The Playgoer: Jane Alexander Represents

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Monday, March 09, 2009

Jane Alexander Represents

Illustrious stage actress and former NEA chair Jane Alexander gives an interview to (hmm, why not on the air, CNN?) on the state of arts funding in the Obama age.

Make that the Obama vs Jindal age.

Here's a good theatre-specific excerpt:

CNN: How did you personally get involved in this cause?

Alexander: As an actress who spent most of my career in nonprofit theaters, They began with the seed of an NEA grant back in the late 60s, most of them. Today we have about 450 nonprofit theaters across the United States. Back in 1965, when the NEA was founded, there were only about 23 of them.

CNN: Your forthcoming play -- is that being done for a nonprofit theater?

Alexander: Yes. It's another nonprofit called Primary Stages in New York City, a small theater. What people don't quite understand about theaters is that they never increase their size. They're bound by the number of seats within a given theater, and meanwhile there's inflation and the costs rise. So currently most theaters can never make more than 50 percent of their income from ticket sales. The rest has to be raised.

CNN: How's the company doing?

Alexander: It had a good play last year, "Dividing the Estate," by Horton Foote, which got a lot of attention but I don't think it made back its nut on Broadway. It transferred from the nonprofit to a commercial venue on Broadway. ...

In the film business, independent films are considered nonprofit in many instances. It's interesting to see that an independent won the Academy Award. Of course it was distributed by a major studio.

"Slumdog Millionaire" started off as an independent. It did extraordinarily well. ... Many of the commercial arts are fed by the nonprofit arts. And that's another thing most people don't fully understand. Where do you think the Tom Hanks, the Cate Blanchetts of the world come from? They come from small venues that are independent and are nonprofit usually and then they move into the mainstream.

CNN: What's your attitude about the future, under the Obama administration. Do you think there's reason for hope about the arts, or despair?

Alexander: I think there's reason for great hope. President Obama has said repeatedly and he's said it for a couple of years now, that he thinks arts education is vital for children of all ages, starting right away. We have the arts in nursery school anyway, but he believes in institutionalizing the arts so it's part of the curriculum for every child in America. ...

Everybody in all walks of life know people who are out of work presently or are about to be out of work. And the same is true for artists. I know so many artists -- for example visual artists, the gallery has closed or it's cut back. Theaters that are no longer going to do productions with more than five actors. And so on. So I know a lot of people out of work: costume designers, makeup people. And let's not forget all the ancillary jobs from having an arts organization in your neighborhood. That includes restaurants, taxicabs, whatever.

CNN: Gov. Jindal said he didn't think the arts money should be part of the economic stimulus plan.

Alexander: Well what he doesn't understand is that $50 million goes directly ... as a grant to organizations which employ people. It's quick and it's a system that works beautifully and it's done within a year.

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