Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What Boston needs to see, from the Up-to-the-Minute Theatre Fund

Last week I wrote about the fact that Boston often seems to be ahead of the national curve, theatrically - even ahead of New York (or at least neck-and-neck).  That doesn't mean we're not still missing out on some things, though - and seeing terrific shows like Candide, or the best of ArtsEmerson, only makes you all the hungrier for what else is out there on the cutting edge, both nationally and internationally.

So why can't we have it all?

Well, one reason is that - simply put - several of our more successful local theatres have lost their edge.  I won't even go into You-Know-Who at You-Know-Where - that's a totally lost cause; but there are signs of a growing artistic slack elsewhere, too.  I mean seriously - gay men as hi-larious nuns (on bikes, yet)?  Another lady scientist/writer/explorer who discovers - wait for it - sexism?  Big River - AND Rent? Rocky Horror?  Sure - let's do the time warp again!  And again and again!  Some folks just seem to love a trip down memory lane.

Now I realize a theatre company needs to pay the bills, so some tried-and-true fare is inevitable; and of course everyone knows I love me a great revival of a classic!  Only many of these shows aren't really classics - they're just familiar - and meanwhile, up-to-the-minute theatrical life is elsewhere.  The Civilians are working on an Occupy Wall Street cabaret in New York - isn't there any way we could see it up here?  Mike Daisey has been making headlines with The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs around the country - isn't Boston the perfect place to hear it, and isn't now the perfect time?  Last week's terrific Speaker's Progress at ArtsEmerson was actually the final part of a Shakespearean trilogy by its brilliant director, Sulayman al-Bassam; is there any way we could see the whole thing, and soon?

Now by this I do NOT mean we need to spend more time developing new plays! (Yikes!!)  Far from it - I'm talking about theatre work that's already on its feet, that's trying to keep up with current events.  Indeed, sometimes I think what we need is a special Up-to-the-Minute Theatrical Fund - a grant that can be given at a moment's notice (comparatively) to an opportunity that appears this very season, and might vanish the next.  But of course donors don't want to give money to theatre itself at all - they want to give it to buildings, or to educational efforts, or diversity or what have you.  Real estate and politics, basically.  Isn't there at least one brilliant tech millionaire out there with a yen for the theatrically hip?

I mean, I can dream, can't I?


  1. Let me know if you find one, so we can build a nest of blackboxes cheap enough to rent so that our Fringe scene can graduate into a legit Small Professional (if still Non-Eq) scene. Paying our actors... what a concept.

  2. I hear you, John - only we already have the space, actually. What we need is a sharper vision with more funding.

  3. Arlington Cty, Virginia got it right - they targeted the arts scene's greatest need as not funding but infrastructure. So they created and maintain a bunch of blackboxes and rehearsal spaces: Gunston Arts Ctr, Artisphere, Theatre on the Run, etc. Across the Potomac, DC has several incubator spaces for growing groups.

    Imagine if that happened in Boston. More cheap space--> Longer runs--> More audience --> Less overhead --> STIPENDS --> Talent pool deepens as theatre grads have impetus to stick around a while --> Press attention --> An actual scene!

  4. Well, I hate to say it, but the focus of this post was not growing local groups. It was importing the edgiest new stuff to town - to, in turn, inspire local groups, it's true. I'm still not entirely sold on the dearth of space idea, btw; the amount of space we've got keeps growing - only it stays expensive.

  5. I know, I'd just prefer to see some of this mythical 'trickle-down' from all the haves giving to the haves.