On Localism

I had a suscpision that my quoted conversation with my friend Lindsay Jones might cause a bit of a ruckus among this strange online theater community that we have — Lindsay thought so too.

While Scott Walters and friends quibble about (the idea of the) generalist versus (the idea of the) specialist*, I’d like to make sure that the gist of my original post comes through loud and clear: maintaining the current paradigm of the nationally (or internationally) itinerate theater artist is NOT sustainable. And although I used one at the end of the sentence, I’ll spell it out too: Period.

I certainly don’t want to discount Scott’s point. It is, as I’ve noted before, a solid one that I think my own life in the theater bears out. But at the same time, I think it is fruitless to try to dissuade an artist of any kind from focusing on what they have found to be their core talent — for that matter, the thing, the act, that they believe sustains them as a creative person. Can we even attempt to rationalize an artist’s impulses? I don’t think so, but perhaps we can convince some of them — most? — to ply their trades locally, within the region that they want to live, rather than prolonging the notion that they must travel across the country (and the world) to make ends meet.

The thing is, I still believe that keeping things local is more important than dictating how a theater, or a gathering of artists, divides labor. Let them do so as they do now, with one crucial exception: use local talent.

* Original post on Theatre Ideas


5 Responses to “On Localism”

  1. August 29, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    Quibble? Really? Quibble?

    OK, fine. But in response to your statement: “I think it is fruitless to try to dissuade an artist of any kind from focusing on what they have found to be their core talent,” i would respectfully…quibble. This whole paragraph reflects the “art is about personal self-expression, which is a mysterious power” approach to the arts that I reject as a primary justification for anything in the arts. It is time for artists to get beyond making a fetish out of a single-minded commitment to their personal “vision,” and realize that they are citizens of this world and of their community.

    I agree totally with your last paragraph. But I suggest that you and your friend take a look at some 990s and figure out what such specialization requires. (Hint: it has something to do with a constant reliance on grant money from large corporations.)

    It’s all connected; it all needs to be treated as being connected. Green theatre is part of a larger theatrical ecosystem, and you can’t isolate certain aspects and pretend the rest don’t exist.

  2. August 29, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    And I would also question you as to why you would provide a link not to my actual post, but to somebody else’s post pointing to it.

  3. August 29, 2008 at 1:39 pm

    Yikes. I apologize for not following blogging etiquette. I’m not good at that, and I admit it.

    It’s funny, I just got through reading your contributions to the 37 Days blog, and then I see these comments appear in my mailbox…two sides of Scott Walters.

    Listen, I agree that it is all connected, I’m just not convinced that there needs to be such an absolute approach to the idea of the generalist. And, I happen to believe that specialization will continue to occur whether we like it or not, and there is a way that it can happen while attaining a higher level of sustainability.

    Furthermore, I’m not about to start arguing about what the “primary justification” for art is. That’s not for anyone to decide, and I think any artist of any kind should question anyone who tries to put limitations on what their justifications are. They are what they are, and they’re entitled to them, even if I think they suck. That’s what art is.

    By the way, for those of you reading this blog who don’t already know it, you can find Scott Walters blog at theatreideas.blogspot.com. I’ve put an endnote in this entry to lead you to the post he is speaking of.

  4. September 2, 2008 at 9:41 am

    No, Mike, not two sides of Scott Walters. The same Scott Walters — the one who cares. The one that faces young people every day who have talent and intelligence, and who need to see an alternative to the status quo, and who have those hopes drowned by the lack of innovative thinking in the theatre profession. When an alternative is referred to a “quibbling,” when you support the status quo by sighing that specialization “will continue to occur whether we like it or not” (and the same could be said to dismiss your own attempts to make theatre better), when your friend says a different model already exists in amateur community theatre — well, I can’t take that lying down, Mike, and I am surprised to find you here promoting a idealistic agenda as far as environmentalism while simultaneously being unwilling to step beyond the norm in any other area. Yeah, sometimes I have to bear my teeth in order to be heard in this conservative, Panglossian “best of all possible theatre worlds” atmosphere, but I am willing to do that because I care, and I am surprised to find you, of all people, being the one to dismiss that. I will address your friend’s latest email some other time.

  5. September 2, 2008 at 6:50 pm

    I’m not dismissing anything, Scott.

    My argument, my point, is clear and I stand by it: I’m not going to try to dictate something that needs to be as malleable, adaptable, and fluid as the division of labor in theater. That’s all. It’s simple, really. I mean, I am the one who posted a long entry about the pure unsustainability of the traveling theater artist, aren’t I? I stand by that as well. I’m just not willing to go as far as you want me to — claiming that the only way forward is to promote every theater artist as a generalist.

    Also, my comment regarding the two sides of Scott Walters had to do with reading the very touching posts from you and your wife on 37 Days, and then immediately seeing your aggressive comments. That’s all.

    Furthermore, I don’t want to be divisive. I think that while there is something to be said for what you call the bearing of teeth, it’s overdone — especially on blogs. I want to help people move forward in new ways, not beat them over the head with the notion that there is only one way to fix the myriad of problems facing theater in this country. I’m sorry if that does not jive with your vision of things.

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