Antipermanence

An Argument for Increased Infrastructural Ephemerality in America’s Nonprofit Theaters

Many theatre practitioners believe that nonprofit theatres in the United States are ailing. Among them, the word “broken” is thrown around over and over on industry panels, in articles, classrooms, and many corners of the Internet, yielding significant intra-industry agreement that something is wrong. Around the country, organizations producing new and reimagined works for the theatre have become bloated and complacent—traits which are reflected year after year in the work on their stages. Regurgitated formulaic family dramas, diluted, stale productions of last season’s mild Broadway success, and the perfunctory nods to diversity that, at best, result in tired productions of August Wilson, populate the stages of America’s nonprofit theatres. This surface-level programming and rehashing of the successes of others does not follow the countercultural ideal that gave rise to the resident theatre movement, and it is certainly not creating a new ideal for the twenty-first century. The regional theatre movement that was formed in opposition to the commercialism of Broadway is now employing the same commercialist tactics it once deplored. The same movement that was formed through the progressive politics of art-for-all, and out of the belief that unheard voices should be heard, now looks homogenous, exclusive, and unlike the American society it was built to reflect. Many of the theatres that were at or near the forefront of the movement are now giant institutions with giant buildings and giant overhead. Arena Stage (founded in 1950), the Alley Theatre (founded in 1946), the Goodman Theatre (founded in 1925), the Guthrie (founded in 1963), South Coast Repertory (founded in 1964), Manhattan Theatre Club (founded in 1970), La Jolla Playhouse (founded in 1947), and the McCarter Theatre (producing entity founded in 1960) are examples of theatres that were formed at the start of the movement and have become huge beyond repair. It has become clear that the nation’s biggest theatres represent the most viable extra weight within the field.

As a young professional weaned in the nonprofit theatre, I have become disillusioned with the possibilities that the sector holds for both me as a hopeful leader, and for the type of challenging theatre that I believe could help move our society forward. In college, I delighted in reading histories of Margo Jones and Theater ‘47, Joe Papp and The Public, and many other narratives that sprouted from the seed of Hallie Flanagan’s Federal Theater Project. The rebellion, idealism, and hard-nosed pragmatism of the individuals in these tales inspired me and helped me envision a place for myself in the American theatre. The fore-bearers who formed and built these organizations—Zelda Fichandler, Nina Vance, Tyrone Guthrie, Gregory Peck, Milton Lyon, David Emmes, Martin Benson, Lynne Meadow, and many others had overcome all economic obstacles to create theatrical work they believed in—work that shifted the cultural landscape around them. But as I worked and volunteered in the institutions that originated from these initial seeds, I too-often felt pangs of disappointment as I witnessed the programming practices and conversations about audience at even highly respected nonprofit theatres such as Lincoln Center Theater, Steppenwolf, and Northlight. Something has spoiled in the time between the nascent resident theatre movement and its present incarnation. In spite of their good intentions, the leaders of our country’s theatre organizations have let their organizations and their movement decay.

Rhetoric of self-sustainment abounds in contemporary discourse about producing theatre within America’s nonprofit sector, as theatre artists and administrators wail and problem-solve about this unprecedented time in the history of the regional theatre movement.

A broken plate
Are we really as broken as we think?
Photo by Brooke Randolph. 

