Repertory is the Answer

Anyone familiar with summer stock theatre will remember that particular dread that sets in during the last two weeks of the summer, when you realize you will soon have to head back to New York/Chicago/D.C. and start auditioning again. The feeling that this magical wonderland where you rehearse all day and perform every night surrounded by fantastically talented colleagues of all ages (often in an equally beautiful vacation environment) is already slipping away like sand through the hourglass. The harsh reality of the theatre artist’s life starts coming into sharp focus, and one begins to strategize about which gigs to go out for, how to keep the lights on, and of course how to get invited back to the theatre next summer so that you can be a part of the magic again, if only for a few months of the year.

The reason summer stock is so magical often has less to do with the work being done at those theatres, and much more with the working conditions for the artists. Returning to the everyday reality of working several side jobs, auditioning constantly and hustling to make ends meet is exhausting. It also necessitates that the artists spend the majority of their time trying to get the next gig, rather than on their artistic practice. And although we all take this for granted as the normal way of doing business, I can’t help but think that there has to be a better way for theatres to be run that would benefit everyone involved.

There has been a lot of writing lately about the artist versus the institution, most notably by Todd London, and Diane Ragsdale. The fact is that producing on a show-by-show basis also leads to an enormous amount of wasted energy and resources at the institutional level. Similarly the working conditions for the artists in the regional theatre system might be good business practice but they are not conducive to making good art. Rehearsal periods of three-five weeks, groups of artists constantly on the road and working with new colleagues without a common vocabulary, the lack of connection to the community for whom the art is being created; all of these factors lead to an assembly-line production approach, literalism instead of theatricality in the work, and towards safe choices instead of risk-taking.

It’s not for a lack of talent or ideas that the theatre is suffering, but rather from a business model that does not serve the interests of the artists, the institutions, or the audience.

The amount of shows produced and presented can vary greatly from theatre to theatre, but the deciding factor is that the resident acting company, the ensemble, is at the center of the work.

The Problem: The artists are starving to death for lack of work, the theatres are spending their resources on the institutions instead of the artists, the work is suffering from a lack of technique, support, and innovation.

The Solution: Adopt the repertory. The repertory model is the strongest argument for theatre as an art form in the twenty-first century. It shows off what the theatre does best and it can realistically compete with television and new media by creating original live art directly for a specific community that cannot be found anywhere else.

For the purposes of this article, the word ‘repertory’ is defined as a model of making theatre in which there is a resident acting company that rehearses during the day and performs a rotating repertoire of shows each night. The amount of shows produced and presented can vary greatly from theatre to theatre, but the deciding factor is that the resident acting company, the ensemble, is at the center of the work.

Man in scarf sitting
Photo of director Tyrone Guthrie.

Repertory theatres were common in America in the early half of the twentieth-century. Tyrone Guthrie founded his theatre in Minneapolis in 1963 on the repertory model with a resident acting company. Many of the nation’s 74 regional theatres have experimented with a resident acting company although with the exception of Trinity Rep in Rhode Island and a few smaller theatres (the Barter Theater in Virginia or the Hedgerow Theater in Pennsylvania) all of them have moved to line production, (putting up shows for a limited run, closing them and starting a new production), the default way of making theatre in America today. The reasons for this gradual shift over time from resident companies to hiring actors on a per-show basis are many and varied, and have been brilliantly articulated by Mike Daisey in his piece How Theater Failed America. Conventional wisdom would say that resident companies are too expensive and that it is not possible to run a theatre on the resident repertory model in America today. It is precisely against this mode of thinking that I would argue for the repertory model as the best chance for theatre as an art form in the twenty-first century.

Let me start with myself. My first experience with working in repertory was in 2004, I was fresh out of college and working for a year as a directing intern at the Carrousel Theater an der Parkaue in Berlin. The German state theatre system is pretty much the Cadillac of repertory theatre worldwide, and being able to work and learn in that system had a profound impact on me as an artist and an individual. After another year working in the independent theatre scene in Berlin, I moved to Chicago and had a fantastic time working there for the next six years. I was always in search of an experience similar to what I had had in Berlin and I found it while on national tour as an actor in repertory with the Chamber Theatre of Boston, as well as two summers playing Shakespeare in rep at the Theatre at Monmouth in Maine. Each of these experiences was an opportunity to reconnect with the magic of playing in repertory, and the enormous benefits that the repertory model brings.

