The Wider Frame

Tuesday, August 24, 2010 Leave a Comment

Increasingly, I am seeing the problems that face the theatre as woven into a larger context; and I am coming to believe that we can't talk about the problems facing the field without also talking about that wider frame.

I think we can't talk about gender equity in season selection without talking about the 80 cents that women make to a man's dollar, or the woeful 3% of Fortune 500 companies led by women.

If we want to talk about the divide between artistic and administrative compensation, we need to also talk about CEO salaries that are 344 times that of the average worker.

If we talk about diversity on our stages, we need to remember that by 2050, America's minority population will exceed 50%.

When we talk about the financial growth of theatres, we need to factor in the externalized costs of theatre production, the same as every other business striving to move from GDP to GPI.

If we're concerned about theatre's declining relevance, we need to see it as connected to declining rates of empathy and creativity; and wrestle with the rapid changes to human consciousness.

The fight for better representation of African-American and Latino artists on our stages is related to the struggle to change a prison system that incarcerates black men at a rate over 6 times higher than that of whites; and that issues warrantless arrests for suspected illegal immigrants.

As we endlessly debate marketing tactics to increase our audience size, we need to remember that struggle takes place in the context of an increasingly disconnected civic society.

The discussion of aesthetic diversity, and the censorship of commerce, is intimately related to the impulses that are leading to the decimation of biodiversity and indigenous cultures.

The call for better arts advocacy won't work without calling to decrease voter apathy and the politics of demonization.

Theatre may be a mirror held up to nature; or it may be hammer with which to shape it; either way, we know which direction it's supposed to be facing. Lately, I've realized my own thought, and much of the discussion I'm reading, has been pointing theatre in the wrong direction.

10 comments »

  • Mariah said:  

    fantastic post. so true. so important to remember that our problems are not unique to us, and that they don't exist in a vacuum.

    I'm skeptical of any assertion that people are less empathetic or creative than they used to be, even if backed up with "science," but maybe I should finish reading those articles before I run my mouth.

    either way, thanks for reminding us that we as theatre artists exist in this world, not apart from it, and have to do our thing accordingly.

  • kenny nowell said:  

    When SPIDERMAN opens, it'll all be okay.

  • Tony Adams said:  

    What is the wrong direction you think the conversation is headed in?

  • August Schulenburg said:  

    Tony,

    Inwardly, and in two damaging ways: that the challenges theatre faces can be solved independently of the larger challenges that contain them; and that theatre doesn't need to direct its energies towards those larger challenges as a means of changing them. An example would be Outrageous Fortune, which was incredibly useful, I think; but am now coming to realize that considering playwright compensation independently of larger wage inequalities is dangerous.

    Mariah,

    I am similarly skeptical of the results; but they do seem worth investigating as either a cause, result, or correlative of theatre's perceived declining relevance. I agree with your recent posts that theatre is an engine for empathy, and so seeing the pattern of these mutual declines makes me wonder.

    Keith,

    If only theatre had the proportional strength of a spider...

  • Tony Adams said:  

    That's what I assumed. I mostly agree that pretty much everything done in theatre is done in and for a closed loop of folks that tend to be pretty insular. We need to look at the big picture far more often than we do.

    I don't know if I'd agree about Outrageous Fortune being dangerous in that way. I don't know if you can work for systemic change without identifying it and being able to connect it to individuals.

    I think you need to examine the pieces of the frame and the frame as a whole.

    Looking only outward can be just as dangerous ans looking only inward.

  • Aaron Andersen said:  

    Excellent way to reframe, get some perspective, and get some conversations started!

    I would add, we can't gripe about our diversity initiatives not working as well as we think they should without understanding the network structures of privileges in which many of us live and operate obliviously.

  • Aaron Andersen said:  

    There is also a danger in this perspective, IF we take it as an out: an excuse not to work on these issues with full force. After all, what can one little theater company do to change these massive social power disparities, abuses, etc?

    What we can do is what artists are frequently called to do, lead. With internal integrity and outward focus.

  • August Schulenburg said:  

    Aaron and Tony,

    I very much agree; looking solely outward, becoming justifiably daunted, and losing the name of action is no good either. My feeling is that for at least myself, that balance is out of whack in the direction of too great an inwardness; that was my experience of Outrageous Fortune, where it felt like if only the (playwrights/artistic director/audiences/literary managers/villain of your choice) changed, all would be well. I rarely heard (and maybe I wasn't looking in the right places) that the wage inequality, lack of transparency, siloed specialization and community/artist disconnect was part of a larger civic dysfunction. I should also add that while I've been moving gradually in this direction for some time, how to take it from epiphany to action is what's important; and that's something I've continually struggled with on this blog and in my life.

  • plain Kate said:  

    Thanks for this post. Great reminder to take the all-valuable step back now and again. The men that I work with at Sing Sing help me keep some of my perspective on some of these issues. I also feel that the theatre is uniquely positioned to explore the larger issues you raise, that we can write about and perform plays that both entertain but also grapple. Actually, those are the best kind.

  • Matt A said:  

    The most frustrating thing for me is that while a lot of theatre does grapple with large ideas, presenting a way to encourage empathy, so much theatre is so inaccessible. Accessibility is the vital step theatre needs to take if worries itself about relevance.

    And the original post here...I suppose I agree with a lot of it, but I think the list of points is woefully incomplete. We're all much more unified than we care to admit. There's a quote I read recently by comic David Feldman in a book about modern american satire that put my feeling into words very well:

    "You're not black, not Jewish, not Hispanic, not gay, not whatever interest group. What you are is not rich, and one paycheck away from losing your house and health insurance, that's what you are. Forget this identity politics we've fallen prey to, it's just haves and have nots, that's it."