fbpx Drinking from a Firehose | HowlRound Theatre Commons

Drinking from a Firehose

Checking Water Quality

Sometimes, the best way to study a theory or philosophy is to implement it and learn from the results. This 12-part series is the year-long account of one young artist’s efforts to start a new theatre company and put into action what he has learned and is learning from the HowlRound and #newplay community.

It’s hard to believe that it has already been a month since I wrote the first post in this series. In that time, a lot has happened, but in some ways I don’t feel like I have much to show for it. Most of what has happened is intangible: networking, promotion, and lots of brainstorming and planning. But it’s not all intangible. We raised close to $2500 in three weeks on Indiegogo, gaining over fifty founding investors in the process. I’ve shaken hands, given out cards, and slowly started building contact lists. Auditions are happening this week. And through it all I’ve been filing away lesson after lesson and idea after idea, so I struggled to decide which of the many things I’ve been learning I should tell you about this month. I’ve settled on a topic that touches everything mentioned above: credibility. 

Aristotle taught that there are three basic modes of persuasion: factual knowledge (logos), emotional connection (pathos), and credibility (ethos). While all three kinds of persuasion require a give and take with those you seek to persuade, credibility is the least easily controlled. While you can be proactive in offering facts or attempting to connect emotionally with the audience, credibility is something that comes from the audience…it cannot be taken. This is something that skilled theater artists are very aware of, even if we don’t speak of it in those terms: when we ask the audience to suspend disbelief, we are testing our credibility. You’ve all heard it, and most likely said something like it yourself. “She looks too old,” or “they wouldn’t wear something like that,” or maybe just the basic “I don’t believe your character.” This is all related to how believable we come across to the audiences of our shows.

Witnessing that realization influence other areas has been a huge growing experience. Back in April this year when I started thinking about starting This Is Water Theatre, I realized very quickly that I needed to have my ducks in a row before I could even begin talking about it publicly. Especially in Bryan/College Station, Texas, where good, old-fashioned values are the norm, credibility is earned primarily by the work that you do. Lots of people are willing to smile and nod when you talk the talk, but until they see that you can walk the path you’re setting out for yourself, that’s all it will be: a (genuine) smile and a nod.

So, while I shared my vision with a handful of close friends, fellow artists, and my parents, most of my initial work was done before I ever announced anything. I spent the most time setting up our website, with the understanding it would be the primary “calling card” for the organization. I spent almost an entire week just writing the five mission statements you see on our website, changing them constantly, running them by my handful of confidants over and over. I knew how to talk to theater people, but I needed to make sure that it sounded credible and exciting to people outside of the theater community. So I pulled in my brother, who was still in school and not really that theatrically-minded to read what I wrote and make sure it didn’t have too much theater-speak in it or sound distant and alienating.

While you can be proactive in offering facts or attempting to connect emotionally with the audience, credibility is something that comes from the audience…it cannot be taken.

In some ways, I think that initial work was much easier as a theater-maker than it would have been if I were starting any other small business. After all, in the theatre we put ourselves in other people’s shoes constantly, and that’s what I kept doing. I asked questions like: “If I were so-and-so, what would I want to be assured of?” “What questions would this or that type of person have?” Thinking through these questions and trying on these hypothetical characters in my mind, as I am building my company, has given a certain depth and authenticity to my efforts to make theater in the community. That the website and carefully structured online presence is one of the key things that people bring up when they offer compliments or encouragement, makes me incredibly proud of the work I put into building that piece of credibility.

But that same meticulous preparation of ideas and presentation is not just digital. I learned that I needed to develop my key talking points before I actually used them in conversation, a lesson that I still haven’t entirely acted on. I thought about that meticulous preparation and presentation every time I went to hang up a poster in coffee shops and restaurants around town, taking the time to ask if I could, instead of just assuming. I considered eventually getting a large decal with our name and logo for my car’s back window, until I realized that every time I (accidentally, I swear!) cut someone off in traffic, the company might lose credibility.

And our painstaking efforts to gain credibility in the eyes of our audience will continue indefinitely. In the immediate future, I will be implementing an “advisory board” as we prepare to embark on the 501(c)(3) process, so that donors and supporters know that I’m not making decisions entirely on my own. And I’ll continue this blog series, chronicling the work we’re doing for the community that helped inspire it.

In the comments, I’d love to hear your thoughts on credibility and how you see that playing a role in your work as artists. For those at larger, established theatres, do your efforts to position yourself to gain credibility differ in any way? Or are our efforts more similar than different? I look forward to hearing different thoughts on this!

And don’t forget to check out our website, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter to keep up with our day-to-day challenges and triumphs! See you next month!


Bookmark this page

Log in to add a bookmark
Thoughts from the curator

This twelve-part series is the year-long account of one young artist's efforts to start a theatre company.

Drinking from a Firehose


Add Comment

The article is just the start of the conversation—we want to know what you think about this subject, too! HowlRound is a space for knowledge-sharing, and we welcome spirited, thoughtful, and on-topic dialogue. Find our full comments policy here

Newest First

As the Founder of Gulfshore Playhouse in Naples, Florida, a town where I knew absolutely no one when I began, I started in much the same way you did. The website and the logo/business cards were the first most important thing. People want to see that you "mean business"...it's important to have your ducks in a row from the start, even if that means knowing what row they WOULD be in if you had the money to afford ducks. I encountered exactly the same things you are now experiencing: people nodding and smiling (or, in my case, as a woman) patting me on the head and telling me I had a good little head on my shoulders. Although we held one-night fundraisers periodically in the beginning, as I was board-building and shaking hands, we weren't able to get into a venue to actually start producing for two years.

It really wasn't until then that we could begin to build the credibility of which you speak. Our product had to speak for itself. I had to prove my value as a creative person, with programming choices and directorial ability. The actors had to be good. Little by little our credibility as a company grew. And now entering our 10th year, the ways in which we have to continue growing our credibility is still the same at its core: good theatrical product, financial integrity, good customer service. Additionally, though, we now focus on economic impact, making a cultural contribution to the community, and the work we do with our Education project.

Keep it up. YOU CAN DO IT.