Friday, April 24, 2009

Where's the Risk?

I'll get to all the furor over wage earnings going due to the on-going on-line debate between Todd Collins and Mike Daisey in another post. However, standing back, I'm looking at both their points. Daisey contends that actors, designers, directors are suffering deteriorating wages. Collins contends that theater staff and administrators are seeing their wages deteriorating.

So, it seems we're all in the shit. And we can blame the economy, but I can tell you from experience money in Theater has been going backwards since 2000 (a year prior to 9/11).

So, why are we finger pointing at the family making theater happen? Shouldn't we be (for lack of a better term) be pointing the finger at our audience? Or to be even more specific, educating our audience about the need for theater in this country? I don't think that patrons are simply turning away, dying off, or giving us the finger for no good reason. I just think they don't know how great theater is, and to be honest... We're not giving them much of a reason to learn.

Seriously, we're barely ever discussed in the greater National Discussion. Our critics (our only voice in traditional print media) are being fired right and left from major news papers. Houses are closing right and left, and what are we doing around the country to compensate. We're playing it safe. That's what. We're so scared that everything will collapse, we're not even putting out the art that gets the audience excited about theater.

And what's even worse, we're making safe choices and trying to convince ourselves that they're risks. For example, Sorry, to bash any of you who are putting August Wilson on your seasons, but putting August Wilson on you season and calling that your 'big risk'. Are you fucking kidding me? August Wilson is one of the most well regarded play wrights in the history of American Theater. That's like putting Tennessee Williams or Neil Simon on your season of shows and saying, "That's a big risk." *sarcastically* Oh, we might have a cast of all African American actors on our stage and talk about racism. Look at the Risk we're taking this season." Please, what is this 1952?

We're not making theater that truly lights up the National Perspective and drives people back to the theater in a passionate way! What was the last show that did that? RENT? Way back in the 90's? (and before you bring up Spring Awakening, please, consider, that the only people who know about that show are theater nerds. The public at large has no idea what that show is or even about.)

We're trucking out the same old product across the board and expecting the audience to get excited about seeing Damn Yankees for the 300th time. We've got to take bigger risks with our theater. We need to really create (for lack of a better term) controversy with the Art on the stage.

Theater managers are so worried about putting off their audience in this 'turbulent economy' that they are playing it safe, and guess what? The audience is bored. And before someone like Todd responds to me saying, "But but but... we have to save the theater and keep the doors open or no one will have a job!"

That viewpoint is like the captain of a ship telling his crew to repair sails, when the bow of the ship is already submerged in the water.

We need big important, social commenting, wildly entertaining shows right now. This is why we're all seeing the money and the audience disappear. To be honest, right now, theater is fairly boring.

1 comment:

Mike said...

Great post--I will say that my central concern is not deteriorating wages per se, but more the lack of commitment and continuity for artists that kills off community at theaters. I'm not thrilled about wages, but it's less about the amounts and more about the structure of the whole enterprise being set up for failure.