The Playgoer: more Machado

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Thursday, June 08, 2006

more Machado

Reading Eduardo Machado's speech (and kudos again to Isaac for getting his virtual hands on it) more closely now, I find myself nodding even more enthusiastically in agreement. And unlike the commenter below, I appreciate his refreshing honesty about having to teach for the money since there's no living in running a small theatre and writing plays. Of course, if I were one of his students I might blench a bit. But I'm not.

One important point he makes now seems so obvious, but I confess it had never occurred to me so clearly before: "...ever since the National Endowment got cut down to barely nothing we have had to follow a corporate model. We have to show profit in non-profit. Isn't that ridiculous?" I think we in the arts today are under the impression that the NEA has now been restored to good health and that the "culture wars" there of 15-20 years ago are long behind us. But make no mistake--those fights took their toll. While bills calling for the liquidation of the NEA are no longer routine in Congress, we may have just settled for less instead of really saving the Endowment. And I bet you can trace the increased corporatization of nonprofit boards and board practices to that time. When one of your main sources of steady grant income can't be relied on--and not because you're doing any "naughty" art, but because the NEA simply has less $ to dole out--you start, um, "restrategizing." Ask the older hands at your nonprofit and regional theatres if there was a change circa 1990 in the atmosphere of the place, and you'll see what I mean.

Machado is also right on the money about how this inherent corporate mentality of always "growing" has weighed theatre down and sabotaged its true mission--especially at smaller companies, like Machado's Latino-themed theatre, INTAR.

INTAR doesn't have a body right now. It was given up in the struggle. Because I decided that to raise 8 million dollars to build a theater had nothing to do with survival. A theater with a million dollar budget does not need a 500 thousand dollar flexible floor and it most definitely does not need to be in the basement of a Luxury Condominium. It needs to produce as many plays as it can, and that's it. This simple goal was not well received at the Department of Cultural Affairs. They kept telling me if I hired the right consultants, everything would be fine. I would be able to raise the millions needed for the building. But where to find the funding for productions?

This touches on what I read last week about another "niche" theatre, the Chicago Jewish Theatre, who ended up in a shady looking deficit due to probably needless turbo-fundraising--when they probably just started out as a shack or storefront putting on simply staged plays. Honestly, we need more shacks and storefronts just putting on plays. We don't need zinc-bar lobbies. New writing will never find a consistent home in the theatre if companies have to continue raising millions of dollars to put some on. If smaller companies could just get some thousands to expand their marketing budget to get people to see the good work they're doing, that would go much further for our national cultural health.

But it wouldn't look as nice to the older and/or richer ticket buyers.

Machado's remarks also have to be appreciated in the context of who he gave them to: the Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York (A.R.T./New York), the main service organization for the Off-Broadway community when it comes to fundraising, space, and "management-related technical assistance." So it was quite a pertinent conversation to be had.

Finally, Machado's full remarks on "Rachel Corrie" and New York Theatre Workshop are even more probing and potent than the bit I quoted yesterday. Here's his point in full:

Prejudice and fear is ingrained inside our molecules. But how far will we let it go? Are we afraid of style? Content? Maybe we're just afraid of Conflict. And where is the theater without conflict? If we are not open and brave where are we going? What is non-profit for anyway if not to risk it all. Right?...

Conflict is not supposed to be comfortable. Let's argue. If we don't start arguing we are all going to drown in a sea of complacency worse then when Treplev was heard saying "when in a thousand variations I am served the same thing over and over and over again - then I feel as Maupassant when he fled from the Eiffel tower, which made his brain reel with vulgarity." But I do feel we are on shaky ground. And while I may not have an American passport, I have a greencard, and on this side of the wall, I am afforded the right to protest what I see around me.

No matter how well intentioned and believing in their statements, The New York Theatre workshop showed us how afraid of the audience we truly are. And I find that horrifying and the worst kind of censorship imaginable.

As you know, New York Theatre workshop cancelled a play because members of the
community warned them against it....

I cannot stomach a theater that will shut itself down because they're afraid of an audience's reaction. When the invisible wall is erected directly in front of the stage I have to speak.

Exactly right. At issue in that controversy, still, is the willingness to have controversy. To embrace it and deal with it, rather than run away, hide, delay.

1 comment:

Playgoer said...

The big discussion on this is still over at "Parabasis":