Benefits of the Repertory Model
Good For The Artists: The benefits of the repertory model for artists are significant. The continuity of working with the same colleagues year in and out is a core value of most theatre companies worldwide and is the heart of what constitutes ‘ensemble.’ The repertory model formalizes this relationship, and prioritizes it as an asset, rather than merely mentioning it in a values statement.

At a year-round repertory theatre, the actors receive annual contracts, with benefits, so that they can focus all of their time and energy on their roles, not on auditioning or chasing work to keep the bills paid. This creates a paradigm shift in the mental well-being of an actor, and her/his ability to create great theatre.

Good for Institutions: The benefits of the repertory model for institutions are also compelling:

  • It’s a local, live event that can be seen at a later date when the show returns to the repertory. This also makes great use of word of mouth, which takes time to set in and is always the most effective form of advertising. The repertory model develops continuity between the live art that is created and the audience engaging with it and sustains that relationship over time.  
  • Continuity of Resources. Entire productions are stored rather than tossed aside, which means that particularly successful shows can be easily remounted year after year. Many theatres do this anyway with A Christmas Carol, but with the repertory mechanisms in place, remounting previous productions becomes a routine part of doing business, to the benefit of the audience and the artists.  
  • Saves time and money on auditions. Theatres would only need to hold auditions for additional roles outside the ensemble, or for new ensemble members, potentially every few years instead of every few months.
  • Being able to sell the idea of the artists as the theatre's product. The company in residence becomes the theatre’s biggest asset.
  • Instead of a casting director, theatres could hire a full-time dramaturg, preferably one who is also a playwright. This way you kill three birds with one stone: an in-house writer who is also a production dramaturg and can coordinate casting. This individual would be artistically involved with the production processes as well as interfacing with new artists and helping steer the aesthetic of the company. In an ideal scenario they would also write new plays for the ensemble. To those who still ask “what is a dramaturg for?” this is the clear answer.

The actors become essential to that community and they work with the audience to create meaning together.

Good for Audiences: As the audience gets to know the actors in the ensemble, they begin to identify with the actors as the protagonists in every show at the theatre. In the best case, the audience takes ownership of the actors/ensemble and by extension the theatre as well. This principle is already at work in many theatres around the country, where artists form a relationship with the theatre and work there often. Again, the repertory model would formalize these already existing relationships and bring those actors in constant contact with the public. The actors become essential to that community and they work with the audience to create meaning together.

Is it Possible?
After receiving a fellowship in 2011 to attend the Theatertreffen festival in Berlin that spring I decided to strike while the iron was hot and set my sites on working full-time in Germany again. I am now at the end of my first season at the German National Theatre in Weimar, as the assistant to the new artistic director Hasko Weber. I could not be more delighted to be working in a repertory setting again, and learning how to run an institution of this size. I have also started to do a lot of thinking about how to create such an environment in America, and the conclusion that I keep coming to is that it simply cannot be strictly a matter of economics. Yes, the German system is federally supported and lavishly so. But should it not also be possible to run a regional theatre company in America as a repertory company, with a full-time ensemble in the current funding environment?

Let’s take a look at some examples of comparably sized institutions in Germany and America: Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago and the Maxim Gorki Theater in Berlin.

The Maxim Gorki Theater—the smallest of the six state-funded houses in Berlin—has an annual budget of  €10.7 million ($14.2 million)*. This is comparable to the annual budget of the Steppenwolf theatre in Chicago ($15,293,699 in 2012)**. With this budget, the Maxim Gorki Theater employs a resident acting company of sixteen actors, and produces ten main stage productions every year in addition to the shows in its repertory. Steppenwolf boasts an ensemble of forty-three actors, and produces five main stage shows per year with no repertory. Steppenwolf does a great job of promoting ensemble theatre as a value. But like most theatres, they do not produce enough work each year to offer their current ensemble full-time work.

The common complaint from the American side is that the German theatres can only support a permanent repertory ensemble because of the public funding. But why can’t American theatres with a similar budget do the same? As demonstrated above, the smallest theatre in Berlin has an annual budget comparable to Steppenwolf in Chicago, which is not even the best-funded theatre in the region or the country. So clearly, it’s not just an issue of money. It’s an issue of how that money is being spent.