These signs of this decay are all too apparent: the majority of mid-sized to large nonprofit theatres are steadily losing the subscriber base that they were built to depend on. Many nonprofit theatres now see a precipice in the distance—the edge of a cliff of aging patrons and decreased cultural relevance. But the inclination of the leaders of these institutions is to keep trudging forward, even when they have little ground to trudge on. Rhetoric of self-sustainment abounds in contemporary discourse about producing theatre within America’s nonprofit sector, as theatre artists and administrators wail and problem-solve about this unprecedented time in the history of the regional theatre movement. Multiple generations of theatre practitioners have come of age within institutionalized nonprofit theatres. These practitioners, myself included, were often convinced of joining the field on the promise of permanence. We could, in theory, appease our society’s careerist pressures while also making the theatre we loved. We saw people working in these institutions with jobs, insurance, and families. But, upon closer examination, it became clear that the theatrical output of these institutions was stagnant and lame. There is a trade-off that had slowly been made: forward-thinking theatrical work for job security. The nonprofit theatre was formed in hopes of the former, and, therefore, was probably not economically sustainable to begin with. In a 2011 speech given by Zelda Fichandler, founder of Arena Stage and widely regarded as one of the mothers of the nonprofit theatre, she describes the early impulses behind the start of the movement: “The fabric of the thought that propelled us was that theatre should stop serving the function of making money, for which it has never been and never will be suited, and start serving revelation and shaping of the process of living, for which it is uniquely suited, for which it, indeed, exists.” This idealism and seemingly unending hope in the gift of theatre has been slighted throughout the movement’s history. While profit may not be the driving force behind current nonprofit institutions, job security and sustenance is. When efforts at organization-sustaining masquerade as profit-seeking, theatrical work becomes dumbed-down and generic.

I define the metric against which the nonprofit theatre should be measured as the specificity and achievability of the goals of an institution, and whether or not that organization achieves, or is effectively working towards achieving, those goals. An organization’s goals must pertain to the type of work on it’s stages in conjunction with the audience that work is targeted towards. As we see in their mission statements, many theatres intentionally articulate their institutional aims in broad strokes, thereby rendering the achievement of those aims difficult if not impossible to verify. For instance, there are very few theatre organizations across the country who explicitly target their work towards white people over the age of sixty, and yet, this is who a significant majority of the audience consists of. There is nothing wrong with serving this demographic per se; rather, the problem lies in the apparent contradiction between theatres’ target audiences and the actual audiences that fill their seats. I do not seek to make the argument that one type of theatre is inherently better than another, but rather that if a theatre is setting out to do one type of work and really doing another, there is a kind of hypocrisy at work that, I believe, feeds into the illness currently plaguing the nonprofit American theatre.

In my MFA thesis of the same name as the above, I argue that this cultural irrelevance is largely caused by the permanent structures that have been built around the theatrical work on our country’s stages. I present evidence that the massive growth of stagnating infrastructure has held within it an assumption of permanence that has pushed the nonprofit theatre to the precarious, increasingly irrelevant, and hypocritical crossroads it is in today. I argue that mission statements have been tinkered with to the point of foggy ambiguity, allowing institutions to get away with loose, lazy programming and a lack of accountability for their own relevance. Finally, I make the case that, in order to bring culturally relevant theatre back to America’s stages, nonprofit theatre organizations must change in a radical way. In many cases, I believe that this change should come in the form of complete and responsible closure in order to make way for the next generation of arts organizations—to allow for a refertilization of artistic crops. There is nothing sacred about our institutions. If they are meant to serve as a vessel and a backbone for making theatrical work that reflects the society we live in, they do not deserve to be sustained for their own sake. Continuing to produce work within their models is akin to attaching muscles, organs, and skin to a skeleton and hoping life will emerge. If death is part of life, then dissolution is part of an institution. Success in the nonprofit regional theatre movement has been largely defined by longevity and sustainability. As I attempt to demonstrate in my thesis, there is a massive stigma in the nonprofit theatre world that the dissolution of a company means that company has failed.

Individuals were asked to report data about their organization’s budget size, age, and locations, as well as provide scalable perspectives on the way in which their organization perceives itself in the larger landscape of the American nonprofit theatre.

