Tuesday, November 8, 2011

October Forum Notes (Finally!)

I will confess from the outset that these should not be considered minutes. Our group was small but the conversation intense, and I took few notes, so this recap relies on my ever-feebler memory. I also call on any present to add or correct or edit as necessary.

I also have to say, every time we hold one of these forums, I’m reminded why I do what I do where I do. There are some amazing people in this town, and we can all take pride in the project of telling stories.

But anyway…

We kicked off the meeting reporting on the last forum and the progress of some of the projects launched there. Rob Raas-Bergquist laid out plans for the Community Resource Database, which will catalog lendable and rentable props and costumes and set pieces around the city, and which TPS agreed to host. It is being developed with help from Shane Regan.

Outreach to the big houses was suggested, as they routinely have to scrap entire sets. Consensus that there needs to be administration – nobody wants to wait around for the person that said they wanted your set – and the idea floated that we connect with carpenters, the boots on the ground. Tabled for further discussion.

Beth Raas-Bergquist talked about the committee working on a revival of the Fringe Festival (one of the best moments from August’s forum came when someone talked about organizing a fest revival, and Beth raised her hand to say her recent grad school final project was a business plan to re-launch the festival). They are planning to run a pilot, pulling from business plans by Beth and Jake Groshong and fiscally sponsored by TPS, in October 2012. This project team has suffered attrition. Meaghan Darling volunteered to help on behalf of Annex Theatre, and the idea to recruit a rep from each fringe company was floated and will be pursued.

Introductions by attendees got into our reasons for sitting in a basement in Ballard on a Sunday evening, and came universally to caring, a lot, about what we do.

David Orace Kelly spoke first, presenting ideas gathered initially in a graduate school thesis project and continued ever since – the Theatre Values Project. David shared the results of a multi-year survey of values held across the country by theatre practitioners. The results of the 2010 survey and more can be found at David’s website - http://www.dokmfa.org/. I was personally struck by the idea of the “ethical implications” of the choices we make – I hope it is something we can be more open and reflective about as a community.

Paul Mullin spoke next, and focused on his idea of “whole theatre” - a very holistic, multi-levelled way to think about the creation and consumption of theatre, with an intense localism at its base. He kindly published the full text on his blog.

From there, we riffed and covered a lot of ground, often coming back to the idea of needing new business models, of trying to keep artists working and also surviving. We talked about alternative ways to compensate/support actors, like asking Metro to donate some bus passes to working actors.

In the end, we tried to focus the discussion, as last time, into making a list. The list was to be statements we believe to be true – each proffered and group-edited, seconded and added to the list on consensus.

-       There are ethical implications to the art and the business of theatre.

-       When we make theatre in Seattle, we make theatre for Seattle.

-       Seattle theatre must recognize and operate from its position of strength.

-       Making a living and making art should not be mutually exclusive.

This last point came out of our earlier discussion, but was most eloquently encapsulated by Meaghan Darling, fairly paraphrased as, “Nobody owes me a living, but I want them to not prevent me from making a living.” Big House rehearsal schedules were particularly discussed here, as the now-standard 10-6 rehearsal day precludes keeping a day job, while the economics of theatre (and of course there is much debate here) can’t offer a sustainable salary for that work (and we lamented how many amazing actors have had to leave town or the profession). We all rallied around this idea, because it is very much in the spirit of Seattle Theatre: What’s Next as a whole – it is a statement that holds within it hope and offers compromise, which seem to me essential components of productive dialogue.

At this point, we retired to People’s Pub for libations and deep fried pickles and further plotted to change the world for the better, but was is said at the post-STWN bar session stays in the bar. You’ll have to come next time.

Many thanks to the Raas-Bergquists of Ghost Light Theatricals for hosting. Great venue, and perfect for this forum (couches plus bar in the lobby).  And thanks to the People’s Pub for holding some space for use and offering up a drink discount.

The next two months have too many holidays to try and gather again, but let’s start thinking about February.

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