Devoted and Disgruntled

This will be very short, because I want to record the basic flavor and design of this event while it’s still fresh in my mind, but we do have one more day of it, and I don’t want to try to digest it entirely without having experienced the entire thing.

About two hundred of us met in a giant circle and, after some introductions, we were offered the chance to host a discussion group on any topic we want. It really is that simple, the thing is completely user-controlled and utterly up to the theater artists who’ve gathered to decide what is important to them. One by one, people started trickling to the center of the circle and then announced their topics.

Of course, many things were like, “Finding a permanent home for our theater in New York” and “How do MFAs get out of debt” and “Social Media, Does Twitter Do Anything?”… but there were some very cool and weird small side discussions. One guy wrote “Why didn’t anyone in this room come to my last show, and how can I change that?” and a good friend of mine was prescient enough to host “How can we continue D&D; in NYC in the future?”, before we had even decided if we liked it or not.

I began the day with my eyes stuck in a permanent roll. I’ve spent a lot of time talking to people about what the problems are with the independent and commercial theater scenes in New York, and I feel like I already know what the answers are. Basically, two things –

1) Support an individual artist’s voice and vision, whether it be a solo performer, a director or a playwright. Basically, give an evening over to either one voice, or, at maximum, two voices (since every play or performer needs direction) and let that story speak for itself.

2) Go see shows. Even if you think they’ll be bad. Especially if you think they’ll be bad. Try to figure out what you like about them, not what you hate about them.

If we had these two tenets as the focus of the independent theater scene, we’d be fine.

But what is blowing my mind about the Devoted and Disgruntled symposia is that so many of us have so many of the same problems. The larger theaters are struggling with the exact same thing that the smaller theaters are struggling with, but on a far bigger scale. The people who run institutions are in a far worse place than we are as independent theater producers.

Yes, they have more money, but they also have more people who want it, and the people who are already getting it are terrified of losing it, and they want more of it. In other words, to quote the old saying, they simply have more problems.

I talked and talked and talked. I listened to a hundred different people, I ran from group to group. And always in the back of my head was Nosedive and Flux and Gideon. I can’t tell you how many times I mentioned the Vampire Cowboys. I have been saying for years that there’s nothing wrong with the independent theater community that can’t be fixed with what is right, but this meeting is convincing me that we’re actually on our way. To say it was inspiring is an understatement, we simply need to continue to put one foot in front of the other, modify our expectations, understand what “success” is and be patient.

At the end of the day, we gathered back in a circle and the mic was left for anyone to say anything they like. These situations, particularly in a group of artists, are built to make you cringe, but one of the first things that anyone said was , “I just want to thank everyone for the gentleness of the day. I’m reminded that my theater life, in rehearsals and in meetings, can actually be this gentle and respectful”. That was my experience exactly.