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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Things I learned at How Theater Failed America

I picked up a few things on Monday night when Mike Daisey performed his one-night-only monologue How Theater Failed America, for an audience primarily made up of theater professionals, on the Alliance Theatre main stage.

1. Like Daisey's still-running The Last Cargo Cult, Theater mixes uproariously funny anecdotes with hard-hitting, sobering observations about the contemporary American scene. How Theater Failed America raises uncomfortable questions about the flaws of the the American theater system, so it's appeal may be more narrow than Cargo, but Daisey's stories proved more touching and personal as well.

2. Arguably the title shouldn't be How Theater Failed America but, as Daisey acknowledged, How Theater Became America, given its focus on the pernicious, corporatizing influences on contemporary theater.

3. "Out-sourcing actors," i.e., bringing them in from New York, can prevent theaters and their cities from cultivating artistic communities.

4. Three and a half weeks is, conveniently, exactly how long it takes for a company to master any play that has ever been written in the English language.

5. Theaters pay professional actors entirely in cheese left over from the opening night reception.

6. We should stop thinking of theatrical companies as "theaters" and start thinking of them as things, i.e., institutions, that make theater.

7. The trouble with theaters as institutions is that the first goal of any institution can never be art, it has to be survival. Consequently, theaters tend to hire marketing, development and education directors before they hire artists (not counting the artistic directors).

8. The second goal of any institution cannot be art, it has to be growth. Capital campaigns for theaters to build fancy new buildings provide great, tangible examples of growth, but also can become Faustian bargains that ensure theaters become risk-averse in their programming.

9. Western Maine makes Northern Maine look like a fucking metropolis.

10. You can live on Ramen Noodles. When you're young. Once.

11. If you're working in theater, you're not just a liberal, you're one inch away from being a Communist revolutionary. Your revolutionary tendencies may be tempered, though, by your attachment to health insurance.

12. It might be easier to monetize a playhouse if the performance space is open more than two hours a day.

13. During the post-show round-table, the first question from the audience was how Daisey's Cargo Cult money giveaway was faring. He demurred answering, preferring that the conversation focus on theater issues, but an Alliance staffer told me that he's still a few hundred dollars in the red.

14. Apparently about a generation ago, Atlanta equity actors would perform in non-equity playhouses under assumed names to earn extra money.

15. One hour and 50 minutes? Probably too long to go without an intermission.

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