A few years ago, people used to gather at the Rendezvous for raucous quarterly pub forums on special topics in theater. Called Shitstorm, it was a crucible for ideas—fun, productive, generally tipsy, and occasionally harrowing.
A few weeks ago, I wrote an article called "Ten Things Theaters Need to Do Right Now to Save Themselves" that included ideas such as providing child care, building bars, and a five-year moratorium on Shakespeare. The article pissed people right off: "Ten Things" was only 1,000 words long and it generated over 33,000 words in comments. (Samples: "Your articles are worthless, pretentious, uninformed, completely masturbatory..." and "I'd prefer [theater] if I didn't have to spend so much time clapping.") The Seattle Rep asked if I would host a forum on the article. I suggested we resuscitate Shitstorm. On Monday night, about 150 people showed up for several hours of drinking, talking, shouting, and a closing sing-along to "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey. (This was the first of what will be several nü-Shitstorms in the coming months.)
The crowd was a menagerie: playwrights; designers; directors from ACT, the Rep, and On the Boards; a swarm of angry actors; a few audience members. One of the Shitstorm rules is that whatever people say can be repeated, but not attributed. A few of the evening's comments follow.
On bitching: "The number-one solution is perspective. We're privileged to be able to sit here and complain about being able to do what we love to do."
On how to run a budget, from the director of a successful experimental theater: "We invest in risk. Our revenue is 15 percent and we raise the other 85 percent in donations—our success is not based on ticket sales."
On whether theater is broken: "I've been in this business for 20 years, and theater is as broken—and as fixed—as it's ever been."
On being an audience member: "Hi, my name is Chris, and I'm an audience member. But I haven't been to a play in five years. But it's like The X-Files. I want to believe."
On older audience members: "People don't wake up at 40 and decide to become theatergoers. People become theatergoers when they're young."
On what theater's job is: "How do we measure our success? How DO we support ourselves as artists, or how DO we support what we want to see as audience members? Those are very different questions."
On theater in Seattle: "I sit on a national funding panel and people say 'this and this and this is gone, except in Seattle.' We are an anomaly. We have it lucky."
On the future: "The real shitstorm is on the economic horizon and we have a moral obligation to help our community through the next three years."
On Shitstorm: "I haven't had this much fun in three months."