Another thing about Austin—the heaps of artists who moved here from New York and say their friends and colleagues are abandoning the Rome of the 20th century for Portland, Austin, Seattle, and sometimes Chicago.
The local born-and-breds are saying the kinds of people who would've moved to New York 10 years ago are now staying put because a) it's cheaper, b) the market isn't as saturated, and c) the audiences are actually growing. Five years ago, Fuse Box began as a week of local shows in a warehouse. Ron Berry (the festival's sweet-hearted, chipmunk-cheeked director) says it's doubled in attendance and funding every year.
And if Austin and Portland can have TBA and Fuse Box—two of the best burgeoning performance festivals in the United States, festivals that fly in the people you want to see from all over the world—then what use is NYC? Because it's more cosmopolitan?
Not really. As Jen Graves once said, it is the duty of the regional critic to fight the provincialism of New York. But you don't have to believe us hicks down in Podunk Holler.
Take it from Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal, the only national theater critic who actually flies around the country covering national theater, as he hands NYC critics—and American criticism in general—their asses. (The context: New York critics are slobbering over a production of The Norman Conquests by Alan Ayckbourn and moaning that Ayckbourn's plays aren't staged often enough in America. What they mean is his plays aren't staged often enough in New York. Seattle's ACT Theater, for example, can't go five minutes without staging an Ayckbourn play.)
...it so happens that Alan Ayckbourn's plays are produced with some frequency by America's regional theaters, a fact of which I'm aware because I'm the only New York-based drama critic who makes a habit of seeking out and reviewing these productions. Indeed, I may be the only New York-based drama critic who knows about them, even though some take place close enough to Manhattan for any critic with a dime's worth of initiative to go and see them.
You don't have to go to New York to see first-rate shows. You can see them in the place where you live, or in a city not too far from your home town—but save on the rarest of occasions, you can't read about them in Time or Newsweek or the New York Times.
It embarrasses me to say it, but most American drama criticism is provincial, and New York City is every bit as provincial in that regard as the smallest town in America. I'd like to see that change. ... I'd much rather be one of a dozen traveling critics—and until somebody joins me out on the road, I'll continue to be embarrassed for my benighted profession, which operates on the mistaken assumption that if it doesn't happen in New York or London, it isn't happening.
And Teachout, really, is the only one who's spent enough time on the road to know. The only disappointing thing about him: He mostly restricts himself to the so-called "well-made plays." (Not the strict definition, but you know what I mean.) New, experimental performance—the fun stuff, when it's done right, the stuff that will save live performance—suffers even more critical neglect. (Which is partly to blame for Nature Theater of Oklahoma's hyperinflated stock. The de-Suggests of No Dice has been a topic of conversation in Austin, as NTOO will perform it here.)
To review: New York is expensive, glutted, and provincial, and the burgeoning cities have the theaters and audiences that want to bring Ayckbourn and McDonagh as well as Dorky Park and Romeo Castellucci. They have festivals. They have their own great companies—the Rude Mechs in Austin, Teeth in Portland, Implied Violence and Zoe Scofield and locust and Pat Graney and WET and and New Century Theater Company and the rest of the players in Seattle.
So what, exactly, is so great about New York? (It's even losing its monopoly on musicals, as cities like Seattle get more pre-Broadway workshops and post-Broadway touring shows.)
Seattle should do two things: 1) Become the anchor city for a West Coast corridor, rock 'n' roll style, that trades work up and down I-5, and makes it profitable for companies from elsewhere to tour: Vancouver-Seattle-Portland-San Francisco-Los Angeles. 2) Get itself a festival like Fuse Box, with ambitions to grow to TBA size (There's no reason we couldn't—we have the resources and the audience, all we need is the will).
The world is shrinking and the landscape is flattening. We've got to do for our own selves. New York is played.
Photos of Seattle companies mentioned in this post.