A comment on the previous post from Jake highlights a problem I'm always running into and a conversation I've had with many people over lo these many years. I'm wrestling with this problem, or choice, as I type these words. I've got two plays I'm working on right now, a very loose Woyzeck adaptation and a big crazy full-length with a gang of clowns invading and over-running a 19th century well-made play. I'm also re-mounting two shows now, Americana Absurdum by Brian Parks and The Complete Lost Works of Samuel Beckett as Found in an Envelope (partially burned) in a Dustbin in Paris Labeled "Never to be performed. Never. Ever. EVER! Or I'll Sue! I'LL SUE FROM THE GRAVE!!! "discovered" by Greg Allen, Ben Schneider and Danny Thompson. But instead of working on any of these four shows, I'm typing on the old blog, trying to stir shit up.
Activism or organizing or agitating or whatever it is I'm doing when I talk out about a new League of Independent Producers, or a new Alternative Touring Circuit, takes time and thought and energy. Most theater artists in New York have a precious small supply of these three things and choose, wisely, to spend them on their work. This is especially true of younger artists still chasing their own voices and visions. So those with the most to gain from a systemic change in the Off-Off or indie world, the younger artists, have the least amount of resources to contribute. And this is where we all begin to climb the wall or build the bunker.
The wall is the status quo, the existing conditions. We climb the wall by accepting them as unchangeable and adapting to them. These are the physical, economic conditions of the American theatre industry and the common, accepted understanding in this country of what theatre looks like, what it does, how it behaves, how you buy it, where you see it and how you judge it.
The bunker is the safe place, physical or psychological, where a committed artist hides and schemes. The Theatorium was my big old tumble-down bunker for a few years. Clancy Productions is my current bunker. Bunkers are vital. They keep you alive. The only big problem with a bunker is that the view is for shit. You're dug in, walls all around you, safe, but essentially blind.
It is extraordinarily difficult to sustain a life or what can laughingly be called a career in the theater in this country in these days. I believe it is our collective responsibility to make it less difficult. It's the logic of collective action. It's enlightened self-interest. It's believing in the future.
This belief was the driving force and the main reason we put together the New York International Fringe Festival nine years ago. The festival didn't solve the problem, obviously, the problem is bigger than that, but for a few years there it felt like we were dealing with each other in a different way, we were climbing out of our bunkers and looking at the wall together and it didn't look that high or that strong, not when you looked around and saw how many of us there were.
Now it's nine years later. The wall is still there and we're still here, by and large. Some new bunkers dot the horizon, some old ones have been abandoned or over-run. And it feels to me like it's time to poke our heads out again.
We built the festival by talking to everyone who would listen to us, pooling all of our collective resources, holding onto each other as tightly as we could, and then jumping off a cliff, screaming all the way down. At least, that's my memory.
And the time and effort it took to talk and pool and hold onto each other and jump off that cliff was time and effort I didn't spend on my art. After five years of it, I had to step away and see if I was still an artist.
It's been almost five years since I resigned from the company and the festival. Built myself a nice, roomy bunker in those years. New bunker, old wall, same story.
I hate this story. I hate the story of the starving artist, the struggling playwright, the tiny houses, the eviction notices, the vast indifference, the institutional disregard.
Yes, Jake, an artist's first responsibility is to her art. But when external conditions make it all but impossible to make the art, some time and effort and thought should be directed to changing those conditions.
How do we do this?
We talk to each other honestly and directly about the conditions.
We identify things we'd like to see changed.
We plan how to change these things.
We put the plan in action.
Sounds simple because, actually, it is. There's no guarantee we'll accomplish anything, but there's nothing stopping us from trying. The trick is to keep talking, stepping slowly out of the bunker and walking towards the wall.
Got to get to rehearsal. More later.