As Election Day approaches with Issue 8 on the ballot (Vote YES!), I’ve thought more about the mandate this support gives arts organizations – specifically professional theatres. Creating professional theatre is a great responsibility and it is vital that we examine all the ways we serve the public.
Tremendous resources go into our art form. Audiences spend hard-earned dollars at the box office and well-deserved free time at the theatre. Theatre artists in all mediums and staff spend time and money in years of training, education, and in process learning their craft. Theatre organizations spend large amounts of money mounting productions. Dobama Theatre alone spends between $25,000-$55,000 on a single production, with larger theatres spending $300,000 and beyond on a single show. Those figures don’t include dollars spent on marketing, staff salaries, programming, space and other costs related to the infrastructure of any arts organization.
With all the resources that go into live theatre productions, theatre-makers have a duty to spend that time, money, and creative energy wisely. This means constant assessment to assure we are fulfilling our mission. Theatre must serve three things: the audience, the artists, and the art. Ignore or shortchange any one of these three things and, at the very least, there is a missed opportunity. In the most egregious situations, one could call it negligence. So how can we hold ourselves accountable and best serve the community?
The obligation to the audience runs deep. First, however, we must identify who our audience is. For the purposes of this argument, on the smallest level the audience is very obviously the people attending our productions. The theatre experience for an audience member is critical and must be accessible, inclusive, and continuously enhanced. We must give patrons ways to be at ease at the theatre, learn more about the production, and interact with theatre makers. This theatre experience begins with the marketing they see around town, continues when they visit a website or call to buy a ticket, and concludes as they are greeted exiting the theatre, playbill in hand. But the circle of our audience also widens to the greater community. The stories we choose to tell, the way we engaged the people we share our city and region with, and how we facilitate conversations through theatre is part of what makes arts and culture so fundamental to society.
As a professional theatre, our commitment to theatre artists is vital. This means providing a safe, supportive, and organized creative environment. This means a commitment to both a professional process and a professional product. It means intentional dedication to collaboration and respect for the artists with whom we work. It means a commitment to the playwright, who often is not in the room, but whose work must be respected fully and produced completely as written. It means a pledge to compensate these educated, trained, and committed artists as fairly as possible in an ongoing effort to work towards a landscape where they can support themselves financially through the craft they’ve been trained in. We are responsible for providing a quality way of life for the theatre professionals that work in our community.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, there is a responsibility to the art. In many ways, this can be the most easily overlooked. Theatre is storytelling. What stories we tell and the responsible way in which we tell them is of the utmost important. Also, art is about creation, not simply performance. Creating work that is original, groundbreaking, and insightful is imperative. Telling new stories or mining classic stories for new material and modern relevance is crucial. Regurgitating (or worse, copying) the work of others that have come before us is lazy and irresponsible. Being true to the script, story, characters, circumstances, cultures, conflicts, themes, issues and relationships in the work we’re producing must be a priority, no matter what. We must create a safe space where everyone working on the production feels empowered to raise questions so that if a concept, idea, or approach does not serve the art, conversations are free to be had. We must prepare, work, communicate, question, and create in our ongoing responsibility to the story we’re telling.
Art is power. And with great power, comes great responsibility. We must continually take stock and evaluate that we are fully serving all three aspects of our artform: the audience, the artists, and the art. If we keep in mind our obligation to those three things, then when it comes time to be graded by the community that makes theatre possible, we’ll have our straight A’s.
*I promise that the cheesiness of that last line is an anomaly and not indicative of what is to come in future blog posts.
With Love and Respect,