Monday, February 1, 2010

Next Steps

I've realized that a lot of this year has passed in a bit of a haze for me. I find myself walking the streets, earbuds in, walking the stairs to the subway, going to and from work, and not really being aware of what's going on. I find myself doing what I do when my plate is full: re-reading detective novels (generally by George awesome). This is me in my show prep mode. But I haven't been prepping a show. Mostly, honestly, I've been doing this: writing this blog. There's been a ton of stuff to write about, to think about.

Like I said before, I've been thinking about what my next move is. And it's a balancing act. Or rather a feat of plate spinning. On one hand, there's the very personal: what kind of career do I want, what kind of life do I want. Then there's the bigger picture: what does the field need? What good can I do? For me, as a minority artist, there's also the level of the community: how do I serve it? How do I add to that long conversation? It's been a lot to have rattling around during my almost hour-long commute to work.

After reading Sean's and James' excellent posts on self-producing and, today, Marissa's take here, I've thought about self-producing, and what that means to me. I very much admire their bravery, gumption and skill as well as their insight. But, in the end, that's not really the route I want to go down.

I don't know, maybe it's that it's Black History Month now (as the Yahoo homepage reminds me with its little cartoon figures from black history), maybe it's the lingering effects of the Black Playwrights Convening, but I want to aim at a wider audience. I feel, as a minority artist, a kind of responsibility to make as much change as I can in my life, to push my story, my experience as far as I can. There is absolutely a sense of ego involved in that, I'm not going to pretend it's not. But then again, I work in theatre, so a sense of ego shouldn't surprise anyone.

For me, I do work in relation to the world at large, not simply out of my own artistic urges. On some level, when I turned from more experimental art forms and towards more traditional, I made that choice. It's not everyone's choice, and I respect that. It's the one that made sense for me, for a lot of reasons. So finding myself here, what does that mean?

In some ways, straight-up self-producing isn't what I want. One of the things that is kind of daunting about it is that it seems like it's all or nothing: either you make theatre on your own and build your own institution or you buy in to the institutional system. I'm looking for a third way.

One thing I'm thinking about is that, as pretty much everyone who works in the field of new play development knows, plays aren't finished until production. And yet, the industry standard holds production as a final prize. If we can move to a place where the first production is considered part of development, maybe we address some of the issues that plague us. Doubly so, the more we can put playwrights in charge of the entire development process.

I'm thinking about what Young Jean Lee is doing. She's making her kind of theatre, developing it as needed and then, not renting a storefront, but essentially partnering with a larger institution to produce it. It involves fundraising, community-building, all of the things I value, but without some of the detractions of doing it all on your own. Right now, that's where my mind is heading.

So...what's next? More on that soon...


August Schulenburg said...

J, I think they're not mutually exclusive. Your company can produce your work and other companies can produce your work. Flux is my artistic home, but my work is done elsewhere, and I know that's true for James, Qui, and other DIY playwrights.

Also, the question of partnering with larger institutions the way Young Jean does is a question of tactics more than strategy, based on the needs of each individual project. Banana, Bag, and Bodice is another good example of a company that finds many different partners depending on changing circumstance and intention.

For me, the real question of becoming a producer is this: do you value creating the space in which the work is made as much as creating the work itself? If so, you're probably a producing artist.

I get so much pleasure out of helping create the space in which Flux makes our theatre; it sustains me far more than the typical journeyman existence of a freelance artist ever could. I love creating opportunities for artists I believe in, creating connections between artists and audience, exploring new models and strategies for making better theatre (and theatre better), hanging lights, painting sets, figuring out marketing schemes, all of it growing out that single impulse to make something beautiful and necessary with and for these particular people right here and right now. I need to have the buck stop here.

In other words, producing is both the end and the means to the end. And while I don't think self-producing merely as a means to an end isn't valuable, for me, helping lead a company has been way, way, way too much work to justify itself as solely a means and not an end.

But that's just me. And whatever way you end up taking, I look forward to being in the audience.

99 said...

Good points and good counsel, Gus. The key thing for me is figuring out what this means and what my level of comfort is. Since I've done a lot of that admin work, but for others, I'm not sure how much I want to do it for myself, or how I balance it with doing the best work I can do.

Personally, I think of a producing strategy and a producing tactic as the same thing. Or at least as connected.