Sunday, May 25, 2014

Promotion and Relegation: A Soccer Fan's Indie Theater Manifesto

I woke up this morning and decided that I really wanted to see the Leyton Orient - Rotherham United game today. If you haven't heard of these clubs, I can't blame you -- they're third-tier teams in England, right now battling for the right to move into the second tier -- a move valued at 120 million pounds.

A Quick Primer (you can skip if you know English soccer)
For the non-fans, part of the amazing power that English soccer has over the nation has to do with the soccer pyramid. 

The Premier League has the biggest teams, which compete on an international scale and provide players to compete in the world cup. The Premier League has the big names: Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal.

But it also has some not-so-big names: this upcoming season, Burnley, Leicester City, Queens Park Rangers.

The reason is because the league is at the top of a pyramid; below the Premier League is the Championship, and below that is League One, etc... on a sliding scale of leagues from Professional, through semi-professional, down to amateur. If you look on the Wikipedia article, there's actually 24 tiers on this pyramid... the bottom being the glorious Mid-Sussex Football League, Division 11.

So those not-so-big names (Burnley, Leicester City, QPR), make it to the Premier league by winning the Championship. Every year, three teams get promoted to the Premier League, and three get relegated out.

The Power of Promotion and Relegation
In the US, our soccer doesn't have promotion and relegation; nor do any of our sports leagues. And the difference is the quality of the dream.

In England, there's a significant chance that if you play well enough to play on a mid-tier team, you and that team could advance to the next tier up. Or you could be traded to a team on the next tier. In theory, if you're Leyton Orient, and you're in League Two, all it takes is a few great seasons and you could -- theoretically, be playing against Liverpool and Manchester City in the top tiers of English football.

In practice, it still takes a lot of money and the odds are extremely long, but -- you have the dream.

And I think that the people who benefit the most are not the people in the pyramid, but the people at the top. It keeps people engaged and constantly fighting to prove themselves, and if you really do stand out -- well, the deep pockets of Liverpool or Manchester United or Real Madrid can catapult you onto that big stage -- and those teams win for having picked you.

Theater's Promotion Dream
We do theater for a lot of reasons -- for our own community, for our own edification. For the love of the game, in other words. But we would all love to reach a broader audience with our work, and we'd love to get it out there.

In a way, we have our own promotion system -- Alex Timbers can write a musical which starts at the Williamstown Theater Festival, and workshops at New 42nd Street Studios, it gets "promoted" to the Public Theater, and from there "promoted" up to Broadway.

And it's Broadway that profits the most by this. They get work developed by others, with the risk picked up by others, and they get to elevate it to its peak product.

Indie Theater Now
So what happens if this pyramid erodes? The answer is that the talent pool that the top of pyramid has to pull from erodes. They'll have to spend more of their own money scouting for and developing the talent themselves.

Worse yet, as the pyramid erodes, so do the dreams of people who think they might get to the top of the pyramid. If they don't get there day 1, they realize there's no way to get into the pyramid, no way to get started. So they'll move on and do something else.

So it behooves the people at the top of the pyramid -- the big touring companies, Broadway, Hollywood -- to tend to and care for the rest of the pyramid. Otherwise, they'll find themselves sinking into the sands.