Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Structural Theatre Part 1

At the start of this latest economic downturn I began to hear the words “structural deficit” a lot. Wikipedia defines it as: The structural deficit is the deficit that remains across the business cycle.

What that means is that if you build in a structural deficit then no matter the economic state that expense will always stay on your books. Through good times and bad what you have put in place remains.

For some reason that phrase stuck in my head. I gradually understood why as I began to apply the notion of a structural deficit into the idea of a structural theatre. And further to that the idea of a structural theatrical ecosystem that no matter the creative impetus behind a project one has to create an ongoing theatre. An ongoing theatre that in good or bad times has to be there. Without that kind of structural theatre then one cannot access the higher levels of funding or gain the “respectability” that is currently mandated by ecosystem. It’s all a bit “evolution in progress” with the continuing goal that growth is the hallmark and only true measure of success.

We see this in how many shows have to be produced before applying for the base level of operating funding. We see it in how project funding has such a low cap. We see it in the multitudes of forums about funding, corporate pitches, succession planning, branding, marketing and capital campaigns. We see it in the constant push to create a structural theatre regardless of the artistic goal. Yes there have been some theatres/artists who have understood the concept of life span but they are few and far between.

The first chains of structure are the provisions of the Canada Revenue Agency’s Charitable Status.

And thus mandates, mission statements, vision statements, boards, administrative structures and accounting practices have to be implemented. And by time you have gone down that road far enough then there is too much invested in the structure to give it up easily.

Now none of this is particularly new. But what I would like to do is to posit a few ideas as jump off points for a potential re-assessing of how things are currently being done.

Mostly this is all about money. Money to create in a way that is unique and visionary while at the same time not destroying the artistic staff but maintaining fiscal responsibility.

First off let’s start by agreeing that the road to structure is a totally artificial one and one that is not necessary for the creation of outstanding art.

{More in Part 2}

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Sunday Quickies

An interesting contrast this week between the theatrical experience from the audience side vs the non traditional venue approach.

So in the blue corner: The Theatre Experience: Time for an Upgrade

and in the red corner two plucky contenders:

Theater Where It’s Least Expected
Terror drama staged in back of a Belfast taxi

Then we have this intriquing idea about the value of a play.
Theater tickets shouldn't come with a return policy.

I have to admit I was interested in this article primarily because it was a Migdalia Cruz play and I have been trying to follow her work ever since I met her at the Playwrights Forum.

And finally a fairly straight ahead story regarding a festival in North Carolina.

The National Black Theatre Festival

It's the comments section that plays out a whole other aesthetic.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sunday Quickies

So the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is actually walking the diversity talk in a big way. I wonder how they can do it and so many others just can’t.

Far From the Spotlight, a Brewing Fight Over Theatrical Rights
Another fine example of how playwrights get hosed. I have never heard of anyone in Canada getting anything even close to 40% of subsequent author royalties but I know that it has been an issue in some negotiations. Lets just say no to chiseling back money from playwrights. Especially if we are developmental companies whose mandate it is to develop and produce original work.

So with that in mind why don’t we ….. Adopt a Playwright

On the other hand. It doesn’t matter how surreptitious you think you are while checking your phone during a performance those around you cannot help but say….Look! Something Bright and Shiny!

Now this is something that should be taught in all theatre schools.

And as we circle back to the top we find another take on what diversity means

Saturday, August 8, 2009


The thing is with boomerangs is that when you throw them they travel in a circle. So I read this article today in the Globe & Mail featuring Kelly Thornton and Monica Esteves from Nightwood Theatre.

{Full disclosure: Obsidian is co-producing with Nightwood this season}

I liked what they were saying and the passion with which they said it. I have only one issue and that is the conflating of gender equity with culturally diverse equity. Like the aforementioned boomerang this conflation eventually comes round the corner and has to ask "and how many were non white?" I mean it is important to talk of how many women are getting productions and directing opportunities but then you have to address the diversity as well. It's outstanding to be showcasing women directors but from this corner it seems a shame that the ratio was not a bit more balanced.

Full Disclosure #2

Here are the Obsidian stats since I have been artistic director. In the Director category the male director in all cases is myself.

Actors further breakdown to 12.9% white, 87.1% non-white
In all other categories the artists were all non-white.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Then What?

It's funny that I should stumble over this today. I had an enjoyable conversation with one of the SLIP participants over at the Summerworks Festival and we were discussing whether or not there was actually a large enough theatre going audience to sustain all of the theatre in Toronto. This kind of noodled away at me and somehow I got into thinking how many opportunities seem to be now available and focused on emerging theatre creators.

Then this article popped up.

This is not a great cycle to be creating.

Now what?

So the Equity and PACT negotiations ended with a stunning affirmation of the status quo. Nothing changes for Year 1 and then a pay increase of 1% in Year 2 and 2% in Year 3. Nothing else changes.
How could this happen? With a host of issues that are all hanging fire nothing was resolved.

At the heart of all this is a profound difference of opinion on the way this industry should look going forward.

Now being on both sides I get the buzz from both directions and it’s always a treat to see how things are viewed differently.
I think that both sides feel that they can gain the advantage by waiting for the next negotiating round. But I do not believe that with the limited amount time available there will be room for any substantive change. Nobody is working on negotiations full time. Yes, both sides get input from their members and compile a wish list but the actual talking between the sides doesn’t happen until the last 6 months.

Obsidian abstained from ratification at the PACT AGM and I am abstaining from the Equity vote because I think that the agreement should be rejected and that negotiations should continue until there is a meeting of minds. This, however, will probably not happen with the prevailing mindsets in place.

I am reminded of a story that said that forest fires are so bad now because they have been so assiduously fought that the deadfalls and underbrush were allowed to grow without check. So now the amount of deadwood pushes the fires out of control in a nonce. The only way to get back to a healthy forest is either by ongoing controlled cutting or to let it burn.

The current approaches are not working. We need to change the way we are looking at this industry and find better ways of safeguarding the creators as well as being open to current realities.
This is not a perpetual growth industry. Ticket prices have stalled for the majority of theatres, the audience is aging and grants by and large are plateau-ing.

There will be a winnowing that’s for sure. What we have to do is find the courage to imagine and create a new vision for the future.