Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Autopsy of a Deceased Theater

As Scott Walters (formerly blogging at Theatre Ideas, now blogging at Creative Insubordination) once opined:
What if we thought of theatre not as a product, but as an alliance (a "connection based on kinship, marriage, or common interest; a bond or tie"), a fellowship (a "close association of friends or equals sharing similar interests"), a guild (an "association of persons of the same trade or pursuits, formed to protect mutual interests and maintain standards"). Instead of buying a product (a ticket to a show), you became a member of this alliance/fellowship/guild and could participate in all of the activities associated with that organization. A church can serve as an interesting model.
Indeed, a church is a fantastic model, which is why I sat up in my chair a bit when my dad -- a Methodist minister -- posted a link to this article on Facebook:


The 11 lessons outlined may be of particular interest to folks who find themselves concerned for the health of their theater company. It should be read by all, regardless, as the items listed sketch out a road map for failure that may be avoided. Let's take a look at just three of these items.
2. The church had no community-focused ministries. This part of the autopsy may seem to be stating the obvious, but I wanted to be certain. My friend affirmed my suspicions. There was no attempt to reach the community.
Can you imagine a theater company becoming calcified and insular? Acting -- banish the thought -- cliquish? (Note: you have to focus on the community you actually belong to, not the community you wish you belonged to. This is often a key distinction for companies in Los Angeles.)
7. With few exceptions, pastoral tenure grew shorter and shorter. The church had seven pastors in its final ten years. The last three pastors were bi-vocational. All of the seven pastors left discouraged.
For me the analogy is creative leadership turnover. When a company begins chewing up and spitting out its creative talent, you might want to start warming up the defibrillator.
 9. The church had no clarity as to why it existed. There was no vision, no mission, and no purpose.
And herein lies a clue to the cure. A dying company lacks purpose. Say, I haven't quoted Peter Brook in a while, have I? This seems like a good time to do so. From The Empty Space:
There is always a new season in hand and we are too busy to ask the only vital question which measures the whole structure. Why theatre at all? What for? Is it an anachronism, a superannuated oddity, surviving like an old monument or a quaint custom? Why do we applaud, and what? Has the stage a real place in our lives? What function can it have? What could it serve? What could it explore? What are its special properties?
Granted, the cure involves asking tough questions and coming up with challenging answers.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that precisely what theater is good at?

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