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April 29, 2009

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99

A great, big, heaping bowl of "Amen!" right here. Particularly on that last point.

Tony

I don't think it's a question of money or time at all, it's a question of priorities set by the leadership of each individual theatre.

I've said it before but the largest problem I see in the American Theatre is a systemic lack of leadership. We have a wealth of talented managers, but few leaders.

Now I've heard the argument that some actors don't want to help with marketing or development etc, they only want to act. Every time that decision is made it works to help prevent them from getting a living wage.

Change is s slow process, but how things have been the last fifty or so years does not mean that is how they have to be in fifty years.

99

Yeah, I've never much believed that separation of church and state (so to speak) argument at all. As a company grows, the demands grow, but that's more a question about what growth means, or the way your company is structured to allow time off, roles to be shared or revolve. A while back, when I was working at a small theatre, one of the playwrights we were producing had a very clear, cogent and not-bad idea about poster design. It was totally ignored, in favor of the design decided on by the producer. I always felt that was a little wrong (though I did participate in it). Actors want to act when they're acting. If they were being paid a full-time, living wage with benefits, and came to the office to work from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., then head into rehearsal, I don't think that would get in the way of their art. Especially since, even in many Off-Broadway productions, that's what they're doing anyway, just to some job somewhere, outside of the theatre.

Adam

I'm with Tony, it's an internal leadership issue. I blog a bit about it here:

http://missionparadox.typepad.com/the_mission_paradox_blog/2009/04/why-not-fund-the-artists.html

Brant

I really appreciate that someone has turned the discussion toward practical solutions, which Mr. Daisey has consistently avoided doing.

It must also be noted that there is a very pervasive myth - even within the theater community - that artists are willing to work for free and therefore do not deserve fair compensation. This bias originates from two trains of thought:

1) Artists create and perform their work for "the sheer joy of creation," and therefore payment for the work is unnecessary. Rehearsal is widely regarded as recreation.

2) The artistic labor market is oversaturated and wages are set low because that is where abundant supply meets limited demand. If artists choose to accept a low salary and itinerant lifestyle, that's entirely their choice.

Nobody expects architects, engineers, and construction laborers to work for free. Probably because a building is seen as a durable good and an investment in real estate. Plays are "merely" ephemeral experiences that don't translate to a quantifiable return on investment.

Not saying I like it or agree with it, but those are the prioritized values that we face. How does one go about changing a system of values?

Scott Walters

Brant -- It is easy to raise the banner of "practical solutions" after someone like Mike Daisey has done the heavy lifting of bringing the issues into consciousness.

Usually, when somebody says something about practical, what they mean is "how can we change the system without actually changing the system?" How can we sort of tweek it so that it is better? Well, I'd say that until be examine some underlying assumptions -- like, say, whether specialism is effective, efficient, and enriching, or whether creating art full time really creates the best art -- then we won't "solve" this problem.

99

I don't think there's a boundary on what's a practical solution or not. I think looking at specialism can be a practical thing to do, when it's connected to a specific outcome, i.e. we need to focus energy on theatre training. When I think practical solutions, I think "real world." This is where we are. What do we, both individually and as a group, do to move forward from here. Dealing with actual money and the actual time people have are real world solutions. Burning down the whole system is a fine goal, but what's your first step? Same with re-making the whole system. It's not a tweak, if the ultimate purpose is a new model. It's a beginning.

Tony

Scott, all due respect, crediting Daisey with doing the heavy lifting belittles the work that folks (yourself included) have been doing for 20 years or more.

Brant, that's an interesting analogy because architects, web designers and many other professionals do work for free to built a client roster and portfolio that will then generate their business.

They're not expected to do so down the road, but it's pretty normal at first. I think the difference is between "expected to" and "willing to."

Brant

I don't discount the valuable contributions Mr. Daisey has made to this discourse. But doesn't it undercut his message if he's only willing to rock the boat, but not chart out a better direction? He's a gifted writer, and I would love to hear his thoughts about what to do now that the proverbial consciousness has been raised.

I'm at a loss as to how we actually change the system. I take this to mean a widespread shift in social value systems, which is unlikely (it's okay, I've been called a naysayer before). I find that "revolutions by increments" (or tweaking, if you like) are more achievable and a better use of resources.

Divisions of labor (or specialism) have proven to be extraordinarily effective and efficient, but not very enriching for the laborers at all.

Now that you mention it, I don't think creating art full-time necessarily creates the best art. If that's so, then why the big debate about fairly compensating full-time artists? Maybe all artists should be part-timers.

99

I certainly don't think all artists should be part-timers, but most of us, in the theatre, are. Other arts are different. I think a more valid comparison is with musicians. Musicians work in a culture where they know that what they do has value, real world cash value. We all know it: if you ask your professional musician friend to play a song at your wedding, don't expect a wedding gift. But if you ask your actor friend to do a monologue from Romeo and Juliet, many people would be offended if that person didn't give them something as well. Theatre artists (not to get into exceptionalism) get treated a bit differently, even from other performing artists. I agree with Scott that we've taken specialism too far and created this entire class of people who manage our livelihoods for us at all levels. If my friends and I form a band, we're our own managers, marketers, producers, roadies at first. It's only at the higher eschelons do layers of professionals get involved and stay involved.

Along the lines of Isaac's other post this morning, I think this is largely a matter of culture and culture can change in a generation or two. 40 years ago, forming and maintaining a theatre company was different. In 40 years, it will be different again. It's not set in stone.

Brant

So, over at Adam's blog (missionparadox.typepad.com - see above) there seems to be a small consensus that restricted donations/endowments that are specifically earmarked for artist salaries are the way to go. Seems like a good idea.

Is there any reason this couldn't work? Any examples of this strategy already implemented?

isaac

Hey Scott:

"Usually, when somebody says something about practical, what they mean is "how can we change the system without actually changing the system?" How can we sort of tweek it so that it is better? Well, I'd say that until be examine some underlying assumptions -- like, say, whether specialism is effective, efficient, and enriching, or whether creating art full time really creates the best art -- then we won't "solve" this problem."

Well, that's certainly not what I'm trying to do, I just want to look at reality, and what it might take to implement some real world change.

I don't think a lot of problems get solved by not coming up with solutions for them. And no, completely scrapping the existing system or model for a new completely theoretical system or model with no real-world power, constituency behind it or feasibility isn't a solution... it's a dream. Those dreams have real value, and should continue to be dreamed. This post came out of thinking about my own dreams about what a theater company could look like and then going okay, and how do I pay my staff? and when do we find the time to put on shows? and starting to draw blanks. Which isn't to say they're impossible questions to answer, but they do have to be asked.

I have no problem with Mike not talking about solutions in his work, btw. He's said flat out that's not what he's interested in doing and I thank him for what he's done to raise the problems. But something has to be done to turn this energy into actually thinking about how to change things and then how that change might be accomplished.

I will say that I consider myself a pragmatic radical rather than a revolutionary, and I know this is a place where you and I (respectfully, I hope) differ in a lot of ways.

Scott Walters

At one time, the regional theatre system was a dream.

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