I am also aware that if regional theatres were to take this course (hire a resident acting ensemble and move towards the repertory model) it is highly likely that some of them might fail and bring about the ruin of their theatre. This brings us back to the zombification of institutions that Diane Ragsdale writes about: the idea that (some of) the regional theatres have become “permanently failing” institutions that have resorted to low-performance, low-output strategies to sustain the organization instead of focusing on their artistic and social mission goals. They have become zombie institutions, focused more on sustaining the infrastructure than on high-performance, high-risk innovations that could revitalize the organization and potentially the art form as well. True, there are dangers involved in risk-taking: downsizing, potential loss of grant monies, finding an audience for the new type of work. It is entirely possible that switching to the repertory model could be a costly debacle that a regional theatre would not be able to survive. But what is better for the future of the American theatre: zombie institutions using Band-Aid tactics to sustain failing business models, or a few of these theatres taking big risks in the hope that we can revitalize all of them?

Am I an idealist? Absolutely. But I am happy to say that I am not alone. At least one theatre in England is taking big risks to implement exactly this type of model. The Lyric-Hammersmith in London announced last summer that they are switching to the repertory model, with a resident company of ten actors, ten design/support staff equally split between men and women including Simon Stephens as the dramaturg. Under the title ‘Secret Theatre’ they are producing six world premieres, each written for and developed by their ensemble. They also decided not to release any information about the plays prior to their opening, counting on the strength of their brand and this new idea to get the tickets sold. They have just opened their fifth show of the season and the experiment has been a huge success.  So there’s one example of dynamic leadership and risk-taking in a major way at the institutional level. Hats off to artistic director Sean Holmes for taking the initiative; you can read his speech about the decision here.

The Repertory Makes the Work Better
Two things really strike me in Holmes’ speech.

1. His acknowledgement that the institutions themselves may not be corrupt, but are corrupting.

2. The current model of creating theatre (3-5 weeks of rehearsal time with a group of actors who have often never worked together) limits us to literalism in the work. We only ever have time to stage the play, rather than interpret it. More rehearsal time with an ensemble that works together continuously leads to better, more theatrical, delightful, provocative and inspiring theatre.

Finally, such a radical change in the production model of a theatre would also signify a clear philosophical change in the way those theatres do business. It would signify a turn inward, away from the commercial theatre of New York, and toward their communities. It would mean creating theatre that is local, and specific to the community it is (supposed to be) serving. It would have to mean an intense cultural exchange with that community and a re-investigation of the company’s aesthetic.

Maybe there is an American artistic director out there who is willing to take risks and try something new. To initiate a grand plan for change that benefits the artists, the institutions and the audiences simultaneously.

And maybe, it might just lead to a fundamental shift in how we, and our audiences, approach our art form.

 

***
Statistics on Berliner Theater annual budgets from the City of Berlin website.

 

Bookmark this page

Log in to add a bookmark

Interested in following this conversation in real time? Receive email alerting you to new threads and the continuation of current threads.

subscribe

Comments

46
Add Comment
Newest First

Brian, great article. I'm a little late to the discussion - forgive me.

As you know, I've worked at many repertory companies - most summer stock, but also at the Barter. I started on deck as an intern and stagehand and have moved to production and operations management.

One objection I might make is the glib dismissal of the increased costs of repertory production. The argument for resident acting companies is well made, and deserves discussion, but there are significant obstacles to making year-round repertory a reality.

Let's look at a simple labor model for a small straight play. (These are rough numbers based on medium sized organizations in middle markets.) Let's say the union actors are paid for 5 shows a week. Let's be generous and assume that translates into ~$400 a week average base rate. Add pension, add the employer FICA payments, add insurance costs, etc. So, from an employer standpoint, I'm looking at a $2,400 per month total compensation package. So, assume a twelve week contract - $7,200 per actor, totaling $43,200 estimated outlay. OK, now add stage managers. Assume ~$500 wk for an SM, ~$400 wk, plus added compensations and benefits . . . combined: $5,200/month, $15,600 outlay. Now, add technicians - assume small staff - stagehand, audio engineer, light board operator. Let's say they're part-time, temporary - so only employer FICA payments - no benefits. At small market rates, let's assume that the total technical labor cost averages $60 hour. Assuming a ten-week agreement, averaging the federal limit of 29 hours for temporary part-time employers, you're looking at an outlay of $1,740 week or a total of $17,400.