In order to test my ideas about the values, attitudes, and economic priorities of nonprofit theatre institutions, I administered an online survey that was completed by 131 full-time staff members at 76 nonprofit theatre organizations of all sizes throughout America. In anonymity, these individuals chose to take this survey online, which was distributed over various social media outlets and targeted email requests. Individuals were asked to report data about their organization’s budget size, age, and locations, as well as provide scalable perspectives on the way in which their organization perceives itself in the larger landscape of the American nonprofit theatre. On a scale of 1 (strongly agree) to 7 (strongly disagree), respondents were asked to rate the extent to which they agreed with a variety of statements about their theatre, including “my organization values growth as a measure of success,” “my organization values longevity as a measure of success,” ”my organization values mission-fulfillment as a measure of success,” and other similar statements. Respondents were then asked to rate, on a slider scale of 1 to 100, the degree to which their theatre valued various institutional foci such as growth and artistic excellence. Finally, respondents were asked open-ended questions about what their communities would gain or lose if their institution were to close down. The results of this survey illuminated the disparity between the values of organizations and their stated goals, as well as brought to the surface intriguing correlations between various organizational circumstances, institutional values, and the work they put forth. My data brought to life the hypocrisy and lack of focus within the nonprofit theatre sector that has fueled a disenchantment amongst myself and my peers in the project of the nonprofit theatre.

My hope is that this data makes a convincing argument for a change in priorities of organizational leadership and long-term movement. No longer can growth and sustenance be the driving force behind a theatrical organization’s functioning, and no longer can dissolution possess the stigma of failure. In this historical moment of incredible social and economic change, I believe it is time to flip this failure paradigm to allow new theatre to flourish. In the thesis, I mostly target the nation’s largest institutions such as The Alley Theatre, American Conservatory Theater, Manhattan Theatre Club, Lincoln Center Theater, Berkeley Repertory, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Denver Center, Goodman Theatre, Huntington Theatre, McCarter Theatre, and Steppenwolf Theatre (all of which have an annual operating budget of over $10 million), as the problems of mission/action hypocrisy are clearest in them. I also target those smaller institutionsfrom established ones like the Geffen, Hartford Stage, About Face Theatre, Arden Theatre Company, and Kitchen Theatre to fledgling, unknown upstarts who strive to one day be those large institutions. I attack the aspiration of largesse that I believe to be one of the major factors in the limp sector we see before us. I take under assumption that something is broken within the structure, or that it was never fully competent in the first place.

Look for Annah Feinberg’s complete thesis and the data she collected as a report on HowlRound to appear Spring 2014.

 

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Glad to see this piece, along with Todd London's similarly-themed missive of several months ago. And while I agree with many of Annah's observations and sentiments, I think there are some critical dimensions to this argument that are not being addressed.

First, the overwhelming majority of theaters in the U.S. are small and mid-size organizations that generally are more adventurous and independent-minded than the tiny handful of "major/flagship" theatres. It is hardly surprising that as organizations grow, they become more risk-averse and more beholden to a broader range of influential constituents (Boards, funders, subscribers, donors, etc.) who encourage -- directly or indirectly -- safer, more corporate, more comfortable programming. But by constantly demonizing the largest institutions, we are perpetuating a kind of hierarchy of importance in the national theatre community. Why are we so obsessed with these few institutions? I think it would be a far wiser use of time
and course of action to find ways to more actively promote, celebrate and
support the vast majority of theatres that are NOT behaving in this way.

Second, when fingers are pointed at these large and "lazy" institutions, we can't ignore the fact that their sizable audiences -- exponentially larger than those at the aforementioned small and mid-size theatres -- are CHOOSING to attend and support those theatres. In most cases, choosing among many options. It's not like the majority of American theatregoers are clamoring for more experimental, adventurous work. Most people prefer well-known titles and authors, plays that are positively reviewed by the New York Times, plays with clear and appealing narratives, comfortable seats, and expansive lobbies with fully-stocked bars. That has always been the case. The large
theatres ARE serving their communities because that's what most people in most communities want. In Philadelphia we have one of the largest subscription houses in the world -- The Walnut Street Theatre -- with over 60,000 subscribers. I believe that if all of those subscribers came to see the work at InterAct Theatre Company (my organization) a small percentage of them might make the switch (or add us on as another subscription) but the vast majority would not. I have no illusions about that.

