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June 23, 2009


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Lucas Krech

There is a fair bit of cross over and the smart AD's at the institutional theaters are looking to the smaller independent companies for fresh ideas and new artists. Not everyone makes the cross, but then not a lot of people can or want to deal with what is needed in "professional" settings.

Also, the problem is not inherent to theater. The small independent art-show-in-a-warehouse is a far cry from a Chelsea gallery or the Whitney. The indie comics scene is galaxies apart from Marvel and DC.

I do think the truly strong work rises above the mass and eventually gets into the institutions. After all, many of these very institutions are in fact run by people who came up doing edgy independent work.


Hey Lucas,

I don't disagree with you, and I certainly think some forward looking ADs are doing exactly what I was talking about (and in a longer less bloggy piece I'd talk about that). Particularly in my home town of Washington, there's an increasingly healthy interchange amongst smaller and larger companies.

I will say that I think the calcifying of the institutional career track (the quasi-professionalization that i'm talking about) is a fairly recent development. So while it's true that a lot of people runnign institutions today came up doing edgy and independent work, it is less true of the artists they are currently hiring. And, if current trends continue, I think it will be even less true of their successors in a decade.


It is a complicated relationship though. There are certainly different ways and reasons why the cross over between the two systems is so small.

Totally randomized responses...

One reason has to do with how much status over a sustained period of time the LORT system believes it can afford as recognition.

Also, Pro-Am success isnt often directly translateble to LORT due to architectual needs of the performance venue... i.e. 20 performances sold out at 50 seats only translates to 3 sold out lort showings... artistically its big apples and little apples but as commerce the metaphor evaporates.

Would the divide lessen if there were more organizes socialization between the two systems that was able to transcend mere "networking" opportunities?



as always apologies for my fat fingers and mistypes



The big news next season at Denver Center is that they're using a Pro-Am director, Christy Montour-Larson, for WELL -- and that's shocking considering how they usually recruit in-house or from the coasts:


Considering how the bulk of Colorado theatre is Pro-Am with DCTC, Curious, Arvada Center and the dinner theatre circuit the main giant Equity exceptions, it's about time.

Lucas Krech


I certainly agree the trend is a dangerous one. This also makes me wonder if the root lies not in the arts but in the larger American psyche. The trend towards greater certification in all fields is increasing. The ruling logic is that if you don't have a piece of paper and the requisite time spent in the proper buildings you can't make a career.

Seeing that reality was a large part of my decision to go to graduate school. And more and more graduate education is being pushed as a necessary prerequisite to working in the theater. Before even internships in actual theaters making actual shows. The result is people who can navigate meetings yet can not come up with an original idea to save their lives.

I know numerous people who have MFAs who have never made a play outside an academic institution. Its a little scary. It simultaneously devalues the art and the degree.


I think one odd thing about the pseudo-certification system is the lack of a peer-review process. (for ex. how colleges get and maintain accreditation has a lengthy peer-review process.)

Jason Grote

I dunno about this. Just anecdotally, there seems to be quite a bit of crossover between institutional/nonprofit and pro-am (or, to use a term I'm more comfortable with, showcase) theater. Playwrights, directors, actors, and companies all go back and forth all the time -- I wont argue that it's functional (and you know I'm not remotely fond of the way theater is made in this country), but even in my worst moments I have to admit that it at least slouches toward relative meritocracy.

Were you to do a survey of the playwrights in New Dramatists, most of them do probably get more productions from the showcase theaters, and more development or commissions from bigger institutional theaters. But there is definitely crossover between them -- the major exception would be DIYers like Young Jean Lee, Taylor Mac, or Richard Maxwell, but many of them receive some analogous sort of support from presenters like the Walker or the Wexner, or their big European counterparts. And then there's academia -- many of us get support (and increasingly, development and productions) from colleges and universities, either as teachers, as artists-in-residence, or guest artists. My play 1001 is having a second life on the academic circuit before its first life is even over.

The real bummer, however, is when an institutional theater discovers an artist at a showcase theater and proceeds to squeeze and homogenize and generally flatten said artist.

One could argue that New Dramatists is a club of the kind you describe, but as these things go it's a fairly equitable one. Almost every writer in ND does have an MFA, though, including me. Although I also know lots of MFAs from the big 7 programs who aren't even writing.



Ach, this is what happens when you don't talk about the fully formed idea. I think presenters and generative companies have to be considered somewhat separately too, and that the presenter/generative system is actually in far better shape in terms of rewarding merit etc. Although it needs more money. I was ignoring the presentation system deliberately in this post and saving it for discussion in a follow up. And academia definitely deserves to be part of the conversation too. I was just in this post zeroing in on this particular dynamic, if that makes sense.

Jason Grote

Oh, yeah, I get that. There's no way we can really identify all of "the theater" because it's so widespread and diverse -- one of the thornier issues about the gender disparity study that's making the rounds. But I guess what I'm trying to say is that, for most working artists, the boundaries between commercial, institutional, independent/showcase, academic, generative, and even community theater are increasingly blurring, both practically and aesthetically. Something like Quixote in Philly is an example of this -- a playwright who has achieved some mainstream/uptown success, working with a Viewpoints-influenced generative director, with a core of seasoned downtown actors, a local Christian Anarchist squatter band, and some homeless people, all produced in a church on Broad Street.

One could argue that what was categorized as RAT theater in the 1990s has become increasingly professionalized, with an MFA becoming a prerequisite even for THAT. But one could also argue that theater is healthily outgrowing the systems developed to contain it.


I know this is sorta unrelated, but Rob Orchard's leaving A.R.T. He's been there since Brustein, et al. were poached from Yale in 1980.

I'm more surprised that anyone's stayed that long, which tells me something about how we *don't* expect longevity in repertory companies or staff, anymore.


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