Andrew Rhodes is giving an insider view of the formation and management of a theatre company in Boston, Mass. About a month ago, he blogged about Non-profit vs. Profit, and the struggle between the two has recurred a few times since. Andrew would prefer to be in charge of his company, rather than being lorded over by "know bests" who would sit on a board of directors and tell him how to do his job. I can't say I blame him.
I'm not sure why theatre "has" to be non-profit. I remember going through, looking at the whole process to establish a non-profit corporation back when the wife and I ran Children's Theatre of the Ozarks in college. In the end, we kept it as a sole-proprietorship because we just didn't want to dump the tidy little profit we were turning in favor of a shot at grant money and the "prestige" of being "non-profit".
There was a time in this country when all theatre was for-profit. Of course, that was back when theatre was more mainstream entertainment (before movies, radio and television.) Oh, to be back in the days of vaudeville!
I think it's possible to recreate a solid, "mainstream" theatre experience. An entertainment value on par with all the other options available (movies, television, internet, etc.) People look at me funny when I say this, but the theatre is more alive than these other mediums. Theatre has the distinct advantage of an instantaneous positive feedback loop, which is a fancy way of saying "live performers". I remember a story about the late great Jack MacGowran, Samuel Beckett's favorite actor. One night during a performance of Endgame, an audience member heckled the cast with something like "This play is so boring!" MacGowran broke character, turned out and yelled back "Yes it is, but it took me a long time to learn these lines, so please shut up and let me get through them!" When was the last time a movie heckled back?
What stumps me is that people will pay $15 for a car wash, but would rather stay home and zone out in front of the boob tube or the laptop rather than go to the theatre for $15. Which has the greater chance of being life-enriching? Okay, L.A. is just shallow enough that a good wash and wax could be a spiritually moving experience.
It's all our fault, really. I have a theory that theatre is where writers now go to send a message. It used to be if you want to send a message, use Western Union. Now its "write for the theatre". Audiences have been clubbed enough times over the head by Susie B. Theme that they eye anyone who does theatre with a mix of suspicion and fear.
Interestingly enough, there has been a sort of resurgence of burlesque shows out in L.A. Scantily clad women dancing around provocatively apparently cancels out the fear of being preached to. Well I say we need to shuffle off the overcoat of "theme" and "significance" and revel in the thong and pasties of fun and . . . well, revelry. We need to give the audience more burlesque-type experiences. We need a freewheeling, belly-laugh, open-arms theatre. We need to transcend the norm and become showmen again!
Please note, I'm not saying we should focus on slapstick or melodrama. I'm not endorsing Cheesey Theatre. I think the mentality of playing to the lowest common denominator is what started the collapse of popular theatre. I'm saying we need to get back to what makes theatre unique and powerful: Life. If we can only reintroduce a living, vibrant theatre to audiences, they'll come back for more.
Do you want to see Saw III or The Cherry Orchard tonight?
Are you kidding? I love Chekhov!
It's not just a pipe-dream. At least, I hope it's not.