The Portland Mercury has reported that local company Artist Repertory Theater announced the creation of an resident acting company. The current company will consist of four actors with the goal of increasing the number of actors to eight. It is a step in the right direction, but there is so much more that needs to happen. The article continues saying:
The outsourcing conversation feels particularly relevant on the heels of the Drammys. Most of the awards given to Portland Center Stage went to people who were brought in from elsewhere, which kind of strikes me as complete bullshit. It’s no commentary on the quality of the work PCS was honored for I sure can’t argue with the Outstanding Production nod to Twelfth Night, for example,but if you’re going to insist that these are local theater awards and not allow any touring productions or non-locally produced shows to compete, where’s the logic in then recognizing what is essentially touring talent, brought in from New York to work on a single project?
The news has come on the heals of the recent National Performing Arts Convention in Denver. There Mike Daisey presented How Theater Failed America. As Rick St. Peter writes in the blog Actors Guild of Lexington the show was attended by some major figures in the regional theatre field in the audience, including Pulitzer prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel, Actors Theatre of Louisville Artistic Director Marc Masterson, Alliance Theatre Artistic Director Susan Booth, current TCG executive director Theresa Eyering and former TCG executive director Ben Cameron.
Dr. Scott Walters who is back to blogging also attended the conference at came away with some interesting insight. He goes on to write that actors need to concern themselves with the information and data involving the American theater. The administrators and board members that hold power are concerned with the data and the lack of knowledge diminishes the power of the artist.
Mike Daisey, who brilliantly performed How Theatre Failed America here in front of the assembled administrators, rightly condemns the low status of actors on the regional theatre scene, but there is also truth to the idea that their status is low because they have given away their power by not being knowledgeable about broader issues than the latest theatre gossip, and not being willing to educate themselves on the issues and speak their mind together to demand change. They fear repercussions, yes, but they also avoid engaging anything but the most insular issues.
We in higher education must do something to change this know-nothing orientation. Instead of giving semester-long classes in auditioning, we need to empower our actors to take control of their art form, develop entrepreneurial skills, understand the context of their art form within the larger culture and economy, and become powerful, engaged artists who will not allow themselves to be manipulated and exploited.
It will be exciting to see what discussions (and hopefully actions) will come out of the conference in Denver. Most of the time I feel these voices that cry out for change will remain only that and very little action will be taken. Hopefully Portland is the start of something much bigger.