Drinking from a Firehose
Turning on the Water
Sometimes, the best way to study a theory or philosophy is to implement it and learn from the results. This twelve-part series is the year-long account of one young artist’s efforts to start a new theater company and put into action what he has learned and is learning from the HowlRound and #newplay community.
I kept hearing this phrase, over and over again, from places like HowlRound, #newplay, #2amt, the Humana Festival College Days, American Theatre magazine, and my professors at Texas A&M University: “Make your own art.” Don’t wait for someone else to create your opportunities, the voices kept saying, create those opportunities for yourself. Well, I listened, which is why I’m writing this today.
As a young theater artist, I have been taught by those voices—your voices—over the past several years, sitting at my computer reading Weekly Howls, watching HowlRound TV, reading blog posts and articles, and trying to soak up as much knowledge as possible.
This series is my attempt to offer something to the community from whom I have learned so much. You see, I’m starting a theater company. I’m starting it from the ground up, at age twenty-four, in a mid-size college town in central Texas. And, as of right now, I’m doing it entirely on my own. My vision for this endeavor is so heavily influenced by conversations I have read or been a part of in recent years that I thought it might benefit this community of theater makers and lovers to follow its inception and development—and hopefully offer advice and guidance along the way.
It is my hope, too, that this series will help to inspire young theater makers like myself to start taking part in this community in a more visible way. I’m sure that there are a lot out there who read and just don’t say much (I am guilty of that myself), but I would love to see more of my generational peers join in on this conversation.
Throughout history, hundreds, if not thousands, of theater makers in their 20s have attempted to start theater companies, with varying degrees of success... But despite how powerful my personal Imposter Syndrome might be, I firmly believe that this project has something unique to offer to the conversation.
Finally, let me say that I am very well aware that I am not really doing anything particularly new. Throughout history, hundreds, if not thousands, of theater makers in their 20s have attempted to start theater companies, with varying degrees of success. Many of the challenges I will face will be familiar to anyone who has been part of an artistic genesis. And theaters around the world are experimenting with and implementing new ideas about ticket sales, marketing, audience engagement, new play development, to name a few. But despite how powerful my personal Imposter Syndrome might be, I firmly believe that this project has something unique to offer to the conversation.
I never intended to stay in Texas. I’m not a native Texan; I’m a moderate liberal, I’m gay, and I wanted to figure out how to make theater a profession. Texas was not the logical choice. I didn’t have any love for the state beyond the people I knew, and I wanted out.
But I didn’t count on finding a home. For a military brat like me, a place to call home is a weird thought, but in the seven years I have spent here so far, I’ve come to appreciate having a geographical “home base.” The time I spent doing community theater and volunteer work during my time in college has yielded a strong network of friends who are supportive of my artistic endeavors and me. In time, I’ve come to realize how invaluable this really is.
So when I began to consider staying and finding a way to “make my own art,” I had to take a hard look at whether I could offer anything to this community. In Bryan/College Station, we have three community theaters that focus on different areas (one does musicals, one does plays, one is youth-based), and the local high schools and colleges all have theater programs. Theater is being done here; could I offer anything different? This question eventually led to the following three overarching concepts:
Complement, Don’t Compete
As much as possible, I want to support the work that is already being done in my community, rather than try to compete with it. To me, this means:
- New work, devised work, and deconstructions of classics.
- Ensemble format. By casting an ensemble for an extended period, we create a new path for artistic creation.
- Facebook Generation-focused. Despite being home to one of the largest public universities in the country, none of the theater companies here specifically target the college/young adult audience.
Theater, even traditional proscenium style performances, can no longer afford to be “sit, watch, and leave.” The social media generation demands an experience that starts before and extends past the event itself. I feel this goal is supported by:
- Minimalist Spectacle. “Don’t do a lot, but do it really, really well.” Spectacle isn’t about having a lot of money, it’s about knowing how to use the money you have.
- Non-traditional spaces. Using our nomadic nature as part of the experience, where we perform next becomes part of the draw.
- Accessibility breeds loyalty. By keeping both financial and social entry costs accessible for our target audience, we create the space for loyalty to be organic and built through relationship rather than subscription.
While community theater is a valuable part of any community’s artistic makeup, so are professional artists who are supported financially in that work by the community.
Once those thoughts coalesced (and inspiration for a name hit me), This Is Water Theatre was born. Between now and the next time you hear from me, I’ll be holding auditions, staring a small, initial fundraising push, and developing our plan for the upcoming season. I can’t wait to tell you about it! Please share any thoughts, questions, encouragement, or constructive criticism in the comments below. I’m excited to start this conversation!