Thursday, September 24, 2009

Survival of the Fittest

This has been a turbulent year in Chicago Theatre. Bailiwick has moved out of its long time home and David Zak is stepping down as artistic director. American Theatre Company has split up. Apple Tree Theatre is closing its doors. And there have been many desperate calls to patrons for funding so that other companies may keep their doors open. The economic woes of the country are hitting the arts community hard and this is only just the beginning.

This new season starting this fall will start to feel the decline of corporate giving as we enter the tenure of the budgets that companies had to pass to deal with losses in earnings. Theatres will begin to feel the effects of the unemployment swell in reduced attendance and individual donors. The worst has not yet come and there will be many that won't survive the famine.

But is that necessarily a bad thing? We are blessed with a wealth of theatre companies in Chicago. It means a huge selection for the audience and a mountain of opportunities for the artists. But at the same time it means that resources are spread thinner than they could be. Sometimes, too, the consumer has a hard time deciphering what is worth seeing and not. A thinner leaner Off-Loop theatre scene will only benefit the level of performance and production in this city.

While everyone is having a hard time meeting their bottom line, many are looking for ways to reinvent themselves. That is not always a good decision. If you mission and model has kept you alive this far, have the courage to believe in yourself and stay the course. But take the time to examine this mission and get back to the basics. Any theatre who produces only high budget productions is going to have a hard time staying afloat, but that is the mission of too few companies.

If you theatre focuses on stories - find ways to draw on that and highlight that. If your company focuses on good acting, there are lots of ways to feature that and still make your bottom line. If you company focuses on beautiful design, pick two or three essentials and really invest in them and fill the rest with imagination.

We as theatre artists have such an amazing oppertunity to show why our craft is important right now. Distill everything down to its essentials and you'll come out on top.

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