Thursday, October 09, 2008

700 Billion What?

Michael Gene Sullivan's speech at the Theatre Bay Are Annual Conference in San Francisco, October 6, 08.

Sometimes we get so caught up in grant applications and new seats and berber aisle rugs and bringing actors up from Hollywood that we forget that all the audience wants is a moving story told well. They support us not based on how many Baywatch veterans we stuff into the Malibu Macbeth - they support us based on how well we touch their hearts and minds, how well we examine, understand, and show their experience and circumstances, or circumstances they want to know more about. They want to be challenged. If they didn't want to learn something true about themselves and the world they'd stay home and watch the news.

I think we have to turn to our actual supporters - our audiences - the ones who actually like us without getting a write-off - this is the community we have to look to. We have to show them that we are also part of their community. We have to remind them of that, and not just with a thank you card stapled to the next donation request.

If we want them to increase their support of us, and for them to demand that their tax dollars continue to help us tell their stories, then we have to be an important part of their lives, and of their home towns.

If we want to reclaim our position as the dramatic town square then we have to claim our home towns as more than dramatic backwaters. San Francisco used to be a theatrical Mecca. People came from all over the world to work here, to create here. This wasn't simply a place for a show to go before or after it went to New York - San Francisco was the destination. Now too many of our best artists only get recognized and validated as talented when they leave, when they've worked somewhere else. Too many inside and outside the theater community have come to see this city as a bumpkin suburb of the real city of - Broadwayville! Flash, sparkle, sparkle! So - local writers can't get a hearing of a script until it's done in New York, wonderful actors are overlooked in favor of whoever is unemployed in the Big Apple, and oooh! We got a designer from out of town, who is by definition so much better than any of the local yokels!

In the end some Boards and Artistic Directors look like they have a bad case of "Localitis," with a touch of "I can't wait to get a job in New York, where the real talented people are!" Now I'm not saying that any of you think this, but when you give your audience the impression that all the real cool stuff is not from their home town, how are they ever going to see you as a part of their larger community?


Malachy Walsh said...

Great speech. Thanks for posting....

E. Hunter Spreen said...

Hi Malachy:

Am I right? Are you living up in Berkeley now?

Good to hear from you.

Malachy Walsh said...

Oakland. Lake Merritt, actually.

You in the East Bay?

Lindsay Price said...

Focus on the community of those who love theatre, love a story, who want to have their hearts and minds touched - that's a concept! It's said how many don't focus on this stuff...