« | Main | A Strong First Stab at a Pipeline Design »

03/03/2010

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Lyam White

Just to be clear, I'm not dismissing the value of producing in the big houses. As an actor, I'd love to work at the big houses, if, by my auditioning, I can convince them that such a partnership is desirable. And as a writer, it's hard for me to comment; though I've called myself a "playwright," my theatrical writing efforts have been considerably more focused on scribing for generative projects in which I'm also a performer and/or creating solo work. So please, take anything I say with a dash of cayenne, a pinch of turmeric, whatever suits.

I will say that, should I either dust off the plays that remain hidden in storage or decide to write one again, I would probably hope to get one produced at one of the big houses. From an economic standpoint, there's an undeniable advantage, as Jim has pointed out. I keep hearing that it's not about the money, but the functional difference between producing on the fringe and producing at a big house would seem to be an economic one . . . unless we want to echo the precise criticism we chastise those at the big houses for leveling, and suggest that the real talent resides in the upper eschelon.

So yes, I'd like to see a pipeline, a way for artists to move from these fringe venues to more economically active hubs. I think that the idea, if not the execution, of mid-sized theaters is something to which to aspire. My problem with mid-sized venues has always been that they operate at hours that seem to presume that the artists don't have day jobs while paying at levels that presume that they do, but I'd like to think there are creative ways of addressing this with which new companies could experiment.

In other words, if we're talking about the money--and I don't see very well what else we're talking about if we're granting more importance to production at a big house vs. production at a fringe house--let's be honest about it. Maybe it'll get us started in making a better fringe, a network of shared resources and intermingling companies reminiscent of British postpunk labels circa '79, or Soho art galleries at about the same time. And if that's just me pipe-dreaming, well, at least it'll get us motivated to start building that pipeline from the small houses up, and not from the big houses down. Maybe it'll just help us turn some of those little fringe companies into viable mid-sized houses operating on a more sustainable model.

And yeah, it does come down to audience. I'm all for reaching out. I think one of the reasons I'm skeptical, though, is that you can't really turn one kind of audience into another kind of audience. Which is why I go back (as if I ever left) to the music analogy: People who make death metal don't try to figure out how to sell their wares to people who like baroque. They try to create venues where their fans can interface with their music; they seek or create record labels that specialize in their form, or in multiple forms that at least have more in common than the fact that they all use guitars. Having achieved that much, they then work on weaving a bigger legacy (and more $$) from those materials.

Which is to say, we DO need to find the holes people need drilling, but we might do well to target those whose holes are likely to match our bits. Or something like that. Wait, what are we talking about?

Shannon Kipp

I'm as flummoxed as the rest of you all about the solution to this issue...yet I feel compelled to comment. I want to speak up on behalf of all actors who enjoy -- and even prefer -- performing new works. I would have attended this forum, but it was during work hours, and hey, I'm a Seattle actor. I have a day job.

I've somehow had the good luck over the years to find my theatrical fortunes mixed with Seattle's many talented playwrights (Wayne Rawley, Keri Healey, Scot Augustson, Bret Fetzer, just to name a few) and my experiences helping stage their new plays are among my top 10 favorite theater moments. There just isn't anything else like the collaborative process of creating a new play. Delighting in what works, and working out the bugs where it doesn't. And they have all given me such rich, quirky characters to work on. And it beats being compared to the millions of other actresses who've played Blanche Dubois.

There's a reason I joined the company at Printer's Devil Theater. It's a theater exclusively devoted to producing new works. My favorite! I know we aren't a big prestigious equity house, but we can at least get projects up on their feet so they can launch up to the next level. Maybe if the big houses are nervous about new works (which is understandable for all the reasons Shawnmarie detailed) they could take a look down from their perches at what's going on in the non-equity world. Because there are some amazing things going on.

Jim Jewell

Maybe this is from way out in left field, but...

How would fringe houses accept the idea that they can operate as the "farm team," can be the starting point of a pipeline, if they partner with some Bigs and do a couple of plays each season by request of the Big? "Take these two plays we're considering or have some kind of interest in, produce them with some artistic and marketing support from us, we promise to watch it develop and see the final product."

Would fringe house be willing to take that kind of direction from a Big if they were in a partnership?

Is there enough trust left for such an idea to build on?

Seems to me that one of the unspoken stumbling blocks in this conversation, and really in every artistic decision, is the tension between "give them what they want" and "give them what you want to give them."

Does the pipeline only seem acceptable to the originators of new work if the originators choose what heads up the line, or can it be pulled by the Bigs at the end of the line?

I think it would be really interesting to propose this to the artistic leadership at SCT. Anyone want to try their hand at fringe TYA?

Paul Mullin

Jim,

If that's from left field then it's like a rocket fired by Ichiro to put the runner out at the plate. (I know, I know, Ichiro plays right field, but it's sunny and March, and a Baltimore boy's idle thoughts turn to baseball, so forgive me.)

Point is, I think it's a great idea, though I of course don't own any fringe real estate myself so I would think a Stephen McCandless or a Bret Fetzer or a Teri Lazara would have more from-the-trenches insights than I do.

However, speaking as a local playwright I would have a few points I would need assurances on to throw support behind such a program:

1) The Big and smaller houses would need to arrive on which plays they developed TOGETHER, through some sort of conference process, and not a unidirectional top down, "here do this" sort of fiat.

2) They should be locally grown plays. Why on earth should Seattle fringe houses be developing risky new work by New York playwrights when there are so many fringe houses there?

3) The Big houses should find some way to bring real money and union (specifically AEA) talent to the mix.

