Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Us and Them

As is pretty apparent, once you wade into the artists vs. managers debate, things do get messy pretty quickly. I think this post and its comments show the messiness that erupts pretty quickly. I confess to being a bit thin-skinned on that point. I was an artist-administrator and was often treated with the attitude of "leave the money stuff to the grown-ups". Granted, I was also younger than most of the "grown-ups," but still.

The thing that I think I didn't emphasize enough below is that my issue...or my many, many issues...don't have so much to do with individual managers in any way. I've worked with terrible, terrible management, with excellent management, with very good hands-on people, with awful laissez-faire people. It's not about saying that, as a whole, arts managers are unnecessary because some are bad, or tin-eared. My issue is with the system that makes a management class a requirement. A system that lends itself to treating the artists as serfs and afterthoughts. Do all managers fall into the trap of treating the artists like very gifted child-laborers? No, but the system also means that, in general, artists have little to no control over the managers they get.

I know I don't always do it well, but I really want to reject the whole "us vs. them" frame. I don't think of us as two separate groups at odds. And I certainly don't think that "management" is THE obstacle to making better theatre. I'm certainly not looking to throw people out of jobs, or advocate the purging of all arts administrators. I'm an old-school, bomb-throwing anarcho-syndicalist, my friends; we're all the workers of the world and we need to unite and throw off the chains that bind us. The system is broken and it breaks a lot of good people.

One anonymous person asked that the big question: what do you want. Which is a good, good question. Ultimately, really, I want better theatres producing better theatre. I do want artists to be full-time staff members, as artistis, for the theatres to commit to playwrights, directors, designers and actors, not to the project. Will writing this blog make that happen? Probably not directly, but I like keeping this conversation going.

1 comment:

Ron said...

The longer I'm in this biz, the more I think that things which are unsatisfactory to one party or another are the way they are because of an absense of a clearly defined mission and shared values that people talk about together.

Most regional theatres don't have a very specific artistic mission, frankly, or especially distinct points of view. As a result, long-term artistic relationships do happen, but are not especially deliberate, and managements make many decisions without regard to distinct artistic priorities--and without the imput of artists who mostly work freelance.

I really don't think this is a "form" problem, but a "content" one.

On the other hand, should we all have a right to work at any given theatre? Certainly not. It would be "more ideal" if we had the opportunity to work with people who share our values more often and who are willing to change ways of doing things in a dialogue...