So, for a five-show week, a month of rehearsal, and two months of performances, we're looking at a (VERY rough) optimistic estimate of $76,200 in labor costs alone.

Now, add even one show in repertory. Marketing and Sales have estimated that we need eight shows per week to meet target sales. So, we're adding three shows a week and eight changeovers. Now, we've crossed into a higher pay scale for union employees, and into much higher hourly totals for technicians. Assume that actor and stage manager compensation is raised by $200/wk, and crew hours are increased to the maximum 40 hours per week. That adds $14,400 in actor labor, $4,800 in stage manager labor, and $6,600 in crew labor - totaling an increase of $25,800 to make estimated labor costs ~$102,000.

What does a $25,000 increase mean to an organization with a balanced budget? It means deferred maintenance, layoffs of desperately needed support positions, reduced production values, and continual reduction in labor coupled with increased demand for productivity without increased compensation.

Now, if that theater did ten total production in five repertories, you're looking at an increase of over $125,000 in yearly expenditures.

Where does that money come from?

One of the best Regional Repertory companies is the Asolo Reporatory Theatre in Sarasota Florida. There performances are first class and their company keeps it at a high level

As a fellow resident acting company member at the Barter Theatre to Nick Koesters (who spoke precisely and articulately below - I encourage you to read it to get an example of the modern American rep theatre) I'm excited and encouraged by the nature of the responses to this article. Many of the comments have been posted by passionate, dedicated artists who are pointing to themselves and their institutions as direct exceptions to the status quo or examples of this writer's utopic ideal. (Please forgive me if I misrepresent or paint in broad strokes for the sake of my point.)

I will point out, however, that the reason that these theatres are not widely known outside of their communities and don't get the recognition that they deserve is because our creative industry continues to exhibit an Quixotic and delusional obsession with metropolitan environments. The Big City! I Wanna Be Star! There is little glory or celebrity associated with a sincere commitment to one's community no matter the location or population size. As so many people have illustrated below, there are artists committed to serving specific audiences all over the country, but those artists don't get a write up in the New York Times. They don't get flashy credits to get them in with the big producers. They don't meet the "right people." The artists who realize that service happens whenever there is an actor and an audience present - who cares about the write up. Serve these people in this room right now. And so, the rest of us have to start acknowledging that career as just as rich and meaningful as the actor, designer, director, choreographer who worked on Broadway for 30 years. Or in LA. Or Chicago. Or whatever.

Service is service. And it's a lot easier to commit yourself, to put in the hours, make the sacrifices, and ask more of yourself when you are connected to those being served.

Brian, very interesting article. I am currently the Production Stage Manager at Barter Theatre in Abingdon, VA. Barter Theatre is a true repertory theatre working under the LORT D rep contract. I am thinking that you consider Barter Theatre a smaller theatre because our annual budget is a little over 6.5 million dollars. However, Barter Theatre is not a small operation. (Look for Nick Koesters response for a lot of great and accurate details about Barter Theatre's numbers.)

To all of you reading this blog, Barter Theatre is living proof that repertory theatre can and is happening in the United States of America. There are advantages and disadvantages to having a repertory theatre, but it can be done, and done well with very high standards. It takes a lot of work and sweat, but boy is it worth it.

Check us out at bartertheatre.com

Thanks very much for your comments Cindi (likewise Justin and Nick!), and for supplying some great information on the Barter Theater's excellent work. You are absolutely right that the Barter is not a 'small' theater, I meant it only in comparison with the bigger regional theaters not as a value judgement. I am a big fan of the work you all do there and of the Barter as a fine example of what a regional theater can do for its artists and its community. And of course as an excellent example of a thriving repertory company!

This is a fascinating discussion and I agree with many of the points raised by Mr. Bell regarding thevalue of Resident Repertory Theatre but I would like to take a moment to clarify and enlighten him from the perspective of a "smaller" repertory theatre. I am currently a resident company member of the Barter Theatre, going on my 3rd season. The Barter Theatre is not a small theatre. Itis the exact example of how your model can work.

1. We are located in a town of 8000 yet our attendance was around 160,000 people last year; pulling directly from a 250 mile radius and regularly have visitors from all over the world. This is not hyperbole, during the curtain speech on the mains stage we ask the audience every night and give a prize to the attendee who comes to the theatre from the farthest distance for their first show.We regularly have guest from Europe, Asia, and Australia among many other locations.

