The Playgoer: Can "The Road" save The Regionals?

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Can "The Road" save The Regionals?

Philly Inquirer tells how the Walnut Street Theatre has had some recent success with an old fashioned, honest-to-god tour of one of their productions.  No, not just a co-production with another regional theatre, as is common today.

[Walnut's] producing artistic director Bernard Havard met with Marc Baylin, head of an Baylin Artists Management in Doylestown, which represents many touring enterprises in music and dance, including Philadanco. They decided that The Glass Menagerie - which the Walnut would present on its intimate third-floor stage to an 80-seat audience - would recoup its preproduction costs in Philadelphia and could then go on the road. They also received backing from Pennsylvania Performing Arts on Tour, supported by foundations and some state money to give funding to venues seeking to book tours.

Baylin scheduled six weeks of touring, much of it one- or two-night stands, that took Menagerie to small theaters run by colleges and arts centers. Nashville was the largest city it visited. The tour cost the Walnut a little more than $30,000, says its managing director, Mark D. Sylvester, and the theater hopes to add $50,000 to its cash stream when all accounts are settled. 
This reminds me of a model I've been daydreaming about in the wake of the decline of our National Endowment for the Arts. I believe the best hope for public/civic arts funding is at the state level. (Well, certain states, at least, in these days of budget-slashing.) And one way a strong regional theatre could bolster their case to a governor is to take on the mantle of truly being a "State" Theatre, serving lots of audiences outside of its metropolitan home. So--to take the Walnut example--maybe Walnut could produce year-round at its "permanent" Philadelphia theatre, but also send out touring versions of its productions (perhaps scaled down a notch) all over Pennsylvania? Either during the otherwise dark summer season, or even during the year when the home base has moved onto the next production.

Yes, this wouldn't make sense for some states. And, yes, many states have fine theatre companies operating in multiple cities already.  But, hey, why not two or three "State" theatres--serving different geographic regions. In California, ACT could serve the pacific north, while South Coast Rep tours SoCal.  Or...forget the healthy theatres that are doing fine already and give the State touring grant to little upstarts who are already producing on a lower-budget and could really use the funds?

Anyway, something to think about that could help give not only certain shows, but the artists (especially actors) involved, longer runs on a quasi-state payroll.

1 comment:

Tom Shea said...

I like the idea of touring statewide, but since I'm feeling punitive these days, I'd like to rake a little muck and have this empirical touring company welcome those stops along the way loudly, and also to loudly criticize those communities that don't want it. I've long wanted an excuse to keep public art from the Pat Robertsons and Sean Hannitys of this country who actively say they don't want it. So:

"Let it be known, as we pass through Lowville, NY, that your town fathers rejected our offer to present Glengarry Glen Ross in the Elks Hall, and that we will be performing instead in Saratoga Springs. Pity, really."