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August 08, 2007


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Joshua James

Can you define professionalization, as you see the word?

For me, being professional means giving a shit . . . it goes beyond just being paid . . . it means being serious enough to commit to an excellence beyond just showing up . . .

Which is why people harp on acting like a professional, well before money becomes an issue . . .

John August has an article called Professional Writing and the Rise of the Amatuer, which can be found here . . . http://johnaugust.com/archives/2006/professional-writing-and-the-rise-of-the-amateur

He goes into great detail, but his breakdown is as follows:

"So to review, here’s what I’m including in my definition of “professional”:

Presentation, a.k.a. “Giving a shit”




Peer standards"

I really recommend the whole article . . .

And it really elaborates to what I'm saying . . . in fact, I like it so much, I think I'll post on it right now . . .

I also believes it relates to a recent heated discussion . . .


Well, I really meant it as an open question, so it's good to see how you define professionalism in relationship to it (just so that it's clear, with these questions, I'm not advocating anything, I'm just asking, my answer to this question would probably be an elaborate and caveat filled "no").

What I meant was professionalization in the sense that we now have formalized systems for making theatre around the country. This didn't exist 60 years ago. There was a generation of people who created the nonprofit and regional theatre movements and, essentially, professionalized theatre.

The question is, has this made things too ossified? is this destorying the creativity of the american theatre?

Joshua James

Ah, I get it.

Good question, I don't know the answer, myself.


I think is is definitely worth exploring. And there are many sides to the question.

One side would be with the formalized systems we inherit, is the amount of money and manpower it takes to keep the bricks and mortar going a good thing? How much money goes to theatre (plays) and how much to The Theatre (building and organization), and is this a good thing?

I'm always a little suspicious when I hear of a $50 or $125 million theatre complex going up. Do we need them to do theatre?


I often wonder if the fact that there are people (including myself) who are trying to make a living in theater somehow negatively impacts the art form.

Trying to scrape together an income from several different sources is pretty all-consuming, and can easily lead to only interacting in any meaningful way with theater folks. Every time someone posts something about theater educating or enlightening, I find myself wondering when the last time that person had a drink with someone who doesn't define themselves as a theater artist. My concern, in short, is that professional theater leads to a disconnect from potential audiences and generates forces that push theater away from relevancy to people who don't make theater.

Another concern - not limited to theater or perhaps even professional theater - is that due to the difficulty of making a living in the industry, individuals who manage some sort of stability (artistic directors, literary managers, etc) have a high incentive to protect their position. This kind of self-protection has a negative effect on innovation and risk taking.


I would say "no, professionalism has not destroyed American theatre." If anything, there should be MORE professionalism in the actions and thoughts of everyone associated with the theatre, both the creative and administrative personnel. We should demand that what we do in the theatre is a valid and worthwhile profession, like any other, and not just a lark for young slackers before they move on to other, more secure pursuits.
I look toward the European model, where governmental support for the arts (theatre, particularly) is far beyond anything we can dream of in this country. Theatre artists are considered professionals worthy of the respect of any other professional working person. Many are able to make a living from doing nothing but theatre, which is a mere fantasy for we in the USA.
That's the kind of professionalism I am in favor of. There are other kinds, of course...the kind that stifles wildness and originality, that tries to mold every play into an instantly recognizable but dead commodity--that kind has to go. Endless play development seems to me to be all-too-present form of this "professionalism."


Ken: Which European model do you look toward? (as there are many and there can be vast differences from place to place)


It could be any of them, anywhere (Germany, France, UK, Canada, Netherlands, et al). I would just like to exist in a land where the arts are not left totally to the whims of the marketplace. Maybe a heavily government-subsidized system is sometimes less than ideal, but it does communicate that the arts are a priority for the nation.


Ken, I agree... and to continue pressing forward with the question let me just ask... is the professionalism (the good kind) of the European model only possible because of government funding?

And if so, is the professionalism (the other kind, the formal stifling kind) an end result of our current system?

If so, does this mean that without state funding, we should abandon the current model of theatre making in the United States for something rougher and less institutionalized?


A lot of people in the UK are really upset (Howard Barker was very vocal) about arts funding being slashed according to the whims of the marketplace--or the Olympics. And there is a vast difference between arts funding in Canada and in France.

Believe me I would love to have the levels of funding here that France had when I worked there. I also would love universal health care like they have.

So the question I would pose is how do we get away from simply looking longingly across the pond, and try to make it happen?

danielle wilson

I don't think this is just a theater problem, but an arts in general problem.
If you look at the music industry or the publishing industry, the people with the money by and large are the executives, not the artists. Regular musicians and regular writers, the ones doing the work of actual creating are lining the pockets of those managing their creations.

There was a recent article (in the New Yorker I think) about government enforcement of things "for the public good". The gist of the article was this: When individuals were asked if they though mandatory fuel economy standards in cars were a good idea, nearly everyone said yes. But these same individuals drove SUVs because it wasn't worth it to them as individuals to pay the extra money for a more fuel efficient vehicle. The same thing happened when air bags were introduced. Everybody thought they were a great idea, but nobody wanted to pay for them.

Maybe public perception of the arts is similar. In theory, everybody loves the arts, thinks they should be taught in schools, etc. etc. but it is going to take something drastic like a government mandate to actually change the society.

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