HowlRound posted a fantastic article this week by Meg Taintor, the Founding Artistic Director for Whistler in the Dark Theatre, a small Boston theatre that elected to close last year, deciding the end the ensemble while they were strong instead of drawing out a long period of instability and being forced to close eventually. Whistler in the Dark decided to throw a wake for their theatre company, a celebration of the theatrical life lived instead of mourning the loss.
This past week in class, we have spoken a lot about the Regional Theatre; institutions that have been around in some cases for a decade that are clinging to dear life due to lack of funding, declining ticket sales and the overwhelming cost of putting on a show. Every time a theatre company closes, there is a sense of mourning and dread. Everyone thinks about the people now looking for new jobs, or ominous tea leaves that have just been delayed. Inevitable questions are asked by theatre companies all around them. The biggest one being “How much longer do we have?”.
For a while I shared these sentiments, but in recent weeks the feeling has shifted to something new. It is a difficult feeling, a mix of melancholy and excitement. Because there is now a whole new crop of people who can start over.
Starting a theatre company is not a small feat, however, if you have recently been apart of one, there is at least some form of knowledge about what to avoid and what worked well. There is already a foundational idea of what to do and more importantly, what not to do.
Story Time: Once there was a man name James Burbage. James was an actor and theatrical entrepenur in the time of Elizabethan Theatre. He is credited for building a theatre, aptly named The Theatre as a home for his theatre troupe Leicester’s Men. Over the years, the Leicester’s Men dissolved and a new group with James’ son Richard as a leader took residency. The troupe was known as Lord Chamberlain’s Men. However, the land he was leasing where the theatre was owned by a Puritan named Giles Allen, who did not like the thought of a theatre being on his land, and refused to renew the lease. Finding a loophole in the contract, Burbage, his son ,as well as all of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men snuck in under cover of darkness and dismantled the theatre; using the timbers to build a new theatre where a member of the troupe’s plays would flourish. The young playwright was William Shakespeare, and the new theatre was The Globe Theatre. From the wreckage of the old, something new was formed that changed the course of history.
What if instead of mourning the loss of what was we just started over? What if every theatre celebrated their accomplishments before the doors closed and then possible reorganize under a new idea? Realign their mission and start off on a new adventure with wisdom and a clean slate? The work of the past is still there, as well as the lessons learned. It is all about perspective. Who knows the endless possibilities that could be if we weren’t afraid to let go of the past, and trek fearlessly into the future?