by 99 Seats
I do love that.
Over at the HowlRound blog, the constantly amazing Todd London writes about building a home for artists. It's a really, really lovely piece, so check it out, if you haven't. He has a great list of things to have around to make artists feel at home, but really, the last one rings super-true:
16. To make an artistic home for others, you have to make a place of love for the art in others.
(Not that I don't love snacks.)
We talk a lot about the field, about the work, about quality, and sometimes about the lack of "great" plays. We talk about the Edifice Complex, rant about money spent on administrators not artists, about enhancement money, about money, money, money and how it gets spent. But we don't talk a lot about how one builds a home for artists. Or why. It's easy to say why in abstract, but in specific, what do you get?
So let me tell you a story about what happens when a theatre makes real room for artists, real room for the love of the art in others.
I haven't talked a lot about Rob Askins' play Hand to God because, well, it felt weird. Rob is a friend and the theatre that produced it is my own artistic home; I'm deeply involved. I knew going into it that it would hard to be objective about it so I wasn't going to try. But in the conversation about how building a home can build better plays, there's a lot to talk about.
Hand to God is Rob's second produced full-length play. And it's a pretty great play. But don't just take my word for it. At the end of February, it'll be returning for another engagement after a successful extension of a successful run and there's talk of more. It's pretty much an unqualified hit, loved by audiences, well-received by critics, everything a theatre could want. It's also just plain good, smart, funny and engaging. How do you get there? By making a home for artists.
Rob is an alum of Youngblood (as am I) and, as I mentioned above, they produced another play of his a couple of seasons ago: Princes of Waco. It was a good production, to be sure, but it certainly didn't receive what you could think was a rousing welcome. Some nice notices, talk of Rob's promise, but that was about it. (Rob, if you're reading this...sorry if I'm dredging up bad memories.)
In most cases like that, the theatre would simply move on. Thank Rob for a nice production and say, "See you when you have something else." Maybe do a reading of his next play or something, but mostly get back to looking for the next thing, the next writer and move on down the line. It's understandable: there's only so much money, only so much time, only so much energy to be given to any one artist. There are only so many production opportunities and theatres need to figure out how to optimize those. I'm not faulting anyone for operating this way. It makes sense, really. But what happens if you don't?
Rob became an artist member of E.S.T. (as am I) and started work on his next play. He worked with some of the same actors he'd worked with in the past (E.S.T. also produced a short play of his). He wrote work specifically for them, and worked with them on it over the course of more than a year. E.S.T. doesn't have a lot in the way of resources these days, still re-structuring after the double-whammies of the loss of its founding Artistic Director and the economic downturn, but they invested in Rob with what they had: time and space. Rob got time to work on his play, to work with his actors and director and deepen his play. The theatre didn't invest in the play, just in hopes of getting it ready, but they invested in Rob and made space for him to work.
And what did they get? A great play. The process of getting there matters. Really great plays take time, they take support, but what they really need is a home. The same goes for great artists. Homes are what we need. Todd does a good job of showing us how it's done. Swing by E.S.T. in a few weeks to see what it gets you.