Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Million Dollar Question

Well, not THE million dollar question, but a good one nonetheless. From the comments here, DPS asks a very good question:

In all of this, I continue to wonder why we're so worried about institutional theatre? Let them die out in 15 years. They've had a good run.

A fair point and one, I think, a lot of people would agree with. Like, a lot of people. We get our revolutionary fervor up and think, "Screw it. Let 'em fail." And I'm not one to argue that anything is too big to fail. But there is something to all of this discussion. I think the reason is here.

We want to let the institutions go? Fine. Then we need to have a pretty good and clear plan about how to NOT become institutions and repeat all the same mistakes. We'll make new ones, to be sure. But the story of the last fifteen years is that all of the small, hardscrabble, make-it-up-as-you-go-along theatre companies that cropped up in the late '80s and early '90s have either folded or turned into institutions. The system is going to push us that way. How do we push back? That's really the conversation.

I'm not saying I wouldn't love a seat at the big table, but if they keep serving what they're serving, I'll pass. I can make my own food. I just have to make sure my recipe is in order. (Not to belabor a metaphor...except I did.)


Paul Rekk said...

What if we don't push back? Ours is a medium of impermanence. Why do we insist on creating companies with the intent of becoming a permanent fixture? And is it necessary?

Philucifer said...

I also just want to clarify -- I don't bear theatrical institutions any malice. I'm not sitting around, rubbing my hands together and watching them flounder while darkly whispering, "Good . . . good . . ."

It's just that it's like worrying about what's happening on Mars. What we do and what they do are only comparable on the most surface level, and their choices don't affect my day-to-day reality.

I'm sure that if you pick any of these institutions at random, you'll find that they have a community that they're serving. And I don't believe that just because you survive and are around for a while that you're automatically going to become stagnant.

But no matter your size, you have to stay self-aware, and you have to make choices that are going to be good for YOUR company (not someone else's), and you have to be able to re-evaluate and recover when something goes horribly wrong (because it's going to). As a smaller company, you have a certain elasticity that you don't have when you know your operating budget is 6M a year.

But I also think that if you're too big to take risks, than you're too big. Period.

99 said...

DPS, I totally see that it's not about malice, and I very much agree that the choices a theatre company should make should be about what's right for that company, not what's "right." But I don't think a lot of young companies think about the long-term and wind up moving into institutions status without thinking about all of the implications. If we look at what's wrong with the big institutions and identify where they went wrong, it can help all of us out trying to figure out an alternate path.