I don't really know. I don't want to make big claims about whether our current theatre system is viable or not. At least not right now. I think it will survive in some form with some group of people (most likely administrators) making a living at it, and that the pool of artists who can make a living at it full time will shrink. Does that mean that it's healthy? Or alive? Hell, I dunno. But that seems to be where we're headed.
For the past few years, I have been actively engaged (sometimes on this blog, sometimes in the flesh world) with a kind of examination of institutional theater and how i might fit into that system. I grew up in that system, it's one I care about, and (and I think this is the part that will resonate with a lot of people): if i want to make a living from theater, going the institutional route is almost certainly the way to do it.
That, anyway, was my thinking. And that's the thinking that underlies a lot of what the writers go through in Outrageous Fortune. And it's crazy making and, I'm starting to suspect, wrong. One of the striking things in the book is how little money playwrights make from royalties for their work. Really, very little. I don't have the study in front of me (it's in chapter two, if someone in the comments wants to post the stat). The part that makes no sense then, is this... if you're (for example) making all of your money from television or teaching, why bother trying to get a big LORT theater you don't like very much to premiere your work in the first place? Why not find a home for it that you think is actually best for the play?
This is akin to questions I've been asking myself over the past few years, questions I've been examining in particular this year through directing, working, sound designing, assisting, directing, thinking, reading, studying, taking meetings doing a lot of stuff. And this is where I've come to:
I no longer wish to pursue making a living as a theatre director in the American Theatre Industry.
Over the near-decade I've been in New York, I've been banging my head at this brick wall. We know the wall, it's the wall that stands between "aspiring theatre artist" and "professional full time artist". I beat my head against it in a lot of ways. Lincoln Center Directors Lab? BAM! Assisting for Les Waters? BAM! Self-producing? BAM! All great experiences! I'm not putting them down. I learned immensely from all of them. But the ultimate goal was always what's on the other side of that wall.
This past year, I took a big running elbow-first leap (Freeman, what's that move called?) at that wall. It was called MilkMilkLemonade. And I feel like with that leap, I loosed one brick in the middle of that wall. And it fell out, and I got a little glimpse of what's on the other side of that wall, and thus got to a point where I could make a choice: keep beating against this wall until I loose enough bricks to bust the fuck through, or find another way to live my life.
SO this is the way I want to lead my life: I want to, as my late therapist used to say, build my elsewhere.Which is to say: Develop enough of a fulfilling, remunerative other life that I can approach theatre healthfully and with some perspective, and (and I think this is the important part) only interact with the institutional theatre system when I want to.
So... what about making a living in theatre? This is the thing... with few exceptions, most artists don't make a living in the theatre. I think the lack of artists making a living in the theatre is scandalous (here is where Don Hall, someone else who has trod a similar path, and I disagree). And as I've looked at this industry over the past few years and gotten to know more people who do make their livings as directors... I have discovered that I really, really don't want their life-styles. No knock on them or how they're choosing to live their lives, it's just not for me.
What does this mean going forward? For one thing, it means working harder to develop the two areas of my life that (a) are actually remunerative and (b) are also fulfilling. Those are my political work and my writing. I have discovered over the years that i've had this blog that I really, really love writing. Writing that profile for American Theatre? Really fun. Really fulfilling. Had a great time. Felt great. I want to write more, and write longer, and develop that artistic side of myself. And I think the work I'm doing for the think tank might really have a positive impact on this work in concrete ways. So I want to really develop those. And maybe that might mean I have to take a couple years off of theatre to focus on writing and come back, I don't know. or it might mean my output as a director is a lot slower. I'm okay with that. Or it might mean I rely more on self-producing.
I don't know right now, but I'm okay with that. I'm finally okay with all of it. At the end of the day, the "system" in this country for making theatre doesn't make a lot of sense, and is set up to guarantee failure (as defined on its terms). Given that, we have to choose something different. We have to redefine success on a more individual basis. And theatrical success for me no longer means I make a steady living at it. It means i'm doing work I find fulfilling, working with people I like, and developing as an artist and a person. And if occasionally doing that means doing something that's on the institutional radar, so be it. But if not, that's okay.