Thursday, July 19, 2007

Theatre Tribes - Can It Work?

Scott Walters has been posting quite a bit about tribal community in the arts, and some have protested that the type of tribalism he is talking about cannot withstand reality.

And Leonard Jacobs, at his Clyde Fitch Report, had an interesting exchange with an off-broadway producer on his site, who said:

More to the point, you seem to be pretending to have forgotten that OOB was always a place of artists striving for something more, some step up the food chain. We all want to be Torchsong Trilogy and start out as three small plays in a basement somewhere (OOB), consolidate into a an OB, pick up and Obie, and then move on to B'way..

To both the OOB producer who is thinks we are all looking to score on Broadway and those who think tribes can't stand the test of time, I would say, let's look at the Annex Theatre, profiled by Josh Logenbaugh in the Seattle Weekly:

Annex's longevity is somewhat bewildering. Theater survival is usually a result of companies balancing new or experimental works with classics and crowd pleasers, building subscription-style loyalty with their audiences, and having artistic directors who boldly choose plays that set the aesthetic direction of the group. Annex has blithely ignored all such wisdom.


The most radically different aspect to Annex's success is how they choose plays: via a long company meeting which is affectionately known as "The Evening of Long Knives." Annex members read proposals, attend pitch sessions, and then involve themselves in a frenzy of artistic horse-trading, politicking, and arguing until consensus is reached. This sounds like the unholy love child of a socialist commune and a college-dorm bull session, but it works, and it has become a core value of the company.


Annex has survived this long not because of grants, sound business
decisions, or even exemplary work. They've survived because they know who and what they are: a scrappy group of misfits who aren't afraid to fight with each other when and where it's necessary. Long may they scrap.

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