On the Other Side
I am a conservative person by nature. My gut impulse is for status quo reinforcing rule following. I have problems with conflict.
During undergrad my friend Matt would suggest ways to subvert entryways into the theatre world and I would nudge him toward the front door, because honestly they seemed wide open.
Of course they aren’t wide open. The doors to theatre institutions aren’t wide open even if you are at the pinnacle of privilege, which I am, so I can’t imagine deciding to assay that climb from anywhere else on the privilege ladder. For a long time my gut said that the doors would open if those inside only knew the value of those trying to get in. In my naivete, born of of my privileged world-view, I still believed in a version of meritocracy.
But there is little in the world capable of motivating those who have something to give it up. And there is almost nothing you can do to convince anyone that what they have isn’t a consumable resource. Those who have a position in institutional theatre transform into doctrinaire capitalists about their position and (the resources of) their institution regardless of their approach to art or their humanity elsewise. They’ll explain how meritocracy got them where they are, and well… it’s just too bad about the rest of… this.
I remained naive and through the run of #2amt I pushed hard for the idea of verticality – of better resourced institutions reaching down the ladder to grow new voices and those companies reaching down ladder until you got to the granular individual level – again believing in system and meritocracy. I think that in a vacuum I’m right. That system is lovely and would work like a dream to surface great talent at every level of resources and make the centralized institutional theatre ecosystem less hegemonic.
It won’t work. System by its nature replicates system, but before a system replicates it hoards resources and it protects itself.
I used to believe that folks were, like me, trying to make the best art possible at every turn and that they’d be willing to do that sacrificially because: Art.
Lord, even saying that out loud seems stupid now. I will never have a job in institutional theatre because I’ve never had a job in institutional theatre. Skills aren’t primary. Capacity isn’t primary. Value isn’t primary. “Institutional theatre” is a phrase that is sorted properly. “Institution” first, “theatre” second. My failure in the theatre world is only half a reflection on my theatre ability. My lack of institutional experience is a real detriment.
But here’s the thing: I’ve never been interested in making institutional theatre. I’m interested in connecting with people – as makers or audience. I’m not personally invested in scaling up. I would love to be paid to connect, sure – And maybe the world should work in such a way that someone of my abilities would be on the other side of the gate.
But it doesn’t.