… But That Was My ChoicePosted January 26th, 2010 by Sean Williams
I think I have added to a larger mistake that falls so naturally to me that it really needs to be pointed out by more than one source for me to even get that I did it.
I have taken great pains to pat myself on the back for my utter independence from the established institutional theater world, and I even believe myself most of the time when I think about the way we, and many of our friends, are making theater. The truth is that, in the end, it works for *me*, but it might not be working for all of us. In fact, if I’m completely honest, it might not be working for my *wife* and my *kid* (soon to be “kids”.) It may not even be working for my producing partners.
In the last post, I mocked people who are stuck in this broken system with my friend Abe’s quote “those are some classy problems to have,” without fully realizing that I was offering up some pretty classy solutions. Just make theater, divorce yourself from the possibility that it will ever make you money, find donors and an audience and work outside the system – that is a privileged man’s response to this crisis, and I should have thought more about it before writing.
A plumber’s son can be a poet, as long as his dad stays a plumber. I managed to trip into a situation where my safety net is wide and tight. I made some money when there was money in the music game, and my extended family will bail me out when things get bad. Before I had any money, I certainly wasn’t producing theater for the artistic expression, I was cutting every single corner and then *living off the profits*. The first show I produced in North Carolina, I raised about 4 grand and the show cost about $500, and I lived for a few months in New York on the money I made.
My family, despite being comparably well-known in our community, were basically scratching the basement door of middle-class, and it’s because my parents were both classical musicians. It seems on the surface that trips to Europe and tuxedo-dry cleaning bills are classy problems to have, but every trip to Europe was spent sleeping on the concertmaster’s couch, and the dry cleaner was making way more than my dad.
Also, none of us is being completely honest with the capacity to produce at our level. The truth is, you won’t find age-appropriate actors of much skill over the age of 35. You won’t get good production values. You will get terrible directors and very few technical directors or stage managers with any skill. I think you will find more good writers than you might expect, there are a lot of really good scripts, but we definitely have more than our fair share of bad writers as well.
If it takes ten million dollars to pay for a movie, bargain basement, and two hundred grand to run an institutional theater company, bargain basement, then what we’re doing is somewhere far below that, and just above playing guitar on the subway. I stand by my point – that we’re basically playing guitar on the subway because we don’t work inside even the bargain basement institutional system, but I need to be clear that I know what we are and what we aren’t.
So, I’m following up “You’re Not Talking To Me” with “… But That Was My Choice.” Yes, institutional theater is broken, and because I am, compared with a majority of Americans and almost everyone in the rest of the world, a wealth man of extended leisure, I don’t have to work inside it. Those of us who can afford to make no money will continue on making theater and hope that it pleases our audience, but I hope not to be quite so cavalier in my dismissal of the problems inherent in our theatrical institutions. I’m outside the game not because I’m tough, I’m outside the game because I don’t need the game to survive.