avocation, it must be a vocation as well.
Posted by Bruce on October 9, 2008 at 10:35 AM · Report this
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I'll second those thoughts of Ms. Narver's.

"The journalist, by definition, is a man conducting his education in public; but reviewers, by virtue of their specialist status, can fall into the trap of believing that an acquaintance with the conventions of stagecraft empowers them to pronounce on any subject represented on the stage. It does not." -- Wardle, THEATRE CRITICISM

Don't forget, too, that all MFA's are not created equally. Savannah College of Art and Design, were I'm presently on faculty, offers an MFA in 'Performing Arts'--a less specified degree with a pedagogy having an emphasis on the entrepreneurial. We are a faculty of working professionals determined to minimize graduating tomorrow's waiters. Theatre artists of the 21st Century are required, of necessity, to wear many hats; this degree offers not only acting (voice, movement, etc.) for the stage--separate from the Film and Television Department--but directing, dramatic writing, marketing, producing, administration for non-profits. It even includes professionalism in media studies: how to write cogent reviews for alternative weeklies.

Let me also applaud your passion for our field, Mr. Kiley.

Tip 'o' the hat,
Laurence Ballard
Posted by Laurence Ballard on October 9, 2008 at 10:34 AM · Report this
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Great. Another list of Simple Fixes for the Simple Problems that just happen to have piled up around the non-profit regional theatre scene over the last forty-five years. 'Cause it's simple.

Did you *really* have nothing else to write about this week, Brendan?
Posted by natopotato on October 9, 2008 at 10:21 AM · Report this
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How about the stranger take a more constructive and positive view of the theater in this town. This publication has blatant disrespect for live theater as evidenced by it's one-off quippy summaries and stupid moronic reviews that lead most to wonder if the reviewer even came to the show (Lindy West, I'm looking at you.)

I don't know that you realize this, but a review has a lot of power. And The Stranger has a lot of power. A review from The Stranger is an excellent way to get asses in the chairs. But when time and again the reviewer is trying to be funny rather then doing their job it makes it difficult to discern what is truly crap, and what your alcoholic staff members couldn't be bothered to pay attention to.

You can point the finger all you want and say "It's your fault, you fucked this up theater!" But the bottom line is that you cannot be so quick to shirk your own responsibility. Taking such a flippant attitude to the artists in this city earns you scorn from the artistic community and turns the readership against the art form.

Grow up and do your fucking jobs and we will continue to do ours.
Posted by Pissed Off on October 9, 2008 at 10:05 AM · Report this
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Thanks for the list Brendan. As always, it's great when The Stranger engages with the theater community.

I think that something The Stranger could do to help create a more vibrant theater scene in Seattle is to write reviews that provide more of a cultural and dramaturgical context for the work.

Too often it seems that The Stranger (and let's face it, 90% of the theater critics in the world), write book reports of the play and then tell us who was good and who was bad in the play. Not very interesting for anyone and certainly not something that will help audiences move towards a more meaningful engagement with the work that's being produced in the Seattle area.

Just a thought...

Thanks again for your passionate support of Seattle theater.

Allison Narver
Posted by Allison Narver on October 9, 2008 at 9:17 AM · Report this
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"and you don't have to pay royalties for any theater under 400 people"

hahahahah
Posted by Chris M on October 9, 2008 at 9:15 AM · Report this
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Woo! Art historians!

That's all I've got to say.
Posted by Gloria on October 9, 2008 at 8:10 AM · Report this
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There is a grain of truth in point #10, but I think that to make the blanket statement that "drama departments are staffed by has-beens and never-weres" is really poorly informed. Remember that ACT was founded by the man who was at the time director of the UW School of Drama, and who also founded its outstanding MFA acting program. He apparently knew something about the future of theater. It is partially because of the strong drama departments at UW and Cornish that Seattle has the theater scene it does to begin with. Talented local artists upon whom The Stranger has heaped praise of late (Kaminski, Zeyl, Kenison, et al,) are Seattle transplants from the east coast who may not have landed here without those MFA programs.

To piggyback onto rjs's comment above, it's worth pointing out that teaching jobs in the departments you're calling irrelevant enable a certain number of artists to make exactly the type of less financially lucrative work that you're pinning the future of the art form on.

