Artsy Schmartsy is making me a liar with his great coverage of the Skylight disaster. Thanks Jonathan! Also, Kurt Hartwig's making my dreams come true with more and more coverage on his blog.
Check out their recent posts for details, then come back here for my perspective:
I urge everyone who is upset about this to look beyond this individual instance and observe the broader institutional transition that Skylight's actions are merely a symptom of.
There is a major shift in how theatre is produced underway today. Depending on how you look at it* it's been underway for decades, or it's just starting now. Either way, the dominant model of theatre production (non-profit corporations / regional repertory theatre system) is on it's way out.**
So let's look at what's going on here, in the abstract.
First, we have a class of big non-profit theatre who function under the obsolete model. This class needs A. new life and energy. B. a navagible route to gradually acheive radical innovations without disrupting their institutions, interrupting their services, or sacrificing their employee's livelyhood.
Second, we have a class of upstart theatre companies functioning under new models who, like all new models, are rough, and need time to develop, work out the kinks and perfect the formula.
Way i see it, things can go down one of two ways:
1. The big companies can batten down the hatches, dig into their bunker boardrooms, make draconian cuts and hope they'll weather the storm. They won't. Cuz this storm (and the upstarts) will reshape the entire landscape. There will never be a good time to come out of the bunker boardrooms, and the institutions will die there.
2. The big companies can reach out to the upstarts, bring them to the table, give them the support, resources, networks they need to experiment and develop their model. In return, they'll gain infusions of new talent and audience and have a chance to chart their own route of a more gradual carful adaptation along the trails the upstarts blaze.
Now, as a communist, I'd call option 2 "recouperation" and "appropriation of small innovators by established institutions" and / or say that the small innovators have "sold out". I'd prefer to struggle through the figuring out new models on my own and dance on the grave that the establishment's bunkers have become.
But, as a pragmatist i can't help but notice that option 2 sure seems a lot more pleasant, and more likely to work, at least sometime in my lifetime.
Fortunately for the rep, skylight and the companies at the BTC, I'm probably the only communist in the theatre scene, and even i can be pragmatic at times. (and i'm going to be spending much less time in milwaukee starting this fall). Unfortunately for the big companies, they seem mostly ignorant or uninterested in option 2. Which means the communist in me stands to win some support from the other small companies, right? Lets band together, get disciplined and smash the motherfucking establishment! Right? uh... oh. okay, i guess we're not quite at that point yet. Hurns.
*Tangent 1: My understanding of the history of this transition: The broad arch of it started decades ago, by the 60's radical practices had grown enough to challenge the establishment, but where then appropriated, absorbed, and relegated to the margins, where they exist today. But now the acute rapid part of this transition begins. Now the establishment is collapsing under it's own weight, if (when) radical practices emerge as powerful as they did in the 60's replacing these already crippled institutions will be simple. This history applies to all sectors of the economy, not just the theatre arts. It's called reasoned optimism people, catch it!
**Tangent 2: as to Kurt's disagreement that the non-profit model is increasingly obsolete, here's some interesting stuff to look at: theatre tribes, Mike Daisey. Neither go as far as i do, but you can find more of my thoughts by perusing my blog archive.
16 hours ago