Perishable Theatre

29 Jan

Just read an interesting post on Mirror Up to Nature , a Boston playwrights’ blog. As follows:

Core to the issue of sustainability is the creation of vibrant art. Without this understanding as a starting point, and as the goal for all artists, organisations and funding agencies, there is no future. Organisations can plan effectively only when they know what they are trying to achieve. Too often they fall into the trap of creating a vision in response to funding policies, and change course to attract program funding that is not core to what they do. The funding system therefore needs to be unambiguous in its expectations and fund only those willing to try to meet them.”

This sounds like it’s from the Australia Council. And I think the simple point —of organizing around a vision, rather than trying to shape one’s vision to the perceived bankability of the organization–is important and often overlooked. Which leads me to our own little local theatre here in Providence: Perishable Theatre. Now Perishable has barely the budget to change one of the big regional theatre behemoth’s lightbulbs, yet under the recent artistic direction of Vanessa Gilbert, it has an international women’s playwriting festival; a season of new plays; a Resident Artist program (modeled on the HERE arts center resident artist program (or HARP) in New York) where about seven artists nuture new work in monthly meetings and showings for a year (extendable for three). It also has a monthly late- night puppet salon and hosts many visiting productions such as James Scrugg’s amazing Disposable Men and New York’s Theatre of the Two-Headed Calf (whose kabuki-punk show was a highlight of last year). Some of the work is great, some is awful—that’s the nature of, er, RISK. (Full disclosure: I’m a Resident Artist at Perishable and they have produced 3 of my plays in the past 6 years. So I have personal reasons to love them too).

My larger point: The ratio of risk to finances in theatre is amazingly skewed towards the smaller, poorer, houses doing the R&D and the larger places then scooping the pool for commercial product. It wouldn’t fly in science or technology, where R&D is seen as essential to the future and ongoing life of the enterprise. Maybe that’s why we have such excellent bombs and such dismal theatre in this country. (Hang on, maybe there’s a connection between dinosaur theatre and lack of investment in experiment? )

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