In a recent conversation with Matt Wells of Need Theater, the topic of the uniting power of theatre emerged.
This has been a passion of mine since I began theatre decades ago. My love and respect for the art form grew from the diversity of talent required to launch a successful piece of theatre. Directors, Producers, Designers, Actors, Technicians, Stage Managers, etc, etc. Each job requiring an undeniably unique talent, each person required to work (sometimes painfully) close together.
It’s really a beautiful thing and a constant mystery how it works out. Those outside the theatre community have no idea what a miracle a single theatre production can be.
It drives me crazy, then, when I hear people get worked up about competition in theatre, as if we are playing a zero-sum game. It’s bewildering how short sighted this mindset is.
For my first professional theatre job (in an unnamed large theatre in the Mid-Atlantic region), I was constructing their first website. In a moment of inspiration, I suggested creating a page on the site dedicated to the theatre community in the city – sort of a “if you liked our show, then you will love these theatres, too”. My idealism was quickly squashed by the management – “Why on earth would we want to help other theatres?!?!” they quipped.
Here’s the reality of the situation: Theatre in the United States is in crisis. People have long since given up their local theatre trips for a jaunt to the Multiplex (digitally distributed media is cutting into that market, as well). The picture gets even bleaker when you focus on the younger generation, most of whom have never stepped foot in a playhouse.
It is in times of crisis that all theatre artists must band together, cast aside ego and ambition, and work as a community. Eternal optimist that I am, I believe that American Theatre has its greatest days on the horizon. We need to find that “key” that will unlock theatre in today’s generational imaginations.
Of course, I believe that Fringe is part of the answer. The Fringe we are planning here in Hollywood seeks to confront this problem directly. Using various ideas in our collective arsenal, we seek to band together disparate artists and artistic ideas in a grand celebration.
We will involve the community in the artistic process to provide an essence of ownership in the festival here. Our belief is that theatre is a communion between the artists and the community. Unlike previous theatre experiences, the audience/community will be intimately involved in the process. Perhaps they could even grow to appreciate the fascinating elements at work in a theatrical creation.
Building social and professional settings for artists to convene, discuss, and create is another goal. Speaking with travelers of past Fringe festivals, this element is sorely needed in the Fringe process. Our hope is that relationships sparked in the build-up and execution of the 2010 festival will lead to magical creations for festivals and playhouses down the road. I will be posting about some of our specific ideas in the near future.
As we are calling ourselves the most democratic arts festival on the planet, the concept of “The People” is very dear to our most cherished organizational values. Much of our effort will be devoted to inviting that sacred entity into the theatrical process.
What’s good for the people and the community is good for theatre itself.
All theatre benefits from an energized, educated, and involved audience.