Sunday, April 20, 2008

Requiem For the Regionals, part one

My friend and former director Warner Crocker, who runs Wayside Theatre out in Virginia, also runs a fun and interesting blog. He brought this topic to his readers attention, though I've been aware of the issue ever since becoming an actor back during the Roosevelt administration. There is a one-man show running in New York called How Theater Failed America, which deals, at least in part, with the collapse of the regional theatre movement in this country.

Well, "regional theaters" have certainly not collapsed, but they seem to have failed their regional actors. As pointed out in the referenced article, regionals around the country have abandoned the original concept of maintaining a permanent company of actors to perform their repertory. Instead, huge amounts of money are spent on luxurious new theatres (or massive upgrades of existing theatres, which Arena Stage is doing right now), while salaries and benefits for the artists who occasionally inhabit these swanky digs have remained penurious.

Again referencing the New York Times article, most major theaters confronted with this reversal cite diminished funding as their reason for discontinuing the practice of the resident company. Yet, as Mike Daisey, the star and creator of How Theater Failed America, points out, these theatres have huge marketing and development departments, peopled with employees well-paid and well-insured. Actors' salaries, (on the rare occasions actors have work) remain at union-mandated minimums.

The response to this show from the artistic directors who have examined it is predictable enough. In a nutshell, the actor has no idea what it takes to run a regional theatre, and has no business lecturing administrators on how to run their organizations.

Nicholas Martin, a high-profile director who has lately been running the Huntington Theater in Boston, sniffed, "Go run a theater and get back to me."

At the end of my current gig, I will be back on unemployment, at about 200 bucks a week. I have a request for Mr. Martin:

"Come be a regional theatre actor and get back to me."

Actor/Beggars: is there a difference?