2. Last year alone we produced 29 shows in 4 different reps over the course of 52 weeks, all with a core group of resident artists (more on that in a second). We create productions with strong artistic integrity, which connect to our community and challenge our audience to think outside their comfort zone. Our goal is to serve the playwright, the audience, and the artistic soul. This year we are performing at least 5 new works, several of which have come out of our Appalachian Festival of Plays and Playwrights.

3. Our annual budget is $6,603,464 and 62% of that comes from ticket sales. I want you to take that in. The national average is approximately 34%, we almost double that. We don't rely on huge grants and if we are not commercially successful we fail. So our world balances on a fine line of artistic expression and pure capitalism. The German model, no matter how desirable, is not realistic or comparable in an American environment because it is government funded. That is not how oursystem of government or our economy works. And just to give you a bottom line understanding of our economics, a recently completed independent study determined that the Barter Theatre is responsible for generating $34 million in economic impact to our county. That’s $5.15 made for every dollar spent.

4. We currently have, 19 AEA members working on a year-long contract (8 male actors, 8 female actors, 1 male SM, 1 female SM, and 1 male ASM), and another 3 non-equity actors, and a company of 6 year round youth apprentices and up to 13 total summer apprentices. I specifically worked 51 weeks last year, and performed in 7 shows. We also bring in actors as needed to fill in roles. Diversity is a non issue. We have black, white, Asian, gay, and straight members in our company,and we are constantly looking to expand ad add actors who have the dedication for their craft and a passion that will fit in with the challenges of our busy schedule. We cast with an eye towards challenging our actors as well as our audience; a recent example is the black female company member playing Sancho in our last spring rep. We own houses, send our kids to school, get involved with the PTA, shop locally for groceries, vote, and become valuable assets to our community. We donormalize the actor into the public which fosters value for the arts within our community and creates a kinship between the public and the artists. In return it makes the actor a better person and performer because they don't always live in a world of pretend or where they are living the vagabond life searching for their next job. We have a valued stake in the success of our community and ourplace in it. We are constantly reminded that we are a mirror of reality and by living in a community we can better bring the true human condition honestly to the stage. Our casting is occasionally against type, usually against the grain, and constantly challenging us to run towards the fear. Complacency inour art is unacceptable.

5. Beyond the resident acting company there are a total of almost 350 employees. On the artistic side, we have resident designers for lighting, set, sound, props, costumes, and a resident playwright. We have full scenic, costume, prop and paint shops. All of these employ talented artists as well who add to the overall creative culture of the Barter and the town of Abingdon.

6. I take great exception to Mr. Bundy’s definition of resident companies as “bastions of unexamined white privilege”. If any bastion of privilege exists it is in the world of Artistic Dirctors of LORT. Lora Kepley, the new AD of the Cleveland Playhouse, is the first woman LORT AD I have seen in years. Please educate me of any African American males or females currently in the position of Artistic director at a LORT. The white male artistic directors and their lack of vision have truly stifled the growth of regional theatre. From the lips of the privileged white male artistic director I’d hear casting excuses such as “you are not my vision of the role”: great that shows me nothing but your lack of vision as a director. At the Barter we look at casting roles as an opportunity to challenge the actor and director, hopefully daring the creative team to explore new areas that this play may never have explored before. It pushes the director and the actor to experiment, to solve problems, and envision a play anew. By Mr. Bundy’s definition one would be unable to succeed painting a forest on canvas by being limited by his red, blue and yellow paints. Here at the Barter we know that theatre is hardwork but every artist has the duty and ability to create new and beautiful colors, together, on a quest for new and interesting shades of green, exploring the possibility of yellow tree; avoiding the easy answer, with vision and perseverance to find something new and different.

If you have a desire to come and see how a resident repertory company can and does successfullyexist - against all odds. Feel free to come down and check us out. Look me up and I’ll show you around my home.

What an exciting organization Barter sounds like, Nick. Your note is a good challenge to some of Bundy's points, but not to all of them-- in terms of diversity for example, glancing at Barter's website one sees that of the 19 resident actors, one is an Asian man and one a Black woman, and the remaining 17 are white. So when you say that "diversity is a non-issue" at Barter, that's an opinion that wouldn't be shared by everyone. To produce "The Whipping Man" this season I'm assuming you'll need to job in 2 guest artists, which will make it expensive. I imagine most August Wilson, for example, would be off the table.

