Reading the NEA Tea Leaves

Since Obama’s moving so fast in putting his team together that they’re down to announcing Michelle Obama’s press secretary, I’ve been searching a bit to try and find out who might end up at NEA (the chairmanship opens next month). Caroline Kennedy has been one name knocked about, but for the moment she’s out of the running since she’s expressed interest in Hillary Clinton’s senate seat. About the only other name I’ve run across is Michael Dorf, who used to work with the late Congressman Sidney Yates–a good sign–and who owns part interests in wineries–which, for some weird reason, seems like a good sign too. But who knows?

I’m kind of hoping that Obama will work something like FDR’s WPA for the arts into his economic recovery plan, but that might be the sort of thing some shithead like Sen. Tom Coburn might filibuster as the empire crashes and burns. (There goes my grant, eh?) Right now, paying for symphonies probably isn’t at the head of the list while the State of California is digging under the sofa cushions for pennies.

Other things I found whilst reading the tea leaves were a couple articles saying theatre is again dead. Or at least, the “straight play” (nonmusical) is. (Note to theatres: “Lost Wavelengths” has music in it and is a drama…I’m just sayin’.) This is apparently because blah blah blah subscriber base aging blah blah blah young people not coming blah blah blah small theatres popping up blah blah blah big theatres flailing blah blah blah….

If you been around awhile, you could probably write the rest of the article yourself. I’m going to go way out on a limb here and, drawing on my producing experience, offer a couple modest proposals:

1. Don’t do safe plays. If it doesn’t scare you, then what’s the fucking point, really?

2. Get your audience drunk. Or assume they’re drunk. Or high. Imagine seeing the play for the first time high. In brief: if it blows your mind, it’ll blow theirs…and they’ll come back or recommend it to others.

3. Keep your ticket prices reasonable or at least offer some deals. If you have to jack them up to cover the real estate, maybe you’re the wrong theatre for that real estate. (And I know this goes against everything right and true and American, but, you know: you don’t have to get bigger. Sometimes, small means freedom.)

4. If you’re a theatre that celebrates having an edge, please don’t do the same play everyone else is doing.

5. Do world premieres…you’re going to lose your shirt anyway, so have some fun.

[Note: upon reflection, I decided that the version of this I wrote earlier today was too harsh and judgmental, so I edited it a bit.]

About Steve Patterson

Steve Patterson has written over 50 plays, with works staged in Portland, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Austin, Tampa, and other U.S. cities as well as in Canada and New Zealand. His works include: Waiting on Sean Flynn, Next of Kin, Farmhouse, Malaria, Shelter, Altered States of America, The Continuing Adventures of Mr. Grandamnus, Bluer Than Midnight, Bombardment, Dead of Winter, and Delusion of Darkness. In 2006, his bittersweet Lost Wavelengths was a mainstage selection at Portland Center Stage's JAW/West festival, and, in 2008, won the Oregon Book Award (he also was an OBA finalist in 1992 and 2002). In 1997, he won the inaugural Portland Civic Theatre Guild Fellowship for his play Turquoise and Obsidian. View all posts by Steve Patterson

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