Ten Things Theaters Need to Do Right Now to Save Themselves

In No Particular Order

Comments

1
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
3
i agree completely with brendan and completely with liz.
5
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.
6
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and it wouldn't take a lot of sleuthing for drama instructors and heads of drama departments to find free, under- or unpublished plays, and perhaps (God-forbid), with character ages that come close to the high school range.
7
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
8
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?
9
...and this article would summarize exactly why it was I decided to not spend my time writing plays but instead do other things.
10
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.
11
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?
12
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!
13
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...
14
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.
15
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?



16
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
17
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.
18
Woo! Art historians!

That's all I've got to say.
19
"and you don't have to pay royalties for any theater under 400 people"

hahahahah
20
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
21
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.
22
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?
23
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
24
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.
25
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
26
David Perez is right on the money
27
Preach it, Comte.



28
Where's Mike Daisey? Surely it will only take him a matter of seconds to fire off his shitcannon.
29
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.

$1.50 cans of PBR are the answer!
30
The Theater off Jackson, that yellow one in the U District, and the Theater Schmeater all have cheap bars that let you bring drinks into the show. Theater Schmeater even has "the Knockout"--a shot of jack and a pabst for 5$. Theater off Jackson has Sgt. Rigsby there that had a whole play revolving around Banana Bread Beer, which could be found in the lobby.
31
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.
32
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".
33
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.
34
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.
35
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.
36
The Stranger used to review every play that opened in Seattle. Didn't stop the scene from dying.
37
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.
38
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.
39
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.
40
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.
41
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.
42
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.
43
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.
44
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
45
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.
46
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.
47
I agree with everything written here, except that Rocky Horror is a genius film on its own.
51
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.
52
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.
53
Brendan: what are the ten greatest theatre performances you've ever seen?
54
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.
55
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.
56
...which is apparently 'Theatre off Jackson.' Huh. Accurate name.
57
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?
58
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.
59
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


60
"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.
61
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
62
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.
63
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.
64
Is this whole paper one gigantic advice column now?
65
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.
66
how shitfaced do you get before you write this crap?
67
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.
68
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.
69
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.
70
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.
71
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.
72
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.
73
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
74
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.
75
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.
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?
77
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.
78
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.
79
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.
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
81
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.
82
"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?
83
"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
84
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
85
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
86
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.
87
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.
88
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.
89
"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.
90
"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...
91
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).
92
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.
93
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.
94
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.
95
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.)
96
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.
97
Gillian:

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

I HATE that "game"... :)
98
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!
100
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
101
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.
102
Gillian, I think I love you.
103
"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
104
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.
105
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
106
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.