Third, the corporate nature of the largest theatres is vigorously supported and celebrated by most institutional funders, who tend to value things like fiscal stability, audience size and strong Board governance over anything having to do with the actual art. Foundations want to feel they are making a sound investment in an institution that is going to be around for a long time, as opposed to a less stable organization that is making quality, important art for a specific community at a particular moment in time. Until we, as a community -- including theatres large and small -- are willing to collectively educate (or dare I say, challenge) the way institutional funders think about their grant-giving, the issues that Annah addresses will not change.

Glad to see this piece, along with Todd London's similarly-themed missive of several months ago. And while I agree with many of Annah's observations and sentiments, I think there are some critical dimensions to this argument that are not being addressed.

First, the overwhelming majority of theaters in the U.S. are small and
mid-size organizations that generally are more adventurous and
independent-minded than the tiny handful of "major/flagship" theatres. It is hardly surprising that as organizations grow, they become more risk-averse and more beholden to a broader range of influential constituents (Boards, funders, subscribers, donors, etc.) who encourage -- directly or indirectly -- safer, more corporate, more comfortable programming. But by constantly demonizing the largest institutions, we are perpetuating a kind of hierarchy of importance in the national theatre community. Why are we so obsessed with these few institutions? I think it would be a far wiser use of time
and course of action to find ways to more actively promote, celebrate and
support the vast majority of theatres that are NOT behaving in this way.

Second, when fingers are pointed at these large and "lazy" institutions, we
can't ignore the fact that their sizable audiences -- exponentially larger than
those at the aforementioned small and mid-size theatres -- are CHOOSING to attend and support those theatres. In most cases, choosing among
many options. It's not like the majority of American theatregoers are clamoring for more experimental, adventurous work. Most people prefer
well-known titles and authors, plays that are positively reviewed by the
New York Times, plays with clear and appealing narratives, comfortable seats, and expansive lobbies with fully-stocked bars. That has always been the case. The large theatres ARE serving their communities because that's
what most people in most communities want. In Philadelphia we have one of
the largest subscription houses in the world -- The Walnut Street Theatre --
with over 60,000 subscribers. I believe that if all of those subscribers
came to see the work at InterAct Theatre Company (my organization) a small percentage of them might make the switch (or add us on as another subscription) but the vast majority would not. I have no illusions about
that.

Third, the corporate nature of the largest theatres is vigorously supported and celebrated by most institutional funders, who tend to value things
like fiscal stability, audience size and strong Board governance over anything having to do with the actual art. Foundations want to feel they are
making a sound investment in an institution that is going to be around for a
long time, as opposed to a less stable organization that is making quality,
important art for a specific community at a particular moment in time.
Until we, as a community -- including theatres large and small -- are willing
to collectively educate (or dare I say, challenge) the way institutional
funders think about their grant-giving, the issues that Annah addresses will
not change.

While I often cringe at the commercialized fare at some of the larger theatres, we also have to ask ourselves:

-Is popularity always a bad thing?

-If we're only doing our shows for an audience of 20 of our closest friends, are we really changing the world?

What is the appropriate intersection between doing theatre that has wide appeal....and doing theatre that is meaningful and of importance?

Agree with some of the sentiments expressed here, but were it not for large non-profit theatres, where would actors, directors, designers, etc. be able to earn even close to a living wage?

Sure, I could work for some theatre company (or a one-off project) in a basement somewhere...and get paid $100 to do the show.

But if artists want to make careers in this field, there are certain realities at work. (Assuming you agree that having a full-time career in theatre is a desirable or worthy goal).

It simply takes time to build up the resources and the audience following necessary to sustain paying professional actors, directors and designers.

I would argue that we need to do a better job of supporting a WIDE range of arts groups, large and small.....to look at how philanthropy is done, etc.

