Monday, June 22, 2009

Shouting Myself Hoarse

I obviously haven't felt too much like blogging here lately. I figured I'd put out there what's been going through my head. I, of course, have an example. And, of course, it involves Isaac and Parabasis.

A couple of days back, Isaac posted this piece on having Broadway shows that recoup donate 1% of their profits to an unrestricted fund for artists. I thought it was a good, simple and relatively actionable idea, so I forwarded the link to someone I know in the institutional world, for their thoughts and feedback. I got back a long, thoughtful, but ultimately disapproving e-mail from my friend, who had some good points about why that kind of plan wouldn't work, or couldn't be implemented, some points I disagreed with, and some worthy of discussion. Near the end of the e-mail, though, my friend basically said that these ideas come from people who don't really know how the industry works. Which I took some small exception to. But I also encouraged my friend to post that e-mail on Isaac's site, since, knowing him, he'd be very willing to engage the points raised. That hasn't happened and I don't think it's likely to. Maybe my friend e-mailed Isaac privately. I doubt it, but maybe.

And that for me is one of the reasons that I've been slowing down here. I've felt it for a while and kept trying to figure out ways to put into a post, but that experience encapsulated some of the frustration I've been having with the theatrosphere, this blog, my thinking about all of these stuff, even.

I don't currently work in a New York theatre, but I did for a long time. I don't consider myself some amateur who has no idea how business functions or what the expectations are. I do. I just happen to disagree with a lot of those expectations. I think the same goes for a lot of us out here writing. We disagree with the status quo. That's not ignorance; it's dissent.

The thing I love about the internet, the theatrosphere, blogging is the conversation. The idea of comments and linking and having a wide-ranging conversation about what's going on in the field. Sometimes, you go too far and step in a pile of crap. Sometimes you stumble upon a hidden gem or overlooked corner. It's supposed to be a back-and-forth, point and counterpoint, where we're all contributing. But over the last few months, especially, I haven't felt like there's been a lot of back-and-forth. The voices out here are strong, captivating and interesting, and the point of views are great and each one is unique. But it feels like we're coming from the same place and, in more ways than one, saying the same things over and over and over. They're good, smart things. But it feels like an echo chamber sometimes.

The attitude of "well, they're all a bunch of idealists with no sense of how the world works" contributes mightily to that. The people working in the system, for the system don't come down here and tell us what they think. It leaves me more frustrated to feel like either they agree with us, but are too afraid for their jobs to say anything or they disagree completely with us and don't feel like the conversation is worth being a part of. Either way, it sucks.

I don't really begrudge the people working in the institutions their way of life. I've been there and I know it. What's frustrating is that it's all so one way. Why not defend institutions? Why not defend the system? Why not join the conversation, even anonymously? For all of our fire-breathing and flame-warring, I think we actually want to hear what you believe. And we're willing to incorporate new ideas into our own. When I went on my MTC rant, and Isaac dropped some actual information on me, you know what? I backed off. The silence of our institutions about this stuff is what leaves me feeling so angry.

After a while, you just want to focus on the work itself and leave the system to sort itself out. But, for me, part of the frustration is actually the thing that makes this blog possible: my anonymity. I'd like to talk more about my work and my projects and what's exciting. But I don't want to let the cat out of the bag just yet. And I don't think it does much good to talk about the work in generalities. The one thing you learn in playwriting school: specifics, specifics, specifics. That holds true in blogging.

So...I'm not throwing in the towel. But I am taking a break. I've shouted myself hoarse out here, yelling at the battlements, hoping someone is listening. I'll be back, once I've let myself lay fallow. (I just figured I'd throw as many metaphors as possible in there.) I'm still available at, if you want to drop a line. I'm always happy to correspond.

I'll see ya on the Rialto...


Tony Adams said...

gave up your anonymity, what is the worst thing that could happen?

Tony Adams said...

er, should have said "if you gave . . ."

isaac butler said...

hey 99,

No matter what field, the "people who blog don't know what they're talking about" canard will get raised. There are theatre bloggers who don't know how the business works. I'm not one of them. I grew up in the regional theatre system, I've worked in non-profit and commercial theatre, in admin and as an artist, and I've taken great care to be an autodidact on these issues. My blog wouldn't be widely read and respected were it not for my knowledge and understanding. I wouldn't have contacts at every level of this industry were it not for my knowledge and understanding of how the system works. I wouldn't be a writer for TDF and for the Drama League if I didn't have some knowledge of these issues. And I certainly wouldn't have ended up on Obama's arts policy committee if I didn't have some knowledge or understanding of these issues.

It's not that i don't know how the system works it's that I disagree with how the system works and have some ideas for how it could work better!

Or, as you put it so eloquently, " We disagree with the status quo. That's not ignorance; it's dissent."

This kinda shit really pisses me off, if you couldn't tell. I will also say this: your industry contact's attitude is designed to get you and others like you to shut up.

99 said...

The amazing thing about it is that my friend isn't thinking "oh, just shut up" or even "the status quo is good." The thinking is "this is what we have and that's just it." It's the stuff that always got Scott so riled up.

And, yeah, it's the same fight that every industry is facing right now: the old traditional methods of communicating and the level playing field of the internet. We're all caught up in the same issues and no one is figuring a way out. It's just frustrating.

cgeye said...

"And I certainly wouldn't have ended up on Obama's arts policy committee if I didn't have some knowledge or understanding of these issues."

Um, since when? Did I miss a post? If so, congratulations.

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