It’s easy to get swamped during the Arena Stage Convenings.There is a lot going on and a lot of theoretical conversation. The hardest workin’ folks in show business are trying to fix some part of show business and let me tell you: it’s invigorating. I’ve been on the ground at one of these things, sometimes it can fry a circuit.
So I’m going to give Mr. Rocco Landesman an unearned benefit of the doubt. I’m going to give him a pass that this time he wasn’t just knocking art in Peoria, and that he let slip a simple binary statement about a very complex situation and in the heat of the moment we all read it wrong. Both in the room and out.
All business is of course a question of supply and demand. But supply and demand isn’t binary. You know that, I know that, and Mr. Landesman knows that. He doesn’t care. He has to make the same life and death argument for the arts that we do every day and he does it in an arena that considers his entire agency budget to be a pretty political football and his budget a rounding error. That his impulse is to choose the Guthrie over the Kitchen makes plenty of sense from 35,000 feet.
So when he brushed off the idea that small theatres make his dollars go further (and are idealistic) I don’t think he was being callous or naïve. I just think his perspective is so different he missed it.
Kirk Lynn and Scott Walters who rose to ask him questions are on his payroll. Almost everyone in that room is. These aren’t sour grapes swinging birks who aren’t getting milk from momma whining about the unfairness of it all. These are folks who take a penny, leave a penny and contribute to the art that makes this artform great. Kirk Lynn is one of six ADs of a cutting edge theatre group from a red state. Scott Walters is doing primary research on bringing theatre back to small rural towns and evangelizing everyday about the importance of supporting storytelling in our core communities.
But it’s smaller than that. See. My grant money is a blend of City, State, and NEA matched money. I’m on Rocco’s dole too. While I’m mostly a loud mouthed blogger and social media drone, I’m an advocate and evangelist for Austin theatre where ever there is a venue. Rocco gets livestream R+D out of me, and model analysis on the grassroots business models for sustainable community level theatre growth. He also got two shows. For some incalculable portion of $3000.
But it’s more than the simple return on investment.
It keeps us on the team. When he says things like Ms. Mead quoted at the top of her post:
"We’re all one enterprise. We just file different tax returns." Paul Libin on the state of the American Theater, as quoted by Molly Smith at the introduction to the #newplay convening.
"I would like to start… by calling bullshit."- Rocco Landesman, in response to Paul Libin’s quote, at the beginning of his remarks to the #newplay convening.
He hurts the entire field.
We are playing a different game on the sandlots Mr. Landesman. But even down here in Austin, with no aspirational LORT palace we get 90 feet base to base and 27 outs to do our best… and our best is pretty good. But you know what’s even more important?
Every dollar you give a committed evangelist like Ron Berry comes back, not in jobs or earned income but as artists determined to DO THAT.
Mr. Landesman, I know it feels like giving NEA pocket change to small communities who aren’t making art you would fly to see (though you should come down for Fusebox – queso’s on me) is throwing it away when development venues are strapped and laying people off.
But I urge you to come back over this weekend and remind yourself that that pocket change is being given to the most resourceful artists your hard-working staff can find. And those artists are turning those resources into stories, and beauty and art, and creating more artists.
You keep fighting the fight to keep us supplied and let us worry about creating demand.