Monday, April 25, 2011

Dropping Like Flies?

As a young theatre artist, my blood pressure rises every time I read about the financial crises that are causing theatres on both coasts to send out SOS calls. After reading in American Theatre that Actor's Express in Atlanta would need "$200,000 by the end of July to stay afloat," I had to consider it against the travel expenses to audition for their internship program. In the end, travel expenses won. (Read their distress call here.) Just now, I read in the NYT that the Intiman Theater in Seattle (whose troubles were also highlighted in AT) has canceled the rest of their season as well as the jobs of the staff. I even got an email a few months ago from the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, where I was an apprentice last summer, that they had not met their fund raising goal and were looking for donations.

While New York theatres seem to be holding on okay, (with Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark bringing in well over a million every week without having even opened yet) I think that regional theatre work is essential to our community, especially to those of us who are just joining. Not only does it give us newbies a place to start without trying to jump into the deep end that is the Big Apple, it also provides an outlet for regional voices that may one day make it to the big city.

I don't think that the floundering of two theatres means the death of the regional circuit. However, with government funding for the arts dwindling and possible donors and patrons feeling pinched for money due to the still-recovering economy, thinking about it makes me a little queasy. It makes me feel like it's not quite as strange as I once thought when my friends discuss survival plans for the zombie apocalypse.

Okay, the zombie apocalypse is silly, but how do we approach this possible conundrum in a way that will benefit us as artists, both individually and collectively? I'm all about donating time and work to the betterment of a theatre (I was notorious for devoting myself to a zillion projects at once in college), but at this point we all know:

Can we promote our favorite companies in a way that will convince audiences, donors, and sponsors that theatre is a worthwhile place for the money that they are clutching to during this economic struggle? Maybe there is more to be mined from the ever-expanding world of social networking and the iPad, since technology is something people are unafraid of spending time and money on. Or perhaps it's time to stop waiting for patrons to come to us and take theatre to them, by which I mean focusing on even smaller communities than regional theatres. Each community has a story that could potentially be told on stage. AT even had an article on a puppet theatre that did shows in people's backyard. Is it possible that traditional ways of doing theatre have become old hat to the point that it's difficult to fund anymore? Is there any one change in theatre that will bring audiences back and define the newest generation of artists? Just some food for thought.

On the other hand, I could be freaking out too much and every generation of artists coming into this crazy world have been faced with one problem or another. Either way, from what I've seen of my colleagues, I think we'll come up with something.

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