Howlround does it again.. thanks for posting this controversial and yet transcendent article. Wow - the once-young folks are now the focus of the now-young turks who see all the deficiencies .. that were noted decades ago. Love the "circle of LIFE" - yep from the cheesy theatrical musical hybrid. The theatre models are all up for change - let's change them - reinvent, it is about the action. The institutions that have moved beyond their usefulness - and put on "tired revivals of August Wilson" (it is still hard to make performance FYI!) are just doing their best work most of the time... I embrace anyone to produce theatre that hits all the cylinders all the time. As the Black Arts Movement was not about being named but doing work, as the Regional Theatre drive was about changing the paradigm, I cannot wait to see the next phases - and to hopefully be around to THEN see them challenged in 2025! Off to the races and keep making theatre in new ways while embracing the new audiences/old audiences as well as tearing down the OLD guard one more time - as it should be.

I agree that some institutions that are large, bulky and non-dynamic should close their doors, or merge with smaller institutions/companies, embrace new radical leadership and look to transform their entire culture. I also agree that somehow in this sector, all of those things are deemed a "failure" which makes no sense to me.

There is a lot of work to do in the non-profit theater sector and in the larger paradigm of arts and culture in the United States. Our country has a lot of needs -- but they have to start on a local level. Block-by-block, community-by-community, theater-by-theater.

Relevance cannot be solely measured by a balance sheet or the size of the institution to the writer's point, but I don't know if I'm ready to throw the baby out with the bath water. I think ultimately new energy needs to be infused into the life of the sector and some approaches need to be bold and fearless.

As you continue with your thesis, you may want to read The Epoch Model in 20UNDER40: Reinventing the Arts and Arts Education for the 21st Century. I feel a bit awkward posting this as I am the author of that chapter, but I believe that we are examining the same problem from two different approaches.

"IF IT AIN'T ON THE PAGE, IT AIN'T ON THE STAGE"

(Note: kudos to commentator "Guy"! His theater seems to already have the attitude that I think all theaters should have.)

Building on the brilliant "blighted neighborhood" analogy discussed by previous commentators Devra Thomas and Brendan Shea: Instead of spending all the time and effort simply deciding which houses in the blighted (for example) Detroit area should be torn down -- a process that if the economy overall doesn't improve will have to keep being repeated every couple of decades -- why not spend some time figuring out how to bring good jobs back to the area?

In the long run solving the fundamental problem is obviously the most important issue (unless one's goal is to eventually have no houses and return the land to it's original state before people settled it).

So how does the bring-back-good-jobs analogy apply here? I think by taking a step back and realizing the problem is the quality of the plays being produced. We can not have the attitude (as I've often heard expressed) that as long as at least 50 percent of the time things turn out good that's fine, that "any less means we're not taking chances".

I disagree completely with this mentality. Taking chances is fine (in fact, necessary and to be lauded!) in the early stages, such as reading scripts by unknowns (obviously I'm in favor of that!), doing staged readings and developments of plays that clearly aren't quite there yet but seem to have great potential, etc.

But if something isn't working (even an existing play that worked well elsewhere!), it shouldn't be presented to the public! Even if this means cancelling a previously announced show that is already in rehearsals!

Anything presented to paying audiences has to not only be good, but GREAT! Not most of the time, but EVERY time! Only in this way will people be motivated to come back, and spread the word to others (their own age and younger).

To me this attitude should be obvious, but it seems the very antithesis of so much of what goes on, as most clearly demonstrated via the practice of agreeing to produce plays sight unseen ("commissioning")!

Now, granted, to implement this methodology would mean the requirement for either higher ticket prices or more donations (individual, foundation, or corporate) since there won't be any revenue from cancelled productions (or commissioned plays that aren't good enough to produce).

It would also mean a more flexible schedule than the current subscription-based, announce-your-season-a-year-ahead-of-time model permits... but I don't think most audiences members give a... hoot (!) about seasons or evenly-spaced productions anyway. What they want is when they do go to have compelling theater that seems worth all of the time and money (including transportation and parking costs, which are often significant).

The good news, of course, is when people have such an experience, they usually want to tell others about it, an encourage them to go see it too. So I think in the long run this approach will actually (where currently many seats per performance run go unfilled) bring down ticket prices.