I don't point this out to imply that Barter is doing anything wrong, just to say that these questions are tricky...

A quick note in terms of women LORT ADs: off the top of my head, Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill is at Capital Rep in Albany and Anita Stewart at Portland Stage in Maine.

I find myself agreeing with the spirit of this article, which i think lives in this statement: "It’s not for a lack of talent or ideas that the theatre is suffering, but rather from a business model that does not serve the interests of the artists, the institutions, or the audience".

However, I'm not convinced that urging everyone to jump on the repertory bandwagon will best serve those interests. For one, ensembles create the interesting conundrum of actually decreasing the number of artists who get to practice their craft. For example, if a theatre that may have worked with 50 actors (albeit for short engagements) through the various plays becomes an ensemble of 20, what happens to the 30 who didn't make the ensemble? When and where do they get to perform? Is it better for a few artists to have a perceived deeper connection to the work? Is this exclusivity truly better for the interest of artists as a community, or just as individuals? And of course, there are the issues of diversity that James Bundy discussed in his comments.

This leads me to believe that the field could benefit from repertory theatres, but perhaps this would be better suited to smaller, culturally or stylistically specific organizations. I say this because their smaller size suggests they wouldn't be cutting out as many artists from their community by switching to repertory, and the commitment to specific work would mitigate the need for diversity that a broader ensemble might require.

I think Bell's argument is very sound, particularly in the economic area, for the most part. But there is a downside to rep which he never touches upon. Primarily because of human behavior issues and politics which really can't be ignored. In many companies whom I will not name here. There sometimes develops a 'need to please' management, particular the AD, among actors, directors and even crew which leads IMO to unproductive and creativity-draining political, personal, professional and power struggles. It becomes a battle between the inside circle and the outsiders. A long standing group of the same artists CAN work together well as Bell notes but they can also get very stale from too much camaraderie and in-breeding at the expense of good work. While he is absolutely correct that people who have worked together become more efficient (for lack of a better word in the context of art) each time they work together. it is also true that they become colleagues and friends and sometimes even intimates. I'm not at all convinced that these kind of long term relationships, unless they are constantly challenged by new ideas, approaches and talent, do not lead to a form of dishonesty and self congratulation that is not healthy for the work or the organization's artistic development.

This is more of a management issue. As in the corporate model, all employees resort to in-house politics and "stale-out" if they feel like they have hit the ceiling in the company with nowhere else to go. That is why I like the Commonweal comment posted above. The artists are invited into the new season decision process and are encouraged to try new things. Stanislavsky, Brecht, even Burbage & Shakespeare applied this philosophy. As long as there is something to learn, experience, or witness in the next production the company (and the audience) will be at their best.

I spent the 1980's acting, mostly in repertory companies, albeit many were summer Shakespeare gigs; and the 1990s-present primarily directing and producing. I believe that nurturing an audience, regardless how small, is more important than catering to a potential large audience. In most communities, people who love theatre will return again and again. With repertory you are reaching out to theatre lovers.

Eugene O'Neill was singing the same tune (or rather, bemoaning the same loss) in 1925!

"The answer? Repertoire. Genuine repertoire. We all know it it's as simple as truth and perhaps that is why we make no attempt to live and work accordingly."

The below is transcribed wholesale from "The Unknown O'Neill: Unpublished Or Unfamiliar Writings of Eugene O'Neill" (out of print - http://www.amazon.com/The-U... )-------------------------------(This essay served as a program note to Adam Solitaire, a three-act play by Em Jo Basshe, produced at the Provincetown Playhouse in its third organization under the direction of James Light and Elinor Fitzgerald, two of the most stalwart "Provincetowners." O'Neill, Kenneth Macgowan, and Robert Edmond Jones had left the Playhouse, confining their productions to the Greenwich Village Theatre. O'Neill, however, as a testament of loyalty to the theatre that gave him his start, remained on the board of the Provincetown directors. Elinor Fitzgerald requested that he write a program note for their opening pro-duction. He replied that such an effort was beyond him because at the present he had fallen out of love with the theatre and had no idea when his antitheatrical melancholia would leave him. In the second paragraph, as he began to explain why this was so, he wrote the opening lines of the short essay: "I believe there is no possibility of real progress in the creative interpretation of plays..." and continued to tell her of the need for actors who have been trained in repertory, a constantly sought-for-panacea for the theatre in the first part of the century. The letter, with the opening and closing paragraphs deleted, was printed in the program, dated November 6, 1925. Whether O'Neill or Miss Fitzgerald made the final revisions is not known.)....Are the Actors to Blame?

