I am a ranter.

No surprise I guess that a blogger likes ranting, it would seem to be a blogger’s stock in trade, and I have a reputation as something of a John the Baptist of the CAPS LOCK… but I more specifically mean in real life. I tend to caffeinate and hold forth on something that is bothering me until I run out of steam or people willing to listen. The topic most often these last couple of years has been changes that need to be made in the operation of indie theatre companies and the creation of new work. If you happen to be my wife or my producing director you have heard the topic ground into dust over various meals and commercial breaks.

I want revolution.

Sekou Sundiata warns I wouldn’t use that word if I knew what it meant. It ain’t pretty, It’s messy. It overturns things. But maybe an art form needs overturning when its business model seems to boil down to [(wish + hope)/ask nicely = Profit]. Maybe we can stop asking what color the new memorial lobby should be and DO SOMETHING. Maybe more folks should get honestly angry when we spend another 8 hours in a room talking about a new way to divvy up the day-old doughnuts that the federal government disperses instead of talking about creation.

I keep shouting in the wilderness online because it all feels so possible. It feels like movement is taking place. It feels like the increased access to power brokers and the democratization of publishing means that common sense can be heard all the way up the chain and good ideas can be implemented even if they came from outside the advisory board or the Executive Council. It feels like these connections to other people and other ways of telling stories matters.

Of course it doesn’t.

Not on the macro scale we want it to. We listen to our macro leaders talk and it becomes clear again that we’re just talking about entirely different worlds. The disconnect between someone like Michael Kaiser and the day-to-day conversation happening between the theatre blogs and in the #2amt and #newplay spheres is jaw-grindingly apparent as he talks from his talking points of 2 years ago and proposes solutions for producing paradigms of 40 years ago. Mr. Kaiser and Mr. Landesman have million dollar businesses to buttress and no matter what they feel personally (and I LIKE them both) they are in the business of selling theatre shaped widgets.

But I will tell you that this revolution has mattered very much to me personally. I take this discussion and the ideas that it generates very seriously. I use as many ideas as I can in the production of our work with Cambiare Productions as possible. I think we’re right about a lot of thing and I’m itching to prove it.

So a modest proposal: Forget about them.

I don’t mean the Arena Stages and David Dowers, or the A.C.T. and Portland Center Stages… Every Theatre Bay Area, League of Chicago Theatres, and Austin Creative Alliance that buys in to the conversation is better for us|them|we.  But if the big boys and girls don’t want to play? Forget about them.

We can’t make revolution simply about resources. Most of the folks taking part in the conversation have few. It has to be about ideas. It has to be about creation. We have to eliminate the culture of ownership that drives business and foster a culture of shared ideas.

Let’s have the Stone Soup revolution:

Once upon a time, somewhere in post-war Eastern Europe, there was a great famine in which people jealously hoarded whatever food they could find, hiding it even from their friends and neighbors. One day a wandering soldier came into a village and began asking questions as if he planned to stay for the night.

“There’s not a bite to eat in the whole province,” he was told. “Better keep moving on.”

“Oh, I have everything I need,” he said. “In fact, I was thinking of making some stone soup to share with all of you.” He pulled an iron cauldron from his wagon, filled it with water, and built a fire under it. Then, with great ceremony, he drew an ordinary-looking stone from a velvet bag and dropped it into the water.

By now, hearing the rumor of food, most of the villagers had come to the square or watched from their windows. As the soldier sniffed the “broth” and licked his lips in anticipation, hunger began to overcome their skepticism.

“Ahh,” the soldier said to himself rather loudly, “I do like a tasty stone soup. Of course, stone soup with cabbage — that’s hard to beat.”

Soon a villager approached hesitantly, holding a cabbage he’d retrieved from its hiding place, and added it to the pot. “Capital!” cried the soldier. “You know, I once had stone soup with cabbage and a bit of salt beef as well, and it was fit for a king.”

The village butcher managed to find some salt beef . . . and so it went, through potatoes, onions, carrots, mushrooms, and so on, until there was indeed a delicious meal for all. The villagers offered the soldier a great deal of money for the magic stone, but he refused to sell and traveled on the next day. [Taken from here]

Not to agree with Don Hall publically or anything, but indie theatre spends an awful lot of time dressing up in big brother’s clothes, pretending we’re something more than a bunch of fly-by-night bootstrap  concerns that likely won’t exist in 5 years. We hoard thoughts. We want in first. We want to hit it big on That One Idea. The indies, the storefronts aren’t playing the same game as the Kennedy Center and we need to stop pretending we are.

We need to stop holding back the cabbage, the salt beef, and the potatoes. Give it away. Publish your thoughts. Your ideas. Hell, even your scripts if you don’t intend to publish them traditionally. Look into Creative Commons and what it means (Lucas Krech has a great post here to get you started).

We’re never going to move the monolith. It’s doesn’t mean I’m going to stop yelling at it, or getting infuriated when it notes glibly that regional theatre audiences seem to be getting older (REALLY!? I hadn’t heard!), but rationally I know that it’s going to stand there until the Chapter 11 judge gives it away.

Let’s not waste the energy and momentum that we have in this moment.

I have this stone.
What have you got?


  • May 14, 2010
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