Correlation: Biodiversity and Theatre

03.07.12 | 5 Comments

CATEGORIES #2amt, advocacy, audiences, collaboration, community, conversation starter, critics, education, ideas, mission, new play development, new plays, newplay, non-profit theatre, producers, public relations, rabble rousing, the future, theatrical ecosystem

Biodiversity is the practice of cultivating and sustaining a broad array of species in a given ecosystem. The opposite is monoculture. Monoculture is the practice of limiting species in a given ecosystem.

Agriculturalists and eco-warriors promote biodiversity because they have found (and history has proven, see: Potato famine) the prevalence of a multitude of species of plants in a given ecosystem promotes natural systems of sustainability. Also, biodiversity offers more crop choices and finally, a vibrant and diverse ecosystem stands a greater chance to survive and recover in the wake of major disasters.

Why does this matter?

Recently, I have seen and heard lots of rumblings about what kind of work theatre companies should be producing. In some lamentations, folks have railed against companies that do Shakespeare. Sometimes people talk about how farces are stupid and meaningless. I’ve heard others complain that musicals suck and shouldn’t be produced. Some comments are as sweeping as “Everything a theatre produces should be a world premier.” While others will say that narrative based story driven theatre is for the birds. I’ve heard folks say theatre should only be about audience experience and interaction and still others think interaction is boring and intrusive (read: not engaging). I even heard one person say, “If I ever see another couch in a play… I’ll kill someone.” Dramatic and hyperbolic. And yet the thing that unites all these cries out against every kind of theatre is that everyone seems to believe they will (or have) discover(ed) some brand of theatre that will save the art, making it more resonant and vital, returning audiences to the live theatre, crushing film and television and blah blah blah. Often these grievances and corresponding solutions are tied (somehow) to solving the financial crisis we face.

I call bullshit.

I think it is great so many people have so many opinions about what they want to see (and make)… but to believe that classics are killing our theatres, that musicals are ruining artistic integrity, that any one kind of theatre is better than any other kind – is just stupid. It’s so, so, so untrue and just plain stupid.

The fact is the more kinds of theatre there are the better it is for all of us. Sure, we may be in competition in some ways. But let’s be honest, we’re on the same team. Not liking a form of theatre to the point you wish it would stop being made… that’s not critical, it’s ignorant. There is a difference. You don’t have to like a form of theatre in order for it to be important in a community. If you’re writing off a form you are writing off the audience members that are moved by that form.

Another important phenomenon overlooked is the idea exposure to the classics is often the gateway drug into the harder stuff.  Maybe as a theatre artist, or an avid theatre critic, you’re tired of seeing the classics, so it makes sense for you to want to push boundaries or in the case of the critic to see new material. I get that. And yes there are theatregoers tired of the same old stuff as well. But those folks likely started their journey in the theatre by being introduced to a classic of some kind. Or in some cases, I imagine the opposite is true. In any case, an introduction to a play or performance is an introduction to the world of theatre. Not one person knows enough about this world and the nuances of individuals to say that any form of theatre is better or worse at making an impact on another person.

We all do better when the art is doing well. We should encourage people to go the theatre, no matter what the form. The theatre world is an ecosystem. Only by promoting widely diverse forms in our communities do we protect that ecosystem.

Let’s cultivate our art by celebrating it all inclusively.



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Derek Kolluri

Derek Kolluri is the Creator of Sustainable Theatre Project and Co-Founder of Theatre en Bloc. His goal is simple: create a business model and set of best practices for the theatre to promote and retain high quality artistry, triple-bottom-line sustainability and a new, valid jobs sector in the arts.

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  • I share what I think is your concern that we can all probably stand to be less critical of one another. I also agree that “biodiversity” is critical to the health of an ecosystem. But I think you may have stretched your metaphor a bit too far. Biodiversity is great until there’s an invasive species or one species that out-competes the others and drains resources from the system. IF that’s happening in the theatrical ecosystem — and I’m intentionally not saying whether I think it is — then I hope you’d agree that’s a problem with which we ought to be concerned.

    • Derek Kolluri

      I think we should actually be more critical of one another’s work… it makes us better (when we listen and understand the criticism). 

      I am actually more concerned about the folks who bypass criticism and jump to calling work unworthy of being seen. I dismiss that notion entirely. It is a dangerous platform that can manifest itself in polarizing our theatre maker communities, which we all know (and often claim) are stronger when individual companies work together toward common goals.
      We ought to support the work being made because it is theatre. Then to make ourselves better we should criticize and be open to criticism. 

      Often I find when folks complain about bigger companies hoarding resources it comes from a place of jealousy. If a smaller company had the same resource pool as the bigger company – I don’t think that smaller company would continue to lament. 

      • I obviously didn’t mean critical in that sense; I agree with you, we need to get better at speaking honestly to one another about the work we make. I meant, of course, critical about each other’s preferred “modes” of theater.

        But I’m not talking about “bigger companies” hoarding resources. I’m just saying that your biodiversity metaphor is limited. It implies that we should give up any attempt at stewardship, at choosing one kind of theater instead of another, at thinking about our ecosystem holistically. I consider that an abdication of responsibility.

  • Brett Abelman

    That’s all I wanted to say.

  • Here, here! I see everything from totally commercial to highly experimental and everything in between. It hasn’t stunted my theatrical growth. In fact, I’m seeing more theatre, and more theatres, than ever. I would be really disappointed if I could only see one type of play, and I think I would be much less engaged with theatre.

    If you’re sick of seeing too much of this or that, try some more theatres.

    (Generic you, not Mr. Kolluri)

    That said, if someone enjoys only one particular type of theatre, that’s their taste and they’re welcome to it. And if none of the local theatres are doing that kind of work, it’s no fun. But that doesn’t mean the other theatres that are pleasing their audiences are obligated to meet that taste.

    I just hope that theatres which are sticking to a particular style are doing so because it’s their passion and not because they think there’s no other choice.