Clarification of Comment on Creating New Theater Company

A link was shared on twitter about Rebecca Novick’s chapter in the book titled 20Under40. The linked inspired Mark Petrie, blog writer for Knightsbridge Theatre, here in Los Angeles. I wrote a comment, see below if you do not want to jump over to the post, though I do recommend it.

I don’t think self-producing theater artists is the same as creating a new theater company. In light of all the facts laid out in Outrageous Fortune, it is clear that one needs to create their own work, but how that is done needs to be the main thrust of the exploration. In cities like New York and Los Angeles, there are hundreds and hundreds of theater companies, and we need deeply examined reasons for creating a new theater company. Clear reasons that make sense to audience members. Producing the same popular play that was produced by another theater company last season, or Shakespeare set in a different time period, is not standing out of the crowd. What are some models of creating theater that are not being done as much? Is there something to learn from theaters like Sojourn that are focused on creating work specific to communities, or site specific theater that interact with its audience members outside of the normal theater building? Regional theaters seem to be taking notice as Alabama Shakespeare Festival is producing plays about specific communities within the state. Another model to look at is Stolen Chair’s Community Supported Theater. Or instead of using other models, what is a model your theater company can come up with the no one else is doing? Maybe the question should be, what is the thing that your theater company is doing that no other theater company is doing? Be the first at something, and not the fifth company in your area to produce the current popular play.

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I am glad you brought up the topic.

The first question I would ask, is what does the author mean by the “same old model”. I think that has to be addressed before a full critique can be had.

If the assumption is made that she means what would be considered 99-seat theater in Los Angeles, or small theater companies in New York, the second part of the sentence that needs to be examined is “unexamined multiplication of companies .”

Does that mean artists that create theater companies so they can make art and “work”? Isn’t that why the 99-seat AEA contract was created, so more AEA actors could do theater in Los Angeles? Is that inherently bad? No. But when the median income of an AEA member (including Stage Managers) is $7,475, and the weekly jobless rate for AEA members is 85.2% and percentage of AEA members that don’t work at all in a year roughly 55%, that leaves a lot of actors with the time to create theater companies. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily, but that is a lot of supply. Is there the demand to back it up? Hard to say? Since many 99-seat AEA theaters have to charge its members dues to pay rent as they can not afford to pay the rent and cost of productions from ticket sales alone. I think it can be said that the supply does not fit the demand. When there are more people on stage than in the audience, there is a demand/supply issue. Granted, that could be due to quality, and the Darwin argument would be that they would be weeded out. But if the rent is being paid for by the members, the company can still exist. Does this mean that theater companies should not be created? No. Does it mean that a theater should do Shakespeare when there are four or five other theaters companies doing Shakespeare? I think that would classify as “unexamined”.

What are examined ways? Still working on that. Maybe we should read Novick’s chapter as a starter. Regarding Novick creating Crowded Fire Theatre Company, what is the context behind it? The mission/history page does not mention her name. It says the theater company is in its 13th season. For all we know, she could have started it, and left after the first year. Also what she learned from that experience could be the source material for the chapter. She is available on twitter (@rebeccanovick) if your curious.

As I mentioned on twitter, would love to see you at the #NewPlay Los Angeles Theater (#LAThtr) Satellite Meetup. I don’t know if this topic will be part of the conversation, but your passion for Los Angeles Theater would be great for the conversation.

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