99Seats called out for his practical revolution in a widely shared post, and I was sort of puzzled as to the acclaim because…
Isn’t that what the storefront and indie groups are already doing?
The only difference is the money and the money will come. Success breeds attention breeds respect breeds financial support.
But what choice will you make when that moment comes? Will you cash it in for better board members and a yearly executive salary? Or will you dance with who brung ya?
And that, right there is the key thing. He's totally right. All theatre companies start off in that place, that larval stage where everyone does everything and you make it up as you go along and do what you can to make your show happen and engage. But the way the system is set up, that's only a stage, the infancy of your theatre. You're expected to grow up, get real and do a whole bunch of things to qualify for more funding, more support, more money. The foundations want you, not only to have a 501(c)3, but have a certain kind of profile. Same with local governments. Not to mention the general burnout that happens, so you add staff. All of these things are what leads down the road to institutionalism. And we all agree that institutionalism is bad. But it seems unavoidable.
I think what a lot of us are saying out here is AVOID IT. By all means. We've got to stop thinking like those early days when we're laying it all on the line for our art is just a stage. It's the whole thing. And we can focus some energy on making it sustainable. If there's any decent argument for institutionalism, and I rarely hear any, it's that it's sustainable. But that's the problem: it's self-sustaining to the point where the main purpose of an institution becomes to have an institution. We lose track of what's important in the interest of being important. The Seven Steps and, honestly, most of this blogging I do, is in the interest of staying true to the work and true to your mission and letting the other chips fall where they may. If after five years, you're burned out, don't necessarily go out and hire a marketing director. Think, Do I want to keep doing this? Maybe you don't. And that's okay.
For an art that's almost entirely ephermeral, we place a lot of emphasis on permanence. That calcification is killing us. I think we need to re-think that and re-think the life cycle of the theatre company. It might be best if we all stay in a state of arrested development for a while.