the startup plan

December 2, 2013

This is a blog, the first one in a long time, for all the people I talk to at conferences trying to figure out how to make a living or have a career, who asks questions because I’ve been lucky and because I’ve been unorthodox in doing so.

Theater with a capital T- theater of the institution, theater of the bottom dollar, theater that takes non profit money but wants to behave like a commercial enterprise- makes me generally sad and uninterested in doing theater anymore. I actually need to thank capital T theater. I made a feature length film this summer that is already looking at distribution- that I co-wrote, co-directed and co-created with my friends- a repertory theater of people I’ve made work with for years. If capital T didn’t position itself to shut folks like them and myself out I wouldn’t have accomplished one of my biggest dreams. So CAPITAL T- THANK YOU.

I have been invited to some conferences and spoken and been part of some conversations public and private on innovation and growth in the performing arts. And I leave most of those meetings I leave just tired and depressed.
– There was the meeting when I was taken to task for saying that our organizations need
to re-evaluate their necessity in the community and ask how they could be more
necessary. I was told I was being self hating and why would a theater ever do that?
And I learned hmm this theater and others here don’t want to be NECESSARY to their
community. They just want to be SUPPORTED by them.
– I was told by a leader in new plays that I mistakenly believed supporting writers
meant producing them. I think I was supposed to agree I was being silly?
– I met a group of writers who at a large conference break out were told to dream big
and make a list of what they really wanted from their local theater. The most agreed
upon thing was use of the copy machine. This one left me looking for rope and a large
arch from the roof. Not productions. Not even development or access to the Artistic
Director. Just please, please can we make some copies.
– I sat around art managers who complained about the wording of grants and how stupid
grant organizations are and what they expect and why don’t they just do what (I
guess?) smart people do and jsut give money away without any thought. I was then
stared at alien style when I noted it was ironic that the people complaining were the
ones who NEEDED money from the so-called IDIOTS. That it was a necessity so how
stupid were the grant givers in the sense they were self sustaining enough to give
money away?

And along the way were the usual regional fuck yous- where at a national conference someone dismissively says “you’re still in Iowa. I’m sure you can do big business out there.” I like especially when this comes from leaders of theaters that a year or so ago had to do public crowdfunding to keep their theater alive. (Again how do you get six digits into debt? Like what were you doing in the meantime?)

For the record Iowa is fine- in three years we were in the NY Times, the Huffington Post, American Theater Magazine and have toured the US. We leave for Spain in a week for our first large scale International collaboration. We’ve also never run a deficit. So to my dear conference friends who like to jab- no kickstarter for me this year. Thanks.

I’m mad we can be so dismissive to each other. I’m mad the conversations stay so circle. I’m mad more artists buy into this system of submissions/development hell that is really the same as Hollywood note mills that burnt out great writers and the theater used to mock.

My blog isn’t for them, cause fuck who knows what they’re doing. Mine is for the emails I get from small theaters in Chicago or Portland, playwrights in Idaho and New Mexico.

I suggest you submit no more plays. People aren’t really reading them. Agents will be the first to tell you they have no idea what the fuck they’re doing. Our MFA puppy mills are overwhelming the gate keepers. I say you find some great collaborators and you self produce. You become a start up. You find a community that needs you- that needs dialogue- and you build the city on the hill. You know the city on the hill? It’s the one people point to from a distance and say what’s that place? How do they live like that? How do they do it? How come I can’t live there?

People are already doing it: Cleveland Public Theatre is a city on the hill, Available Light Theatre is another, Working Group another… committed to community, producing to larger degrees than most large institutions ding more with little to nothing. Being integral.

You won’t become Annie Baker this way. You won’t be Adam Rapp. NY will ignore you no matter what you do. But don’t worry about it you’ll go see shows in NY and be like “eh, I’m good.”

But you can have a career. You can make a difference where you are. You will only be answerable to yourself and to risk, to chance- like great start ups- theater has so much possibility because its cheap (well if you aren’t in some cities). Cheap should allow you to be innovative and re-think how to produce, how to not do what everyone around you does, the pitfalls most theaters fall into.

Playwrights Horizon might not notice you or the Public but as we learned the Times might if that’s important to you. And I’ll say this. This path will let you dream. And grow. It will make you self sufficient. It will make you connected. It will make you able to say when things are wrong or not working because you aren’t dependent ont he theaters you need to speak out in regards to.

Become the change. You are the start up.

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