Below is taken from the introduction to the book I’m working on.
When I was writing my former blog, Theatre Ideas, during the end of the Aughts (when the theater blogosphere was a bloody, bloody place), I often encountered the following challenge when I proposed the apparently Crazy AF Idea that another path to a theater career just might be imaginable. Some exasperated theater person would demand, well, if you’re so smart, why don’t you go out and do it yourself? (Or alternatively, if you haven’t already done this yourself, how dare you write about these topics until you have?)
And the reason is simple: that’s not where my talents lay.
Look, I’m a theater historian. My joy comes from reading about theaters and theater people of the past, and figuring out what they have to teach us today. And the more I read, the more useable stuff I see! Suffice to say, I don’t subscribe to the postmodern idea that anything in the past is either irrelevant because things are different today, or corrupt because Those People didn’t share our 21st-century oh-so-enlightened values. And as I said previously, I don’t believe TINA or that we are living in the best of all possible theater worlds. I think there’s forgotten treasures back there in the past, especially in the artists whose stories have fallen out of the contemporary narrative. (For instance, it wasn’t until very late in my career that I encountered the Circle Stock approach I described in an earlier post, but once I did I was fascinated.)
I also—and this is where things get weird, I admit—I also kind of like reading books about, well, Entrepreneurship. I think there are a lot of ideas in books about start-ups that might be transferable to a theater context. But you have to be willing to wade through a lot of inside baseball stories in these books, so understandably they’re not often on the reading lists of theater people.
I’m fortunate, because most theater people think I’m totally nuts, and most entrepreneurs think theater is totally irrelevant, and so the field is pretty much wide open. (Although people like Linda Essig and Diane Ragsdale have long been doing important work that integrates entrepreneurship and the arts, and there are starting to be arts entrepreneurship programs across the country.)
I’m also retired. So I don’t even have a dog in this fight. I’m not trying to Make a Name for Myself, or Get Promotion to Full Professor, or whatever other nefarious motivations people think up to explain someone who questions the status quo. I have absolutely zero interest in starting a theater myself, as I explained above. And I’m not particularly interested in traveling the country as some kind of consultant. I just want to sit at my desk and brainstorm. Read, write; rinse and repeat.
So if none of the ideas I discover are what you’re looking for, feel free to keep doing what you’re doing or to seek other paths. Otherwise, grab whatever ideas make sense, throw away the ones that don’t! It’s more like a smorgasbord than an instruction manual.
And let’s state this explicitly: there are no guarantees that any of these ideas will work. All I can say is that they worked once, and they might work again today.
I’m committed to sharing some ideas that could to empower you to become an “independent artist.” So what do I mean by “independent”? Think of the Declaration of Independence, in which the Founding Fathers declared themselves free of the control of England. Same thing here: independence means freedom from the control of others.
It is the freedom to control what you do, when you do it, and where you do it without asking permission of an external authority. It is the freedom to be in charge of your artistic development–the projects and experiments you need to do to expand your skills and imagination and fully embody your vision.
You’re in charge. You’re the boss. Which is simulatenously exciting and scary as hell.
It takes entrepreneurial thinking. What a term: entrepreneurship. (Although if you say it with a bad French accent, it is more fun.) Twentieth-century economist Joseph Schumpeter referred to entrepreneurship as a “gale of creative destruction,” a process “that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure [of an industry] from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.” That sounds way more fun. I like the idea of being a gale of creative destruction.
You might think of this as going off the grid artistically, as it were. Self-reliance. Survivalism.
If that appeals, then keep reading. And if not, you’re in luck–there are many more people writing about more traditional approaches to today’s theater.