The problem, of course, is there are so many practical considerations that prevent that cancellation of a show (especially at bigger theaters) that it really isn't feasible in most cases. Which means that before the decision is made to produce a play it has to, first, exist (!), and second, be very good. Which might mean doing a staged reading first (after development, and including non-trivial rehearsal time), but at minimum at least means no longer agreeing to do plays that don't exist or clearly aren't ready.

Scanning what I wrote just now, pondering if I should really post it, I just realized something: Even though I initially thought Annah Feinberg's piece was too overreaching, in a sense I have also made "An Argument for Increased Infrastructural Ephemerality in America’s Nonprofit Theaters" that may be nearly as radical!

I agree with so many of the points made in these comments! Two crucial things that come to mind as I wait for your thesis to be published:

1) Like Mara noted below, what is the relationship with these giant organizations to their communities? How are their audiences responding? It would be helpful if you cited concrete examples of when these organizations are falling down on the job of being cultural centers. How do you demonstrate irrelevance?

2) What do "lame" and "lazy" mean in concrete terms? I'm not saying lame work doesn't happen, but if you're claiming that "lame" work is a side effect of "irrelevance" I'm not sure what we're talking about without some factual or shared examples. Hopefully, as you give us more insight into your methodology, you can give us more vivid examples to pull from.

Annah, I wonder at what point in their growth “longevity” overtook artistic mission for these institutions. Is there a tipping point (maybe around the 7-10 year mark) at which survival and comfort become more important than doing risky/authentic work? What if a theater began it’s life with a 10-year mission, after which it voluntarily disbanded? Could that avert the specter of institutionalization? Would Chicago, Minneapolis, Houston, etc. support such a theater?

Thanks Devra - very interesting. And happening just before the 7-year mark. I think that if the idea of disbanding was built into the DNA of a theater, we might have more interesting/groundbreaking work, and perhaps serve our communities even better. In Trey McIntyre's case for instance, he's staying in Boise, and the company is moving to film/multimedia projects. Maybe "disbanding" isn't the right word - "radical re-imagining?" In any case, I agree with the founding Executive Director of the company, who said: "I applaud Trey for this decision, because for artists to be their most creative, they need to keep changing and evolving."

Read more here: http://www.idahostatesman.c...

I look forward to reading the thesis and seeing how your data supports your statements. It is very easy to point to all of the large institutions and claim a higher moral ground. It sounds like you are making the case that all the theaters you name operate in the same vein. Is that true? As someone who has worked within large non-profits for more than 2 decades (and who chose to create a new, leaner, more nimble producing model in the last year), I recognize the issues you name, but also understand the complexities that are all to easy to over-simplify here. I wonder, in your data collection, if you sought input from the communities that are served by these institutions? What is the role of the audience (both existing and potential) in this conversation? Where are the Boards of Directors in this conversation? When looking at theater leadership, Boards often play the most critical role in determining the fate of an organization by choosing the "next generation" of leadership, and yet they are often overlooked in this conversation. And then there is the question of context. How do we genuinely critique a model that exists in an entirely different context than when it was established by our pioneering founders? With a radical shift in the institutional support offered by foundations and corporations who subsidized the non-profit theater movement in its early years, allowing the visionary artists you name to take great risk, many theaters have indeed changed their model and are more dependent on ticket income than ever before. What economic model to you propose will allow this kind of vision and risk in our flagship theaters? These questions are just the tip of the iceberg in a conversation that has endless layers of nuance and variation. I see many young theater practitioners (and old ones, too!) express frustration at the lack of opportunities for their vision. If there is one thing I have come to learn, it is that we can't wait for opportunities to be presented to us. We must make our own opportunities. It is easy to point out the problems. It is another thing altogether to take action and do something about it.

totally agree. the thing that kinda bugs me here (sorry annah) is that it presupposes that only the theateriest theater people know what's best for theater. not sure that you've proved a rip it up and start again situation here, but a need to move toward what hannah rudman called "organizational porosity" for these larger institutions; and audience- and community-centric work and models of programming can and do exist in larger theaters. also, honestly, what's really at issue is looking again at those permanent, emblematic structures with an eye toward universal design/accessibility. that would be a great thesis actually!

