Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Corporate theater culture

The theater blogs today are all about Outrageous Fortune, a study of the not-for-profit American theater scene. Isaac at Parabasis & several others are blogging their way through the book. And I've been inspired by their comments, though I haven't read the book (yet). In one post, Isaac talks about the corporatization of not-for-profit theater. He quotes OF:
"You can't have an artistic system be corporate, because all the corporation is about is making money.  The current system neither makes money nor produces good art, so we're in a terrible bind."
Later Isaac wonders "if the problem is simply that a lot of ADs are bad at their jobs, but the structure is basically sound."

Now this is something I've thought about a lot. I believe that it's a huge problem across the arts: American culture has adopted the corporation as the model for human organization.* Private & public funding encourages this paradigm by requiring various features of the corporate structure (like a board of directors) in order to receive money.

I worked for 3 years at a large NYC theater company with a corporate structure. Despite being on the artistic staff, I felt as if I had no stake in the work onstage. The company produced widgets. Even in the commissioning of plays (which I was heavily involved in), conformity to corporate habit was enforced through a process of pitch submission & panel evaluation.

How do these theaters work? A board of directors looks at the theater's "numbers" (attendance, budget, awards & prizes) to evaluate whether they're best served by the AD. If he or she fails to meet the board's standards, he or she gets replaced. And so it goes throughout the company's hierarchy.

What's the upshot? It's terribly dehumanizing for employees and it produces insipid work for audiences. And that's contra the goal of art, which is to make all of us, on both sides of the fourth wall, more human and more humane. So, Isaac, no, the corporate structure is fundamentally unsound in this context. A theater company shouldn't be run along corporate lines.


* And not just the arts: as but one example, education, esp. higher education, is run according to the corporate structure--to the system's detriment.

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