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The Money Horizons

Tuesday, July 19, 2011 Leave a Comment

By August Schulenburg

In my interesting comment dialogue with Randy yesterday, I touched on a feeling that I've been wanting to blog about for awhile.

There are two fantasies regarding theatre and money: 1.) That money can buy you quality, and 2.) that money has no impact on quality.

For the first, we have recent evidence that not even sixty-five million dollars can buy you excellence. For the second, the reality of producing on a shoestring budget with stolen hours is that every brilliant choice battles against the degradations of time, money, exhaustion and scheduling conflicts.

Money does increase the chances of a show being good, though it does not guarantee it. However, sometimes I suspect there is another boundary, where once crossed, every additional dollar actually makes excellence less likely. And this is because, once enough money is in play, a host of new adversaries to excellence arise. Every new dollar represents another opinion that must be fed, all risk and uniqueness are sanded down, and the play dies the death of second guesses from a thousand cooks.

It is possible to smuggle excellence across this moneyed border, just as it is possible to cobble it together from almost nothing. But as Flux creeps towards greater resources, this line is always present in my mind, especially as we try to pay our artists more. I think there is a territory where you have just enough resources to make beautiful and essential work without burning out your people; and if we ever cross that shifting horizon, I hope we can keep our balance and not race forward to moneyed death, nor fall back to burned out oblivion.

What has been your experience in finding that fabled land? Is there even a there there?


  • Carissa Cordes said:  

    In my experience more money does not necessarily make better art, BUT there is a triangular correlation between money, time and quality. While 65 million dollars a good show does not make, it DOES make some excellent effects.
    I think a key ingredient is also passion. Passion for the work and passion to produce quality.
    People will work for a lot of money, but they might not work for passion.

  • Tony Adams said:  

    I think as soon as the primary impetus for the money shifts from supporting the people and the art, to feeding the organization, the art begins to suffer.

    If you spend more on physical plant than onstage, than the results an org gets are usually what one would expect. If you spend more on supporting the organization that supporting the work, the results are what we see in a lot of institutions.

    The shame is how many have warped the idea of mission critical to suit the need to support the institution and not the mission.

  • August Schulenburg said:  

    Carissa, I definitely agree with the importance of navigating that triangle.

    Tony, I think that shift is definitely the one to avoid, and I worry it sneaks in through a series of well-intentioned choices that develop a momentum that becomes easier to ride than question...