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January 14, 2008


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I'm such a JACKASS for missing this. I didn't believe Daisey when he wrote that tix were going fast, 'cause everybody says that. Then it turned out in his case, it was true.

This sounds FASCINATING.

Kerry Reid

What you talk about in DC is the same thing I feel about Chicago. Ensembles are far more the rule, rather than the exception, even if Chicago Shakespeare and Goodman do import actors from New York from time to time.

Now, as to how many of them are able to live on CAT contracts and occasional film/tv work? Not sure.

Scott Walters

So let me get this straight: yesterday, you posted this scathing overview of the broken regional theatre scene by one who has experience in it, and you got TWO COMMENTS??? Are people asleep? Do we need to go back to posting about Christopher Isherwood in order to get somebody to engage? Astonishing.

barton b

"Part and parcel of this is the subscription model, which encourages theaters to embrace very predictable programming."

Do we know if there are any regional theatres Out There who eschew the yearly subscription package for this very reason?


Scott, I think the comments were broken. see post above or above the above. Daisey's show definitely made a great case for community-based theater. And the rep model comes out looking pretty great too--you see the same actors over and over play many different parts year after year. That sounds pretty great. I mean that's what a community is.


The subscription model not only foments predictability in programming, but its main justification for use - predictability of income - has also come under assault in recent years as audiences eschew "buying in bulk" in favor of the "single serving" model. So, companies get caught in a double-bind: it becomes progressively harder to get audiences to commit to an entire season of productions in advance, which means less money coming in at the front end of the season, which translates into increasing aesthetic and financial volitility and instability, all of which contributes to the inevitable fiscal death-spiral.

The end result is that, here in Seattle at least, we have large professional companies with beautiful facilities, built for the most part in the dot.com "boom" of the late 1990's, that are now carrying debt loads in the seven figures in some cases, while the mid-range theatres, the training grounds for the local professional talent pool, have all but dried up completely, and at the bottom, the plethora of "fringe" start-ups and small producers who are struggling just to find affordable places to put up their shows in what has been up until recently, a booming real-estate market.

Although most of the small companies would probably reject the notion that what happens at the big regionals affects them, the truth is that when the top-tier companies are up to their eyeballs in debt, it drags down the entire local "theatre economy", because hundreds of thousands of dollars that could go toward producing actual shows, gets funneled into paying off long-standing, overdue bills, leaving - well, very little left over to spread around to small companies where just a few thousand dollars could mean the difference between producing two or three shows, or producing none.


Good news!



I posted my thoughts on this on my blog. Check it out here:



Ah, this old stalking horse. Yeah yeah, regional theater is broken. New York actors are all soulless automatons who can’t relate to US here in Lower East Rubberboot Idaho! Come ON!

First, young Mr. Butler concurs with Mr. Daisey that regional theaters are bankrupt, corrupt and spiraling down into mediocrity and apparently this is all because they have eaten of the forbidden fruit, (*gasp* New York actors) and strayed from their, “…original regioinal theater model of rep companies…”

Well, I question whether there ever was an ‘original regional theater model’ in the first place. The notion that these many and diverse LORT theaters were all working from the same hymnal or even the same church of theatricality, strikes me as perhaps wishful thinking?

Regardless, let’s move on to another of Mr. Butler’s arguments, “…although it’s cheaper because they don’t have to pay a rep company’s salaries…”
Does Mr. Butler seriously think it’s cheaper to HOUSE an actor from NYC or DC or LA and provide a PER DIEM over and above a SALARY, than to engage members of the existing artistic community in their particular locale? If so I would suggest he peruse the balance sheet of any ‘bankrupt’ lowest common denominator, regional theater and learn the ugly truth.

I fear I’m not done yet. Mr. Butler then makes what I consider to be his most specious argument thus far, to wit:

“No one in the communities they perform for has any real connection to the work they’re doing because the casts and crews are these anonymous interchangeable people who rarely come back and with whom you have no connection.”

I submit to you that this sentence is wrong in part and in whole. Mr. Butler presumes to speak for all of those people who go to regional theaters and he pronounces them disconnected from whatEVER work is being done, BECAUSE those automatons are from ‘elsewhere’?

One has nothing to do with the other. If the work is engaging it does not become less so based upon “The Artist’s” place of origin. He is saying that “Of Mice & Men” or “Flying West” or “A Bright Room Called Day” aren’t relevant to an audience in Columbia S.C, Boise Idaho or Lowell Massachusetts, based on where the artists who design the sets, costumes, lights, sound or act upon the stages are from. And I say to you that this is absurd. Mr. Butler also fails -conveniently in my view- to recognize that all of these theater artists are from somewhere. They didn’t all spring from the ground in NYC. They/we come from California, Alaska, Hawaii, and every small town, hamlet and burg in these United States. We all have a connection to this country and to the people in it. We are OF America not divorced from it.

What I find even more reprehensible is that Mr. Butler then uses this specious argument to hammer home his notion, (fallacious in my view)
of the “…anonymous interchangeable workforce that the audience has no fucking connection to is what’s killing theater…”

How ironic then that Mr. Butler waxes eloquent about all of the wonderful theater artists he remembers from DC and despite the fact that many of these actors maintain New York residences, he feels they are a part of his theater past and thus not a part of that ‘…anonymous interchangeable workforce…’
Ah but they are, sir, they are and you refute your own argument from out of your own mouth.

Only one more point and then I am done. Mr. Butler seems, to put it charitably, naive about the process of making theater, hence this quote:

“So how does this impact aesthetics? Well, you have a group of people who have never met before or worked together before who now have to be an ensemble and you have a director who is floating from assignment to assignment who suddenly has to care about this show now and who meets with designers to quickly create a “concept” and whip something together. In four weeks. And art is supposed to come out of it. Actually, given this model, it’s pretty fucking remarkable how much even mediocre theatre gets produced.”

Mr. Butler? We’re artists, it’s what we do and we’re quite good at it, your protestations to the contrary not withstanding. The fact is, whether it’s at one of our esteemed regional theaters, in NYC or in Europe, we are gypsies and this ain’t our first rodeo. And amazingly enough, Mr. Butler? Many actors and directors connect up numerous times thoughout their careers.

In conclusion, I have been in this business, man and boy, for over 40 years and all during that time various individuals have decried the imminent demise of theater, it’s mediocrity and its corporatization. I am glad for everyone of those prognosticators of doom, for they shake the tree and keep us awake to the pitfalls inherent in the juxtaposition of art and income. Where I draw the line is when their arguments aren’t based on sound factual observation but rather upon conjecture, prejudice and navel gazing.

That is all

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