I believe that there is no possibility of real progress in the creative interpretation of plays of arresting imagination and insight until we develop a new quality of depth of feeling and comprehensive scope of technique in actors and actresses. For only when a play is self-expressed through sensitive, truthful, trickless acting is "the play the thing."

In the acting lies the acted play. Great acting has frequently made bad plays seem good, but a good play cannot penetrate bad acting without emerging distorted - an uneven, bumpy, ugly duckling of an offspring at whom any play‑ wright father must gaze with a shudder. And this in spite of the finest and most intelligent and inspiring direction. Directors can only direct. They cannot give the actors the right developing experience unless they can plan over a long period of years with the same people. This plainly isn't possible under any present system. For actors are conceived by and born of the parts they have been permitted to play.

Are the actors to blame for the present conditions in all theatres which urge them toward the easy goals of type casting, rather than the long, painstaking self-training in the acquiring of an art? Well, if actors are partly to blame, then we others of the theatre, including the audience who accept them are equally at fault. Do we give them parts other than the apparent one God cast them in as persons? Do we take a chance on them? Not often. We cannot afford to in an era when the theatre is primarily a realtor's medium for expression. One mistake and then comes the landlord with notice of eviction. He is usually not an artist in the theatre, this landlord! He could see Shakespeare boiled alive in Socony gasoline and have qualms only as to our diminishing national Standard Oil reserves. The answer? Repertoire. Genuine repertoire. We all know it it's as simple as truth and perhaps that is why we make no attempt to live and work accordingly.

What is the Provincetown going to do about acting? Does it plan to lay emphasis on building up a medium for achievement in acting that will make young actors want to grow up with it as part of a whole, giving their acting a new clear fakeless group excellence and group eloquence that will be our unique acting, our own thing, born in our American theatre as not so long ago Irish acting was born in the Irish Players, modern Russian acting in the Moscow Art Theatre, or modern German acting in the Reinhardt group? All these had humble beginnings as we have had. If we do intend to work with the future of our acting at least equally in view with the artistic production of good plays and great plays, then I am high with hope.

The immediate future of the theatre is in the actor. Until he gets his real opportunity we others —I speak as a playwright this applies equally to all artists in the theatre—but wait for ours, or try tobe contented with what we know must be an unrealizable dream.

--------------------------------------

This is fantastic Gabe, thanks for posting it. I'm always fascinated by historical sources that resonate even more strongly in the light of our current challenges. This is a great example, and redressing the issue will probably continue to be a generational issue. Here's to carrying the conversation forward!

NB: This is how the Globe arose and survived.

Thanks, Brian, for some invaluable critical/creative thinking.As LA stage artists, Debbie McMahon of Grand Guignolers and I independently began thinking (as we read your essay) about a handful of small theatres in an urban area joining forces as a dispersed rep.We need to keep working at this ...--Mark Hein / Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, North Hollywood

I loved going to the Dallas Theater Center growing up because they had a rep company and I got to see the same actors do different shows/parts. And I am all for paying artists a living wage and for theaters being directly connected to their communities. But I don't get why anybody would want to remount the same productions with the same interpretation and designs for the same audience over and over. Is there any reason other than the economic one to do that?

Yes. When a production is really good, and popular, then one has a chance to see it again, to study it. I also spent a period of time living in Berlin and while there had a chance to see Martin Wuttke's brilliant performance in the lead of Heine Müller's Berliner Ensemble production of ARTURO UI five times. It was a master class in expressionist acting that I was grateful to be able to go back to repeatedly. If a show is not as good or popular, or eventually grows tired, it can just as easily be cut from the rep to make room for productions that are fairing better. So the rep model offers a flexibility of programming in addition to providing audiences with a chance to really study and further enjoy the work they admire.

There are definitely two topics here - having a 'resident company' and having a 'repertory schedule'. You can't do the second without the first, but you can do the first without the second. So it is two different things that can be addressed distinctly, as you say, Holly.

Personally, I do think true 'repertory' is most useful in large cities, in tourism-driven communities (as the audience changes so regularly), or in the old idea of rep touring companies, who can go to a town, perform for a weekend and do three different shows, and then move to the next town.

