It seems idiotic to be as focused as I am on such miniscule matters as an Austin Small Theatre Alliance, or two new development programs, or the pre-production for Orestes while Gaza and our economy are burning. But there’s nothing I can do about the Macro so I’m going to fiddle away here in the Micro.
I have whatever the opposite of blogger’s block is. My brain is so full of things I need to get on paper that they’ve stopped making any sense. So I have to being parceling it out to get it in order for the first meeting of the Austin Small Theatre Alliance later this month and you are the lucky recipients of my excavations.
It’s not a secret that small theatre groups are bad at business. Heck, it may be a defining characteristic of small theatre that they are bad at business. But as I begin to lay out in my own mind what I think the goals of any sort of alliance of small theatre producers here in Austin should be it occurs to me exactly the depths of our ineptitude.
Small theatre has a massive self-induced perception problem. We (guilty as charged) have cast ourselves as Big Theatre’s impoverished country cousins. We whine incessantly about the lack of money in public, and try to excuse away our insistence on trying to make the same theatre that $10M Businesses do out of tape and cardboard.
We begin our interaction with the public by declaring that we are less than!
Let us instead look to a better, truer, and frankly more successful model shall we?
The indie musician.
I live in a town that has chosen to brand itself the Live Music Capital of the World. You would be hard pressed to find a restaurant, bar or pub that doesn’t have someone playing in a corner somewhere. But while they may complain about not getting paid as much as the big boys, they aren’t less than, they just aren’t recognized. It is acknowledged that what they do is no different than what The Stars
They also get the benefit of receiving the More Authentic badge for not having Sold Out to The Man.
I gotta get me some of that.
We are at a profound disadvantage because anyone with functional hearing can listen to both the Established Music Artist and the Independent Music Artist, and make a more or less informed decision vis-a-vis their merits. The same is not true of our indie theatre artists. Most people don’t have a lot of experience viewing professional theatre on any level, and they sure as hell aren’t watching a lot of indie theatre. So I can tell them I’m doing the same thing as any indie theatre company, and that my theatre is on par with Off-Off, but they have no real way of knowing.
And without knowing, we’re only going to get a fraction of a percent of the non-theatre involved populace in the doors. So we need to get to them. We need to be in the corners of the pubs and restaurants and bars showing them that they actually enjoy what we do. That we are part of their experience, not separate from it. We need to be the “gritty” authentic local artists that we already are, we just need to be all of that in front of them.
Lord knows I’m not sure yet, and lord knows I’m not advocating an aesthetic shift for myself to “bar theatre”. But lord also knows that I will be burnt out on this by forty if the hordes of people avoiding my work continue to avoid my work.
A Picasso is art in a locked room. Theatre isn’t art until it is seen.