It may be worth stepping outside the institutional models for theatre in America for a moment to look at the condition of another art, classical music — specifically in its high-culture form as the symphony orchestra. Responding to my comment on Diane Ragsdale’s post, Drew McManus, who has been studying the symphony orchestra in the United States and its various institutional crises for many years at his blog Adaptistration, writes to me that Diane’s notes and mine are ringing bells in his ears:
In short, I’ve noticed the business end of the theater field evolving in much the same direction the orchestra business did, albeit the former is trailing by a few decades; however, if theaters continue to that direction, don’t expect different results. Expectations that all stakeholders on a field-wide basis will act in each others’ best interests without a system of checks and balances and transparency designed to build trust along with enforceable governance responsibilities may be met with disappointment.
In the orchestra business, this is accomplished via a collective representation model but even then, the sort of open admission to shortcomings and problems is difficult to come by outside the confines of rancorous public debate. Consequently, I agree with you that it would be lovely to see groups admit these problems and work toward removing mistrust, but don’t hold your breath.
I only note this because, no matter how much some may wish to abandon the institutions of theatre in America altogether, there will still be that necessity for purpose-built structures for theatre, as there are purpose-built structures for the presentation of orchestral music, and by this I mean both buildings and organizations devoted to the preservation of these forms. It will always take organizations and money, and as Jerzy Grotowski, whose work was supported by the Polish government, was fond of reminding people, “Poor theatre does not mean cheap theatre.”
My thanks to Drew for his permission to reprint his observations here.