Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Responsibility

Well I've changed my mind... again... about the 4th show this summer.

Programming is tough!

It's the one thing that most "Artistic Directors" (I use that word to describe myself with more than a little trepidation) are very eager NOT to talk about, the process that goes into the selection of material for their seasons. It is among the greatest responsibilities they have, and for many the source of their greatest power and influence. For those who are in the business for power and influence then, (and that's a lot of AD's) it is antithetical that they would ever divulge their "secrets" for picking shows.

Well I've learned that power and influence in the live theatre business is fleeting at best, a mirage at worst, and nearly impossible to attain. It is even undesireable, in most cases, as when you're "Herr Director" everyone expects you to be able to snap your fingers and instantly make their problems go away, problems which may or may not have anything to do with the play you're working on at the moment (I'm talking about things like needy boyfriends, moody teenagers, or the fact that your mother-in-law won't let you borrow her antique mantle clock to use as a prop onstage).

So safe in the knowledge that it will cost me nothing, here's some of the things that go through my head when I pick shows.

1. YOU. Just like Time Magazine, I realize that it's all about YOU. Whether or not I like the show is irrelevant (at least for now) - the question is will YOU, the audience, like the show. More specifically, will enough people like the show well enough to notice and care about the marketing efforts and actually buy a ticket to come and see it. Are there enough of YOU who are members of the company (especially men!) who would actually be able to perform this play? Is there someone who can direct it? What about designing the set, making the costumes? Will one of our theatres hold it? If we don't have the people in the company who can or will do this, can we bring in new people? Bear in mind, they have to be able to work for free, and what if they can't cut it and we have to go further afield again? How deep is the talent pool?

2. Second, yes, it is about me, at least up to a point. Do I like the show at all? Can I stand having my name put next to it? What is it going to do to the image of the company, and will anyone actually notice or even care? If the director, designer and leading actor all quit two weeks before opening night (hey, it's happened before) could I step in and see the project through?

I think the part of the job that most people don't notice is the responsibility factor. It's important to keep things light and fun in rehearsals, especially when you're working with people who don't have a paycheck to keep them motivated. I've found that one of the side effects of this is that sometimes some people do not appreciate the scope of what they have gotten involved in. We have a responsibility to everyone who works on a show, as well as to everyone who purchases a ticket to that show. We have responsibilities to the theatre we have booked that is counting on our rental revenue to stay alive, responsibilities to the media who have a reputation of truthful reporting to uphold, responsibilites to corporate sponsors, the people who buy advertising in the program, the service club running the concession at intermission, the house crew who have volunteered their time to work as ushers. We have a responsibility to everyone who's ever believed in the show and the company. Our responsibility is not to produce "masterpiece theatre." It is not even to produce "good" theatre - let the audience be the judge of what is and is not good theatre - our responsibility is to produce the show, to the best of our ability. Period. It is that simple, but that crucial. We are not the masters of some great machine, we are only one tiny piece, the one piece that if it fails will cause the entire machine to self-destruct.

There have been times, in the history of this company, when we have failed to produce, when I have failed to see to it that we produce, and the machine has been destroyed. We have been hurt, we have hurt many people. For all our successes, for all the times that we have gotten to opening night, however imperfectly, in the face of seemingly impossible odds, for all that I will encourage the celebration of our triumphs, I will never forget our failures, and I will never forget the hardship our failures have caused, because when history is forgotten it is doomed to be repeated.

So on that note, I have a responsibility to get back to rehearsals.

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