Friday, December 19, 2008

An Experiment

This morning, I thought I'd try a little experiment. I picked out five mid-level non-profit theatres here in NYC and I went to their websites. On each, you can find a mission statement. I copied them and took out the identifying characteristics. See if you can tell who these theatres are*...

Theatre #1:
XXXX produces a diverse range of premieres and new interpretations of America's best contemporary theatre. Founded in XXXX to produce…contemporary plays, XXXX has expanded its mission to include the development and production of new plays and the creation of programs that nurture young theatre artists. This commitment has manifested itself in many ways, from presenting new productions to providing long-term residencies for playwrights, directors, composers and lyricists.

Theatre #2:
Guided by the artistic vision of X, X and X, XXXX brings together exceptional theater artists to produce works that force us to reexamine the world we live in through the unique perspectives of extraordinary writers. XXXX is dedicated to discovering and developing challenging, engrossing theater to present on our main stage, while simultaneously nurturing the development of emerging young voices through our literary and education programs. XXXX draws from among the finest actors and actresses in the world, casting them in roles that challenge performers and audiences alike. By providing a safe environment to explore compelling stories, XXXX encourages artists to take risks – continually stretching their boundaries and working beyond expectations.

Theatre #3
For more than XX years, XXXX has produced daring new works by emerging and established playwrights. Known for its artistic integrity and commitment to the playwright's vision, Primary Stages has become a creative home for established playwrights like X, X, and X, and emerging new voices such as X, X, and X.

Theatre #4
In order to best foster the future voices of American Theater, XXXX is committed to the development and production of innovative new plays. Our mission is to provide a positive, nurturing experience for emerging playwrights, to present diverse and challenging plays that otherwise might not be produced, and to foster the future voices of the American theater.

Theatre #5
XXXX is a writer's theater dedicated to the support and development of contemporary American playwrights, composers and lyricists, and to the production of their new work.

Pretty hard to tell which is which, right? Or who's doing what kind of work? It's all the same language about "nurturing," "supporting," "encouraging," and "challenging." It says nothing about style or approach. Nothing about the content. Shouldn't that be important?

The problem is the grant language, the corporatespeak that dominates our conversations. It's safe, fuzzy and easy and it's the lingua franca of the arts. You have to be able to convince the suits that you're not some crazy artists with wacky ideas. You're a CEO in the making, a smooth corporate operator. You just have a ponytail and show up to meetings in jeans.

There's a great old Mamet quote (not this one, though that's pretty awesome) about how long ago theatre people were a step above carnies and gypsies. We were seen as dirty, untrustworthy, sketchy and possibly dangerous. What's so bad about that? We were flimflam artists, hucksters, snake oil salesmen. We could use a little of that spirit again. A little dirt from the street on our souls.

* - You can put your guesses in the comments.

6 comments:

The Director said...

I'm gonna go with "Primary Stages" for #3, Alex.

Sarah McL said...

Dude, you're back! (Dude? That's a sexist assumption, I guess.) My day job made me nervous about keeping up my blog (don't want to publicly offend anybody... ha) - I'm mostly on Twitter now. So good to have you posting again!

Simon said...

Hey Sarah, what's your twitter handle? I just started a #theatre group on Twittgroups that's blowing up... http://twittgroups.com/group/theatre

Simon said...

Oh, belay that, I'm already following you. Didn't see the screen name connect. Small twittershpere.

Sarah McL said...

Simon - I know! I joined through Vampire Cowboys or something, and now everybody's in the pool.

Lindsay Price said...

Grant language drives me crazy. It just doesn't say what I want to do. There's no passion in grant writing. I'm not into nurturing, I'm just trying to write a darn play. Isn't that good enough! Urgh.

And these descriptions made my head spin. I'd actually like to see their seasons and see how much nurture there is...