Moreover, Seattle's smaller professional theaters (Book-It and Seattle Shakespeare Company, among others,) provide a lot of decent paying jobs for local actors and designers, (and arts administrators,) some of whom may not choose to stay here otherwise. Regardless of your opinion of their work and its sustainability, (SSC is still growing I believe,) they too have a place in the ecosystem. I don't believe it's a zero-sum game. I absolutely disagree with the notion that killing NEA funding for Shakespeare in the heartland will somehow help theater, here or anywhere. Companies like Seattle Shakes continuing to do what they do for the audiences that want to see it helps rather than hinders everybody else.

Finally, I want to point out that I never would have gotten interested in theater had I not been exposed to Shakespeare in high school, and I doubt I'm alone. Just because you and I might not walk through the door of one more production of Macbeth without being paid to doesn't mean there's no good reason for that production to exist.
More...
Posted by mge on October 9, 2008 at 12:56 AM · Report this
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One further suggestion: You want to create an audience of the future? Support theater for children and teens. Take kids to see shows (NOT just Disney knockoffs, but Romeo & Juliet, Antigone and The Laramie Project). Children who go to theater love it and keep coming back, but an adult has to start the ball rolling. GCM in Portland
Posted by GCM on October 8, 2008 at 10:37 PM · Report this
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Everyone deserves a living wage.

Seattle drama departments are staffed by MFA graduates Marya Sea-Kaminski (Founder of Washington Ensemble Theatre/solo performer/working actor), Amy Thone (Founder of New Century/Stranger Genius Award winner/working actor), Greg Carter (Artistic Director/Founder of Strawberry Theater Workshop/Stranger Genius Award winner) and those are just a few.

I've been making work in Seattle (even when I lived in Chicago) for 12 years - constantly - and I couldn't afford to dream a life for myself beyond my art.

I'll be back in a couple years - just as soon as I get that MFA that's going to stifle my relevance.

C'mon Brendan. Really?



Posted by rjs on October 8, 2008 at 10:16 PM · Report this
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But it's not you alone, it's your paper. The whole stranger should fight for art in Seattle. And give print space for it. Much more could be done on your part. And you Brendan Kiley could make that happen, or at least try.
Posted by adam on October 8, 2008 at 8:57 PM · Report this
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Well, we list every press release we get online—print space is a precious commodity these days. If I listed every show I got a press release for, I couldn't run articles at all.

Like the one you're all commenting on now...
Posted by Brendan Kiley on October 8, 2008 at 8:03 PM · Report this
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You're right about youth. I moved to Seattle from Salt Lake City last August and went from seeing between one and three plays each month to zero.

The reason: tickets are way expensive here. Why no student discounts? Volunteer ushers? Promotions?

And Lizz Leiser is absolutely right -- Brendan, help us out!
Posted by seldom seen on October 8, 2008 at 7:42 PM · Report this
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I'll second what Lizz Leiser just said. The Chicago Reader reviews EVERY SINGLE PLAY in Chicago, and Chicago has a huge fringe theare scene. Furthermore, there are a half-dozen other publications in Chicago that review a large cross-section of fringe theawtre. New companies depend on those reviews to establish their reputation and get people in the seats. The fact that The Stranger can only manage to review one or two shows a week--and those are often Equity theatre productions--is very saddening. I can get a review of The Reps latest production anywhere, where can I turn to get consistent reviews of Seattle's fringe theatre?
Posted by Matt on October 8, 2008 at 6:48 PM · Report this
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Oh, and not to beat the proverbial dead horse, but we had TWO spaces at 4th Ave that allowed us to achieve that stunningly insane schedule.

Given the dearth of local venues currently available to small producing orgs, it's not in the least bit surprising that NOBODY in their right mind would even think to try to reach for that level of production.
Posted by COMTE on October 8, 2008 at 6:15 PM · Report this
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...and this article would summarize exactly why it was I decided to not spend my time writing plays but instead do other things.
Posted by K on October 8, 2008 at 5:53 PM · Report this
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Some of these are excellent ideas Brendan, but some of them are just plain unworkable, particularly #3. In order to produce on that scale, you need a company of roughly 70 - 100 members, and can only run shows for two to three weeks at a time - at most. That means closing a show just as it's starting to generate audiences.

The reason Annex was able to produce 27 plays in a single year was due primarily to having lots of bodies to throw at each one, so that burn-out wasn't a very real factor in the process.

Right now, we have a core company of about 20, with many of those wearing multiple hats as it is. It is simply physically impossible to replicate those "glory days" with that small of a number of people working all the different levels of production - and you'd end up killing most of them, even the young, healthy ones, if you even tried. So, yeah, go ahead and do 27 plays a year - just make sure you have a small army available at your beck-and-call to make it happen.