Your response, Brendan, puts me in mind of "blighted" neighborhoods and what homeowners/remodelers do to reinvigorate those places. Yes, some houses have to be torn down, but others just need to be refurbished, or have a new family, or what have you. There is a whole range of options to make a neighborhood a vibrant place to live. I'm sure the same is true for our field.

absolutely, devra! it's a complex issue but, to go nuts with your analogy (which I love), i think it's difficult to diagnose when an institution is condemned and scheduled for demolition vs. in need of new fixtures or new tenants. who decides if/when a derelict institution is structurally unsound enough to be unfit for us and a blight on the neighborhood? we can use the founding principles of the non-profit theater like building codes (who are the building inspectors?), but the latter have evolved! i am definitely with you, though, it takes all kinds of methodologies and some tough decisions to keep moving the field forward!

What supposedly works in NYC is very different from the middle of the country. I run a 1.9 mil not for profit theatre. We have a full time staff of 16, 7 of them apprentices. Half of our programing is new work. There is nothing riskier. We do not have season subscriptions. 70% of our budget is generated from ticket sales. We entertained 43,000 people last year in a town of barely 5,000. We do work not necessarily about the people who live in our corner of the world, but work that relates to them. And we are not afraid to entertain the daylights out of them. We we take great care in making the work. And we treat people very, very well. Most of the not for profit theatre product is bad. Cheesy sets, lousy performances, academic medicine see this because it's good for you plays that bore people to near death. Poorly made and way too pedantic for most people. Our job is to screw them where they breathe. If they learn something, great. An active and supportive board and a development professional is key.

I have worked in regional theatre for many years now and I have often bemoaned the strategic choices of the larger theaters. I strongly believe that many of these theaters can be more efficient with the resources available to them and that they can be more open and diverse places, while balancing their finances and growing their audience (though not necessarily the subscriber base - there are serious questions about the sustainability and the desirability of that model, no question). So I would like to see a fruitful discussion on diversity of business models, especially a more robust taxonomy of commercial strategies and practices (what we condemn as "commercial" practices are often the practices of bad businesses; the fault lies not in their commercial nature, but in something else entirely).

However, I am made very uneasy by statements like: "I attack the aspiration of largesse that I believe to be one of the major factors in the limp sector we see before us. I take under assumption that something is broken within the structure, or that it was never fully competent in the first place." The very fact that 11 of these institutions have operating budgets in the tens of millions of dollars (and corpus' that are significantly larger) demonstrate that these institutions have tapped into something in their communities that many members of the community do believe in and respond to. I don't see a lot of respect for those patrons, volunteers, employees, and board members who feel like those institutions have value and who strive to make them better, rather than just closing or downsizing the theatre altogether.

At the moment, I also have serious reservations about the survey methodology. Drawing sweeping conclusions about theatrical practices from 131 respondents working at 76 non-profit theaters is hardly ideal, especially if those anonymous respondents were self-selecting, rather than chosen deliberately to create a representative sample. Back of the envelope calculations suggest that this is no better than 1% of the employees of just the 11 theaters with operating budgets over $10 million, let alone the combined full-time staff of the other sixty five theaters. I know that the thesis is forthcoming, so I hope a more thorough discussion of the methodology will be contained in it.

As I said, I share many of these concerns about the strategic choices of large theaters as they cope with the stresses of past success amidst a shifting cultural landscape that makes all of that success harder to maintain. I want to see a productive discussion of strategic possibilities that includes failure, downsizing, dissolution, and orderly transition of resources from one institution to another. But it sounds an awful lot like the suggestion here is that these theaters are currently failures and they should just get out of the way of the new (as yet uninvented) model of cultural production and that I do not agree with. Theaters should be able to fail, that should be thinkable. It does not follow that the Lincoln Center or the Alley Theatre or Arena Stage or any of these other theaters should be the ones to do it.