Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Don't Fence Me In

Can't look at hobbles
And I can't stand fences
Don't fence me in.
-- "Don't Fence Me In," Cole Porter and Robert Fletcher
I am in awe of Rebecca Novick.

The Bay area director and dramaturg has knocked one out of the park with her article at Grantmakers in the Arts entitled "Please, Don't Start a Theatre Company!"  She beautifully describes the problems facing theatre makers as they enter the market before outlining solutions that are nothing short of genius (and not just because I agree 100% with them.)
We should encourage apprentice artists to self-produce work, or band together and produce each other's work. We should not demand that they cloak that straightforward practice in the trappings of a made-up company simply to attract funding or press notice. Moreover, we should encourage artists to operate like bands do — coming together to play a few gigs, then dissolving as people's interests diverge, perhaps performing regularly with a few different groups and experimenting with different styles and genres. Forming a permanent company at this stage is a bit like getting married too young, before you've had the chance to discover your own identity or what you're really looking for in a collaborator.
Good God, what are you still doing on Mad Theatrics?  Click through and read Novick's entire article.
The idea encapsulated in the quote above is something I've blogged about before.  The Autonym thought experiment was an attempt to suss out this kind of approach.  The above is also perfectly in line with the idea of small theatre as an extension of the bardic tradition.  Novick is far more eloquent than I, and she goes much farther in describing the role funders may play in the changes she proposes.
There is another quote that really jumped out at me, the words of MAP Fund program director, Moira Brennan: “Why build a building and such heavyweight infrastructure for this thing [theater] that is both underfunded and ephemeral? This just doesn't make much sense.”  Why indeed?
When you are producing theatre on the margins, the lighter you are the better.  Small theatre can zoom like the motorcyclists that split lanes and weave through traffic on our jam-packed highways.  You can respond to emerging events in your community.  You can artfully engage with the audience in a way that shapes a production.  You can be vital, God damn it!
In short, if you are a small theatre company, you have the option of roaming free.  Why would you hobble yourself?  Why would you fence yourself in?  The world we should be exploring is out there, not in a board of directors meeting or a committee assignment.  Make theatre, not bureaucracy!

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