And as a union performer, and a representative of union performers, I have to take issue with your assertion that unions are an albatross around the necks of fringe companies. In this market at least, the sheer number of talented and experienced non-union performers rather obviates the need for small non-union producers to have to go to union performers to cast their shows. Sure, they'd LIKE to use more union talent, but it's always at the expense of PAYING them - not even a LIVING WAGE, but anything even remotely resembling such. Union performers for the most part understand and accept that their status precludes them from working at the fringe level; they know that they may only do one or two shows a year, if that, and frankly, many are either happy with that, or, if not, move on to bigger markets where there are more opportunities to work in union houses. But, they've made the choice to join, and as such, they expect and deserve to be treated as professionals - nobody expects a talented surgeon, or cello player to work for peanuts - or less - but actors? Feh, they're worth less than their weight in bagels and cream-cheese, which is about all the compensation they can expect at many small companies.

That being said, I have only the HIGHEST RESPECT for talented performers who decide, for whatever reason, to remain non-union, and Seattle is truly blessed with a veritable cornucopia of them. But, that is also a CHOICE they've made; to forgo professional status, along with the occasional living-wage check, in order to work at that level, and I say more power to them. But, please, it's the height of disengenuiousness to suggest that union actors seeking living-wages are somehow the impediment to small fringe theatres being able to produce great work. If that were truly the case, well, the fringe wouldn't exist at all, then would it?
More...
Posted by COMTE on October 8, 2008 at 4:58 PM · Report this
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I totally agree with almost all of what you wrote and what I don't agree with is only because I don't know... I haven't had the experience of Chicago etc. I am not native to this country, I do have experience of OR and Portland especially. I do believe there is an awful lot of snobbery attached to the academics of theatre - the thinking and not the doing - people seem to be more impressed by where one went to school rather than can you get up there up and do it. And yes one would think that the small theatres would use and push American Equity to facilitate them more to put to work professional actors with the production of new works.
I am British and American Equity and I love new works and young people; that, for me is what theatre is about. Lets represent what is happening now, take some risks. I want to feel my blood racing through my veins.
Keep on shouting, I am surely echoing you. Thank you.
Suzanne Owens-Duval
Posted by Suzanne Owens-Duval on October 8, 2008 at 4:32 PM · Report this
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JT: you're an idiot. Your comment wasn't even a reaction to the article, other than to speak of its valid points, it was merely a character attack on Kiley. And if you've only read one article by him, how is it that you've gleaned enough about him through his writing style to make personal assumptions?
Carla: It's Samuel French, and you don't have to pay royalties for any theater under 400 people, and usually not at all because it's for educational purposes. There are other plays and playwrights in the public domain, it wouldn't hurt high schoolers to try and tackle the Greeks every once in a while, and it wouldn't take a lot of sleuthing for drama instructors and heads of drama departments to find free, under- or unpublished plays, and perhaps (God-forbid), with character ages that come close to the high school range.
Posted by will on October 8, 2008 at 4:23 PM · Report this
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High Schools do Shakespeare because they don't have to pay Arthur French company a bazillion dollars in royalties. Shakespeare is free to produce and perform. Also, it's a basic prerequisite for drama classes, and for budding actors.
Posted by Carla Holley on October 8, 2008 at 3:39 PM · Report this
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i agree completely with brendan and completely with liz.
Posted by adrian! on October 8, 2008 at 3:23 PM · Report this
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And do you know what YOU can do, Seattle Stranger? LIST SHOWS. List auditions. Encourage your theatre community to use your paper as a resource.
In Chicago the independent theatre community is some of the best in the country because the Chicago Reader- the free paper- lists & supports all the every last performance.

When I lived in Portland it was an uphill struggle to get the Mercury to list our shows. When the Mercury listed us- people came & supported us, & gave us money to make more shows. When they didn't list us, or only listed us a few weeks- nothing.

If you ran a "Top 5 Plays to See" pick to every week- those theatre would flourish.

Without media support there can be no "Fringe" scene- the small theatres who take the chances don't have the PR budget- they count on the local papers for free listings to get house.

Since you care enough to write this true & excellent article, one I plan on passing around the theatre community here in NYC- you can take a look at how you as a paper promote your independent theatre community.

Lizz Leiser
Producing Director
Ego Productions
Founder of Superego PDX
Posted by Lizz Leiser on October 8, 2008 at 2:42 PM · Report this

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