Contributed by Guest Blogger of the Week, Jon Stancato.
There’s an alarming statistic that’s oft thrown about: there are nearly 1,000 theatre companies in operation at any given time in NYC. Let’s assume that a quarter of them have already called it quits but have remained on the books like so many Japanese centenarians. Let’s assume another quarter will, alas, not likely make it to their second production. That leaves us with 500 active professional companies, all scrambling to carve up the same pie, at a time when performance spaces are turning into condos, traditional media coverage is either losing relevance or word counts or both, presenters are finding their own resources too strapped to offer much to presentees besides space, and recession-weary audiences may be less than willing to count “supporting indie theatre” among their charitable priorities (or even their frivolous luxuries).
We all want the Times review(s) and the sold-out houses (packed with donors!) and the chichi venues and the fancypants presenters. But what do we need? What do we really need to feel like that to which we’ve dedicated our lives to is a profession, not a hobby?
Here’s what I need:
1. I need to keep making theatre until I die (or until it kills me).
2. I need to have complete freedom to tell whatever stories I want to tell as an artist
in whatever aesthetic I choose
3. I need people (both collaborators and audiences) to understand my work and
find value in it.
Three simple things. So instead of aspiring for the same generic pie piece that everyone else is clawing for, I tried to find a path which could guarantee these needs. And, after 8 years with my brethren at Stolen Chair, I think (fingers tightly crossed!) we’ve laid the groundwork for them to be realistically achieved. In 2009 (with the support of many many people but most importantly The Field and its ERPA grant), we launched PlayGround, the country’s first Community Supported Theatre program, an innovative new play development model (adapted from Community Supported Agriculture) which offers audience-investors a “share” in Stolen Chair’s entire journey creating one of our original works. Our PlayGround members join the fray when the “new play” is merely a title and research packet, following the roller coaster of highs and lows as we figure out what the material means to our collective and prepare it for its world premiere. And as we attract wider audiences interested in such an experience, we can project to a not-too-distant future when our new play development process will pay for itself. Of course, that might not happen…but at least we’ve found a “path” (one specific to our company’s needs) worth pouring our efforts into.
So, if all goes according to plan, I’ll have everything I need: a sustainable platform to create and share the work I feel compelled to create. Am I going to stop sending press releases to theater[at]nytimes.com? Nope. Give up on our “Spring ask”? Niet. Forego invitations to the city’s most powerful presenters? Non. Resist the temptation of $3k+/week space rentals? Nit.
Because at the end of the day, I still want what you want. But I also want you to get what you need. Figure that out…then set up the programs and infrastructures necessary to secure it. We had to take nearly 16 months off of producing in order to do that. That’s okay: theatres were still waiting to take our rental dollars when we returned and there will still be butts willing to plop down in our seats. So…go forth!
Oh, if you wanna get a peek at this here PlayGround us Chairs have concocted, join us for the free launch of the program’s second year this Sunday, Nov 21 (7pm, Space on White). Freely flowing wine, food, and theatrical discussion. In the words of those creepy not-twins from The Shining, play with us….