When I graduate I want to start a theater company.
When I graduate I wanted to start a theater company?
When I look around at theater around me and when I am with a group of peers riffing on our ideas of a dream theatrical experience I can hardly stop myself from bouncing off the walls with ideas for my very own company.
I dream of an ensemble based group of theater artists who come together under one roof: writers, directors, actors, who create and produce their own work. Who focus on the current social zeitgeist. Who strive for diversity and a global perspective. Who love each other and what they do.
Then yesterday I came across an article by Rebecca Novick called –
“Please Don’t Start a Theater Company!”
I thought well, okay then. And I began to read.
Turns out she’s right. To the best of my knowledge, post-grad theater artists are not ready to start their own company. I obviously knew I had to learn a few things before I dived right in but reading this article I realized just how much I have to learn. For starters, an understanding of the non-profit theater system currently in place and then an ability to recognize that this may not be the best model for an effective company and figure out other viable solutions.
Novick claims that the key to a successful company is not in the structure but in the artists. If the focus is on the people and everything else is second (a lofty, yet attainable goal) then the work, and the artists, will benefit greatly. Sustain the people, not the structure.
I wanted to make a theater company that would allow me to do what I wanted to do, with people I wanted to do it with. Reading this article I realize that I need to look into all different areas of funding and producing options to find a fit, or create a new way of working, that suits the needs of whoever I’m working with.
Equally this made me think about the importance of strong collaborators. Working in such a tight nit educational community I feel in a bit of a Catch-22. On the one had I’m forming lifelong bonds with artists who I love and respect that I know will bear fruitful professional collaborations. On the other hand, I want to find more opportunities to reach outside of my immediate circle and connect with more young, engaging, artists who are passionate about the same things I am.
All just takes a little time, a lot of thought, the will to preserver. I still want that company. I still want those people. I will wait. I will learn. I will be smart. To find a form that works for my needs, and the needs of my collaborators.
So don’t start a theater company.
Perhaps it’s the interpretation and/or defensiveness of my naivete, but I think the crux of Novik’s argument rests on the idea that every new theater company is just like hers. She suggests that instead of a company, artists come and go, collaborate, work flexibly and allow a constant influx of new collaborators as old ones find other interests.
Can we not have those things under the umbrella structure of a “theater company”? Why does a company have to be defined by its members? You could start a company right out of college with 4 of our peers, then, after two years, have two of them get married and move away. But at that point, you’ve been working in your area for two years and have probably met some people you love working with. So you could add two (or 3 or 4!) of them to become (semi)permanent company members. Have visiting directors come through, and hold open rehearsals for your shows. Have, perhaps a small group of leaders, as opposed to one artistic director, and allow your “company” to be defined by its funding, space, and mission–not it’s members.
Novik also makes the point that many young artists don’t have the business mind to start a company. This is very true! She is, however, likely speaking of people that she knows personally. She might not know a BU student. As Theatre Arts majors, we have a unique requirement to take management and leadership courses. We’re not your average “Drama Major”–we actually will come out of college with some understanding of the business. Not experience, not expertise, but a place to start.
So, yes, of course we have a lot to learn. But we can’t let seasoned professionals like Novik scare us out of bursting into the professional world with fanfare and excitement and fresh new energy. We have to be responsible with our livelihoods, but that doesn’t mean we have to tip-toe quietly into our artistic careers. It’s not that Novik isn’t right, but she’s certainly not exclusively right. So take her words (and mine) with a grain of salt!
And maybe start a theater company or maybe not.
But whatever you do, keep your Laura Detwiler wits and smiles and excitement about you (the world is better for them!).
Oh yes I do agree with you. Im not taking her words as law. reading that article just got me excited about all the things i still have to learn and experiment and fail and succeed. For me it was about understanding the importance of new ways of thinking about theatre companies and modes of collaboration.
And about BU student having more production experience, I’m so aware and excited about that. It’s one of the things I’m looking forward to most. Where I am now in my studies reading this article made me want to put attention to thinking about how I could sustain a company of my own devises taking into account what models are working right now.
and I’m definitely excited and not planning to tiptoe, simply want to explore and be educated about finding new solutions that not only work for me, but maybe could work as a model for other upstarts.
This article interests me as a piece of writing because it subverted my expectation that it would be a blame-ful piece… it actually has an inescapable pragmatism about it that is really important for budding artists to come up against.
I think the best part about the article is that its purpose is to challenging the upcoming artistic community to envision something other than the standard non-profit model. Is this not an ingenuity to strive for? I don’t think her thesis is that you should not create a theatre company, but instead that the non-profit regional theatre system is flawed, and that often students accept it as the only available model for creating their work.
Ellen, I think the excitement and fanfare that you mention are exactly the essential tools that our generation of theatre-makers must arm ourselves with. Part of our work is to figure out how to create a system that we can operate in, as opposed to trying to operate in a system that can dampen the fire of an artist simply because so much is weighed down by practical matters.
I certainly think we young artists have what it takes to create new, stronger, better pathways for ourselves as artists so that we can more effectively change the world.
Yay theatre indeed.