The Playgoer: Making the Sausage

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Saturday, May 06, 2006

Making the Sausage

Jesse McKinley has a pretty good piece in tomorrow's Arts & Liesure (online now) giving a glimpse of the fundraising process at the big New York nonprofit theatres--especially the "up close and personal" sessions with artists that have become de rigeur.

I guess it's what you have to do when 26% of your income comes from "contributions"--and only 1% (yes, one) is "public." Then again, Roundabout's budget is $35 mil. So do the math.

The focus of the story is how artists have graciously gotten involved, giving a lot of face time and letting the money in on "the process."

"There's nothing like Christopher Plummer coming to someone's house and saying Roundabout is the answer to the national theater," said Jeffory Lawson, the company's director of development. "That's powerful."
Reading of all the time Plummer, Alan Cumming, and Stephen Sondheim are just happy to spend with the fattest of the fat cats--yes, all for the work to go on, I know--it can't not escape me that that's time not potentially spent with students and/or younger artists. Which would be part of what a real national theatre would be doing.

7 comments:

blogless joe said...

my favorite lines in the article are these:

"But the interaction between art and money is always a somewhat uncomfortable one and often raises issues about whether large nonprofit theaters, loath to offend donors or subscribers (who often are older and more mainstream), are staging only the most risk-adverse of shows. Mr. Haimes, whose company has heard that criticism, rejects the notion that donors have any direct influence on the company's artistic personnel. 'They're not in it to tell them what to do,' he said."

i must concur. Pajama Game is a play that speaks most deeply to our times. (or is it to the Times?)

Damien said...

I'll probably get flamed for this, but the idea of a national theater in the United States as an ideal or a panacea just seems, at this point, to have outlived its usefulness. If we had a national (which I take to mean fully federally funded) theatre, here's what I think would happen: After long and tedious debate, they'd probably agree to base it in New York, and they'd come up with some bipartisan commission that mandated a mix of "American classics" and new work and lots of stuff for students (like that isn't available in New York already). There'd be some expensive tickets (and subscriptions), and a set of cheap tickets reserved for each performance because "theater is for everybody!" Republicans would urge corporate underwriting and probably get it pushed through.

Some time around 2013, they would finally launch it, stick it in some horrifyingly wrong venue (I'm thinking Lincoln Center's State Theatre). And then....we'd all have to sit through unbelievably tedious revivals of The Skin of Our Teeth and Ah, Wilderness!: every time something gay, political, minoritarian, profane, nude, bloody or potentially offensive came up, there'd be a lot of hand-wringing, and every single time Republicans came into power, the theater's very existence would be put back on the table with the argument "Why should my tax dollars pay for....." and so on. Either that, or the "national" theater would be some raggedy, third-rate touring company boring people in the other 49 states with bad productions. And nobody good would take the gig as artistic director, because America isn't England, and here and under the above circumstances, why should they?

I might be exaggerating, but I don't believe by much.

Anonymous said...

There is nothing as effective as Christopher Plummer coming to your house and saying, "The answer to a National Theatre that George W. Bush himself would approve of is the Roundabout Theatre."

PeonInChief said...

And it will come to pass that one of these donors will decide that, having been to any number of these "meet the set designer" evenings, that s/he can become the director of the theater. And the board will agree.

The Playgoer said...

I actually agree with Damien's pessimism on how a National Theatre proposal would actually play out in NYC. I would only add the inevitable "resentment factor" from the other nonprofits who would fear their turf usurped and their grants & donations siphoned. Roundabout and MTC would simply outbid for the talent, leaving the new "National" a venue for the young & hungry, like The Acting Company. (Hm, then again, maybe that's a good idea?)

I argued my case against the cureall idea of a US National theatre here last year, and I still stand by those arguments. But again, my main point is--as Damien's seems to be--the feasibilty in the environment we now have. My invoking of the model on this occasion, though, is juts to remind us how sad Chris Plummer's words are if the ROundabout is indeed the best we have.

Then again, I'm sure the Royal National in London, and the other European State theatres all depend on private donations more than they'd like as well, no?

The Playgoer said...

Regarding Haimes's official denial of any undue donor influence on the art...

No kidding that's his position, right? And, hell, take him at his word, fine.

But anyone familiar with the old days of the Broadway "backers" knows that once you let "the money" in on rehearsals, it's only a matter of time before someone gets a "bright idea" of their own. (From a well-meaning "concept" to bluntly demanding their nephew be hired.) And only a little more time before they start making their money contingent upon it.

I'm glad Haimes seems determined to not negotiate with money this way. But who's to say all Artistic Directors will always remaion that principled.

freespeechlover said...

national theater does not make sense to me in a country as large or heterogeneous as the u.s. nonetheless there should be more federal money for the arts, theater, culture in general and sans strings attached. i have to agree with the images thrown out here as to what it would probably mean in the current "context," and no, I don't mean, let's here from one side and then the other.