Monday, September 1, 2008

Ensemble Theatres

Theatre Communication Guild's Executive Director Teresa Eyring wrote the following article in this month's American Theatre magazine.

"In larger cities, there’s another interesting dynamic at play in terms of how theatres and artists productively coexist. Many cities boast one or two major theatres that set down roots in the 1960s and ’70s, alongside a range of small and mid size companies that have sprung up within the community over time: think Chicago, Philadelphia, the Twin Cities, Washington, D.C. In many of these communities, a strong local acting, artistic and production community has also evolved. This group has in effect become a repertory company—not of a single theatre, but of an entire community. Many actors—instead of performing in several shows with a single theatre company in the same season—construct year-round employment by performing in different theatres throughout the year. Audience members get to know the actors of their community by seeing them in a number of plays at various venues. Yes, this arrangement still calls upon actors to freelance and lacks the year-after-year commitment of a seasonal contract with one institution; there can be frustrations when theatres hire too heavily from outside the community, or when there isn’t much opportunity for crossover between larger and smaller houses. But the fact remains that in these cities, the regional theatre movement’s larger goal of making it possible for theatre professionals to make a living in their own communities has in many cases been achieved."

There is much truth in that. The actors in Chicago that seem to do well for themselves, are the ones that can work across multiple companies. So many times I've seen artists join a company, start performing exclusively in their shows, become an isolationist, and disappear off the map. Or there are companies that form around a core group of actors to ensure that these artists are working and performing - the audience soon dries up when the performances all start looking the same. Too many times these companies are not artistic homes, but vanity companies built around actors who don't have the confidence to go out on the audition circuit themselves.

The cut-throat world of New York may be scary, but it guarantees one thing: top notch talent. If you can't give the absolute best performance in a role, someone will be coming along behind you who can. I am all for creating a stable and healthy environment where artists are given the space to create their work. But a healthy dose of fear increases the urgency. Just like onstage, adding a little urgency to a performance or an audition makes for more compelling theatre.

Happy Birthday: Ned Allyen (1566-1626)

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