This week Mike Daisey talked with Gothamist about his latest show, How Theater Failed America. The monologue has touched off a great discussion across the country regarding the purpose and the reality of regional theater. Some feelings have been bruised, but this discussion has been a long time coming and it's vital.
My view: It's about time for artists to take a hard look at their values, their options, and their lives and start thinking of ways to create and present live performance without depending on regional theaters. The regional theater model has been a complete disaster because no one has stuck to its principles, so maybe we ought to accept what theater is, what it isn't, and what we can make it. One way to do more than just survive is to recommit ourselves to a model much older than the regional theater (which came into being in this country only about forty years ago).
The old way? DO IT YOURSELF.
As an artist:
1. Got a basement, a living room, or a garage? Congratulations. You are a theater owner.
2. Create the work you believe in. Don't bother sending it to someone else to consider, unless you know a small company willing to take risks. Get together with other artists who share your passion and dedication. If you have the skills to write and perform the show, do so.
3. Charge an amount that you know people in your neighborhood can afford and will be willing to spend on an unknown project. Use the money to pay for your expenses, and pay the artists. You'll have to buy a business license, short-term insurance, and pay taxes on your ticket sales, but this is actually easier than you think.
4. Stick with fellow artists who get your ideas, and try to remain loyal to one another. You are the only people you can count on. Don't exhaust yourself making the rounds with people who are not going to hire you. Hire yourself.
As a theatergoer:
1. If you see that your local big-budget theaters are not producing shows that interest you, call them and tell them why you are not buying tickets to their shows. Better yet, write a letter to the Artistic Director and the Managing Director.
2. Find out what percentage of the artists employed there are from your community. If the theater is not employing local artists, ask why not.
3. Whether you buy a ticket or not, you are paying for any theater company that receives grants and public funding, so tell these folks what you want to see, and how much you're willing to pay for it.
Plenty of people in theater will tell you the DIY approach is silly and won't make you rich. Ask them if they are rich. Ask them if their house or car is paid off. Ask them if they have health insurance. Ask them if they're offering you a job when they mock your plan to bypass their theater.
None of this DIY stuff is from Daisey's monologue. I don't want to put words in his mouth, especially since he is so eloquent.
This is what I have come to realize after twenty years in theater: You won't get anything from regional theaters, other than a come-on and (at best) a staged reading. So while you have the joy and enthusiasm for this art form, just go for it.