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January 13, 2010

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Scott Walters

Hmmm. That's an interesting ellision, Isaac: from "Artistic Director" to "Artistic Dictator." Kind of like using "Nazi" in a blog post -- sort of weights the discussion.

Was Harold Clurman the Group Theatre's "dictator"? Does leadership mean dictatorship?

As you know from reading my blog for many years, I am all about group process and consensus. However, I also think that consensus must be forged by committed stakeholders, which requires a degree of permanence. The Chamberlain's Men had a structure of shareholders who invested their capital in the theatre, who made the important decisions together, and whose salaries were taken as a share of the profits. Without that sort of permanence, and that sort of investment and involvement, then it seems to me that you damn well better have a person with a strong artistic vision for the organization. Without one, the default artistic vision becomes "whatever will get the most butts in seats without violating our stated mission." Which is where we are now with a lot of theatres.

Aaron Grunfeld

Hey chief, I've got a lot to say about this! So much, in fact, that I just posted to my own blog rather than rattling my thoughts off here. I hope you & your readers will check my thoughts out:

http://the-fifth-wall.blogspot.com/2010/01/corporate-theater-culture.html

isaac

Hey Scott,

Like I said, i'm trying to give voice to some conflicted feelings i have in as direct (and perhaps extreme) a way as possible. There is, as you say, a difference between "leader" and "dictator", but I know plenty of examples of theaters that run by the latter. Theater where, as Aaron points out, the staff feel like they have no say or stake in the work, etc. I don't know if that's good or bad. Was Harold CLurman a dictator? Probably not. But Joe Papp was. Does the fact that we like what he accomplished abrogate the fact that he was kinda psychotic about the way he went about doing it? I don't know, honestly I don't.

Do we want a system that relies entirely on the qualities of the individuals who run it without any checks and balances? I'm not sure, certainly our government is set up to try to avoid that (that it fails in doing that is a different story).

Do I think, reading Outrageous Fortune, that to some extent some artists want a Big Daddy Who Will Take Care of Their Needs? Yes, sometimes I do. That's a problem we have in our culture in general (see Maureen Dowd's recent desire for Obama to act like America's abusive father). Why should theater artists be exempt from that psychosis?

Melissa

I'm the AD of a small company, so take my comments with as big a grain of salt as you like. ADs do a lot of work that's essential to the running of the company. The smaller the theatre, the more diverse the work, but we all select the season with varying degrees of input from the rest of the company. I like a lot of input, but the decision is, ultimately, mine. We do new plays by emerging playwrights almost exclusively, so I'm also out there forging relationships with playwrights, researching plays and playwrights, soliciting plays, and reading plays.

My point is this: Someone has to do that work in order for the company to function. Someone has to make those decisions in order for the company to function. If you do away with Artistic Directors, then someone else will have to do the work, no matter what you call them, and those people will accrue as much power and decision-making responsibility as they feel comfortable with or want, no matter what you call them.

I agree that a lot of big companies that need to please a cranky board and aging subscribers are selecting seasons that are tame and boring, but that's not due to how the job functions necessarily.

isaac

...And here we have Melissa giving eloquent voice to the other half of my conflict. Thanks!

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