Thursday, March 3, 2011

How We Make Our Case IX: Class

Joshua Conkel's post about class in theater gets a round-up treatment at the Guardian.

Is the problem gatekeepers, though?
The next great playwrights aren't necessarily in Yale's MFA program right now. Sure, they might be. But you know what else? They're just as likely to be self-producing a play at The Brick. Or at Dixon Place. Or not even in New York at all.
The class problem, in my mind, has more to do with the economics of playwrighting and theater.

I'm going to level with you: you're not going to find a lot of working class people at The Brick either. Or at Dixon Place. I have a theater company, and I can only do it because I have a white-collar job right now and I come from a white collar family. I live as though I was working class because I sink so much of my money into the deep, dark hole that is theater, but I am by no means working class. The people who I know who are working class are not self-producing. I don't even know if they have enough time to submit their plays, they're working so hard.

Still, everything that Joshua writes stands.


Leigh Hile said...

Thanks for this post, it adds an important dimension to the class debate Josh rightly brought up. For the majority of my time as a working artist, I've waited tables, which I suppose does make me working class, and you're right - I cannot really afford to self-produce my own theater, even at The Brick or Dixon Place. I really have to rely on others to produce my work. And if that's the case, doesn't that bring it back around to the gatekeepers?

CultureFuture said...

Agreed. And on the flip side, my company is only a couple years in existence, and already we're having to play gatekeeper figure out which of our peer's work we want to take on in addition to our own.

That's why there's space for artistic subsidy (NEA or otherwise) aimed at lowering the cost of producing work, which would go much further to diversifying the arts.

Leigh Hile said...

That's interesting, how would that work? An organization would subsidize the cost of, say, renting a theater rather than subsidizing a specific organization?

CultureFuture said...

There's a number of ways you could do it. You could take the approach that Chashama takes, which negotiates temporary spaces for artists, and helps local businesses by monetizing their spaces in times when they might not be able to use it.

It could for instance subsidize rehearsal spaces like Triskelion Arts to so that the cost is much lower.

In some parts of the country, there might not even be dedicated arts centers that are built for rental -- for instance, in my previous home area of Orange County, I'm not sure that there even were that many rehearsal or performance spaces available to rent. In those cases, it would be in the interest of arts subsidy to create them.

Another way might be to help fund artist travel. Imagine if you're in a theater company in a rural community. You might not have enough audience density to make self-producing in a set location worthwhile or easy -- subsidies could be used to help artists from different parts of the country more easily share their work to other parts of the country.

The core shift is away from thinking of arts subsidies as helping existing organizations and more towards investing in what the arts could be like.

joshcon80 said...

I get to self produce because I have free space and that is it. So... yeah. You're probably right.

CultureFuture said...

Is space something that's available to you on your own, or is it something from a grant/subsidy?

CultureFuture said...

By the way, looking at my budget, if someone picked up the tab for my space, I would be able to pay for my company's budget entirely from ticket sales.