The Rant, the Whine, and the Pitch
What the rant and the whine have in common is their self-righteous attitude. Exhibit A: Rat Sass. This attitude allows the speaker to pose as victim to something supposedly out of his/her control. Sometimes this mind-set is attained through self-deceit, other times through deliberate hypocrisy or bravura, but usually elements of all are necessary to achieve such a judgmental stance. Of course in order for the rant or whine to find popular acclaim, the content of the message also has to be based in truth. Not so difficult a task. We are all both victims and perpetrators in this system of our own creation.
Our friend Scott Walters has been one of the premiere haranguers against commercialism in theatre. In justifying his need to rant, Scott once compared himself to the Howard Beale character in the movie Network. And no doubt the occasional tirade serves to delineate the Us/Them dichotomy necessary to establish his tribe model.
But Scott has fallen off his game of late. Much like the Howard Beale character at the Network who abandons his populist message, Scott also seems to have dropped his Angry Prophet persona. Instead of fire and brimstone denunciations of the hypocritically exorbitant artistic director salaries at regional theatres, Scott ends up grumbling disjointedly, comparing general managers of a grocery chain to directors of regional theatre.
Scott needs to retrieve his old rant against Nylachi theatre before it becomes a whine.
The Starving Artist is practically a Jungian archetype ingrained in the collective unconscious of many artists working today. So Jaime Green’s turn as the poor theatre worker, along with her whine at producers to lower ticket prices, is lauded by much of the theatrosphere. This Us/Them dichotomy allows an easy self-deceit where all the wrongs occurring in theatre culture are perpetrated by someone other than Us; i.e., those in control of “the system.”
Jaime has set the affordable ticket price at $20. But as Matt Freeman points out in the comments, productions by Independent Theatre under the Showcase Code cannot charge more than $20, so what Jaime is really whining about is not being able to afford a certain kind of commercial or popular theatre. Instead, Jaimie could support the theatre that does charge the ticket price she considers fair. There is no lack of such theatre. Last year there were over 1,000 Showcase Code productions. Jaimie could also become active in all the discussions and meetings around town concerning the Showcase Code reform where most of the producers organizing those discussions are pushing for an increased ticket price.
Of course the most active and productive action Jaime could take to remedy high ticket prices is what so many of her peers are already doing on the backs of their day jobs. If you really want theatre with affordable tickets, produce it! However, the nonprofit theatre producer that Jaime works for is the Off-Broadway Manhattan Class Company and when visiting their web site and seeing the $59 ticket price for their current production, I was going to suggest that Jaime stuff her blog post into the suggestion box at her workplace. But then I noticed that MCC is offering a $20 discounted price, “available to ticket buyers under 30, two hours prior to curtain.” This new information prompted me to reread Jaime’s post and its opening paragraph again.
Earlier this week I took a lunch break from work (lunch breaks not being a common thing, for some reason, in nonprofit theatre offices) and walked a few blocks west to another theatre’s box office. At the box office I handed over $40 (well, that’s what the debit card I handed over was charged) for two tickets to an off-Broadway show, which usually cost at least $60 each.
Could Jaime’s blog post be less a whine and more an advertisement for the ticket price policy of the Off-Broadway quasi-commercial theatre for which she is working and supporting?
The MCC box office and whatever box office that is a “few blocks west” are each acting as much like two competing neighborhood filling stations in a gas price war as theatres. Jaime claims that “the reliance on ticket sales for income cripples artistic risk-taking, but that’s another thing entirely.” I think not. Theatres like MCC earning half of its 2 million dollar yearly revenue from its million dollar box office are likely also only earning half claim to their status and mission as “nonprofit” and “charitable” corporation. Star casting, mediocre but popular scripts, and many other common denominator choices necessary to develop a sellable product are all hand in glove reasons why theatre is losing its citizenship in the community it was meant to serve. Theatre should be a process of transforming community into audience and then back into community again. What theatre is becoming instead, in many instances what it has already become, is competitor for fandom and the enterntainment dollar.
I hope the recent scrutiny in the theatrosphere of nonprofit theatres continues. Unlike private corporations, the revenue and expenditures of these are part of public record. That’s because it is not the executive and artistic director with six figure salaries who owns these theatres. And it’s not the marketing director, or even the board of directors, who own these theatres. The public itself owns these theatres.
There should be nothing unseemly in examining the salaries of our public servants. As citizens we need to make value judgments on our nonprofit theatre workers similarly to how we make judgments on our police, sanitation, and public park workers.
No doubt that as assistant literary manager of MCC, Jaime can claim partial title to the Starving Artist archetype from which she whines. But the theatre position of literary manager she hopes to inherit one day through her youthful internship has a salary of $54,000. Nothing dishonest in such a salary; it’s almost equal to $57,000 salary of the city sanitation worker, and $7,000 more than the actor lucky enough to find 52 weeks work in a year under the top tier Off-Broadway contract.
Scott is pitching his tribe model, Jaime is pitching her Off-Broadway model. And I’m somewhere in the middle of the two, ranting and whining about the disrespect “the system” affords my independent theatre. But Us and Them are all sitting at the same big American Dream table at dinner. And the split is not between us, but down the middle of each of us. We’re all hoping for our piece of the pie for desert.
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