If those terms could be swallowed by the Bigs, I think we'd have something to talk about.

Also, what does TYA stand for?

Sincerely,

Paul

Jim Jewell

TYA = Theatre for Young Audiences

Tends to scare slightly fewer people away than "children's theatre."

Lyam White

That's a fascinating idea, Jim. I suppose it would depend on how specific the fringe company's mission statement was, and whether the new works being handed down in that fashion would fit within that mission statement. I also think that arrangement would be moot if there weren't also a way for writers who already have a working relationship with, or are members of, the fringe companies that participate to move their own work up that pipeline from the bottom up. That is to say, the pipeline could be acceptable with the bigs pulling at the end of the line, but only if the originators, in turn, have some recourse to choose certain projects, as well. Maybe one that's pulled from the bigs, one pushed from the grassroots? I'm not sure how it would look, but it's interesting to think about.

Since UMO's neither fish nor fowl, I'm not sure we'd have a place in such an arrangement, but I'm still intrigued.

Lyam White

And/or what Paul said.

Paul Mullin

One more term:

There would need to be some mechanism to rigorously incentivize the Big's to actually MOVE stuff UP. This can't be just another dead-ending PR program (i.e. FirstACT, FringeACT) that they can expediently put a bullet in when no one's looking, or when they have a bad year. It needs to be sheltered from that somehow. (Though I know, I know, to hear Kurt tell it ACT will never go hungry again.)

pm

Paul Mullin

Thanks, Jim, for the clarification re: TYA.

You know, I've been noodling on something for years now that I call Plays for Tall Young Actors. In other words, plays specifically written to be performed by young people aged 13 to 19. That seems to be a gap. Sure plenty of stuff that's like "Don't do drugs" and "Don't join a gang" but nothing of the quality of Brecht or Beckett. Where is the absurdist cannon for Young Actors? I think they'd LOVE that genre.

Someone on the SLOG comments was saying that we need to do more training of people to love theatre when they're kids, but frankly, I think there are plenty of programs, SCT chief among them, that are doing that. Where we lose them is when they hit their punk years and they want to stop pleasing adults. There's a gap between 15 and 25 wherein we really provide them very little to do or see.

I would love to work in that niche.

I have already written a few short plays for these talented Young Tall People. I'd happily write more if I thought they could get staged.

pm

kate

Paul, there is a group in town called Young American Theater Company (YATC), Teenagers producing edgy plays and producing them themselves. A lot of these kids went to college in the past year, but I heard something about them passing the torch.

I love the idea of a partnership. It actually makes me think about how Crime and Punishment went from CHAC to Intiman via Sheila Daniels. Of course, not a locally written play, but a good example of how that can happen.

Speaking of which, places like CHAC and ConWorks were such great hothouses for this sort of thing (though I think I saw more new works at ConWorks). Unfortunately both of those meccas were botched in the administration.

Jose' Amador

Jim,

Stellar idea. And I'd stand behind a couple of the caveats being suggested, but not all. I can deal with the bulletproof option, and the locally grown bit (just my druthers). But I have some reluctance about bringing the unions down, for example (again, my druthers, and since this is all hypothetical, why not treat these ideas as negotiating chips?).

I grok what Lyam's saying about the fringe company's mission statement, but I say let that be the company's decision; I'd bet most would be willing to waive those concerns for a) the opportunity, b) the exposure, and c) the association with a big.

There are some other little issues that spring to mind, but overall I think the idea's solid.

Louise Penberthy

Anyone who wants to work on audience development should take the Authentic Marketing for Small and Mid-Sized Theatres workshop (aka Beyond Butts in Seats) next time TPS offers it.

Here's the info from the last time:

http://tpsonline.org/forum/index.php?topic=4162.0

Paul Mullin

Thanks, Louise. That course looks quite useful. I'm tempted, but I think my sons would kill me if I gave up two Sundays in Summer.

Holly Arsenault

@kate: YATC is still very much alive and well, with some of the original members and some new ones ('cause they are committed to keeping the company youth-led and some of the original members felt that - at 19 - they were getting a bit long in the tooth.) http://www.youngamericanstheatreco.org/

Paul, plays for Tall Young Actors is genius.

I just wrote the longest comment in the world about the neccessity of engaging teenagers and the role that programming choices play in that effort, but I found I have more than a comment's-worth to say on the subject. Suffice it to say that you are so correct in your diagnosis that it's not the little kids but the older kids who need our attention. None of them are getting enough art in school nor seeing enough art, but the small kids are better shape than the tall kids, and the tall kids are the ones who are developing the tastes and habits that they will carry into adulthood. Engaging teenagers is crucial if we want any audiences at all for the arts a couple of decades from now.

See? There I went again. I'm just going to shut up and get back to doing my job now.

kate

Here ya go Paul: http://www.youngamericanstheatreco.org/6501.html

Have at 'em. I'll bet you anything they have some budding playwrights in the mix too.

Just don't tell them right away about all of our high hopes for them, don't want to scare them off too quickly. Right??!!

Alex Samuels

I realize I'm coming into this one a little late, and its possible this was answered in another thread. But...
I'm curious as to why Paul thinks AEA should be involved.
Do you honestly believe that the James Weidmans and Marty Mukhalians of the world are any worse than whatever equity actor you care to name?
I find it a particularly laughable idea in light of your ongoing rant that theaters are moronic for wanting to produce established playwrights. Why then demand that they use more established actors?

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

TypePad Profile

Get updates on my activity. Follow me on my Profile.
My Photo

Twitter Updates

    follow me on Twitter