A dear friend of mine is a jazz musician and he always asks his wife, an actor friend of mine, "Why don't actors get together and master pieces? You do a show and move on, and depend on someone else to make the show for you. You all don't gig or jam -- how do you keep up your chops?"

Holly, I think that perspective of an artist outside of the theatre explains why there is so much value in developing a repertory of work that you return to periodically. The value is for the artists: Very rarely are actors, directors, designers, and writers able to develop mastery like the great jazz combos were able to do. True mastery. I've now played Othello twice and am desperate to do it several more times -- I know it will take many more times to get it right. In fact, I believe John Douglas Thompson had done Othello several times before his Off-Broadway triumph in the role with Theatre For A New Audience.

Now, let's look at the health of both the artist's craft and well-being as being important to the community. If that is true, that the artist is a crucial part of the health of a community, then developing these "masters" who may have done a Shaw, two Chekhovs, two August Wilsons, and four Shakespeares in 5 years is crucial to the cultural health of a community. And if theatre is really doing its job, it is educating people -- in those 5 years, a kid that was in 9th grade will see Julius Caesar and may come again to an evening performance as a senior. And her little brother will see that later performance with HIS 9th grade class.

Living in a smaller city like Ithaca, NY, I can tell you that bringing back shows goes over very well here. People feel like these "masters" are the members of their family that challenges them to think bigger, reach farther, speak bolder. They remember the earlier performances and love to compare. And in a town like this, where everyone is busy, they actually often miss shows. You need smaller runs in smaller cities, so it behooves a company to bring shows back periodically on a financial level.

Finally, these plays (not just productions) become permanent in the minds of audiences in a repertory model. Never again will someone think, "Oh, yeah, that Albee guy! He wrote that play about a zoo right?" That play will always be there -- probably seen 2 or 3 times by people. We create a much more theatre literate community, thereby increasing and diversifying our audience.

I agree -- the repertory model may be what saves us. And it may look the same as it did in England or Germany or the Guthrie. It may be that a show runs three weeks, then tours to schools/prisons/granges across the state where the theatre is, while rehearsing the next play. But repertory is the one model that maximizes resources, increases audiences (and possibly revenue), and develops better artists.

Yes, Holly!I can't imagine doing the same interpretation for more than one run ... But I can see an advantage in sharing designs and physical resources forward, while assuming that subsequent performers will reshape the work, perhaps using the first as a springboard.

Holly, I wonder if the answer to your question is also wrapped up in the "literalization" of storytelling that Brian points out. Christmas Carol aside (which banks on its season message of generosity so tidily wrapped up in an annual holiday), I understand Brian to be saying that a riskier body of work would lead to productions (stories?) that grow with multiple viewings. That their meaning is layered with enough complexity to make multiple viewings possible. Is it going to far to say that a line production-style of making theater mirrors rather significantly our particularly American consumer mind-set of disposability?

Great post. I am happy to say that the Commonweal Theatre in Lanesboro, MN has sustained a resident ensemble for 26 years. This would not be possible without a supportive community of people hungry for the art of theatre. All of us at the Commonweal are more than a collection of theatre-artists, we have become a family. The theatre world would indeed be a stronger one if all theatres could maintain what we have in our small town in Minnesota. (Jeremy van Meter on behalf of the CWL)

"We have become family" is no small statement. Surely the power of ensemble sustainability is wrapped up in this sentiment alone. And we should not underestimate its importance in this day and age when so many artists are pulled in so many different directions. As an artistic director, I can attest to the difficulty of surrounding myself with supremely talented individuals who feel called not only to the misson and vision of the company but to their own personal missions and visions as passionate, creative and--in many cases--ambitious individual artists. At some point, there exists a tension between the company's vision (no matter how inclusive) and the individual's need to explore. To leave the nest. This is especially true when the artists are cutting their teeth with the ensemble and come to realize they have other horizons to explore. In the best possible scenario, the model Brian imagines would seem to make room for that exploration with new projects. I'd be very curious to know how the ensemble at Commonweal has evolved over those 26 years and what the company has learned is essential to the health of the ensemble in order to sustain it.

Tom...I have looped, via Twitter, our Exec. Director Hal Cropp into the conversation. He has been aboard for 23 of the 26 years and is the go to man for how the ensemble has grown and developed over the years. I will tell you that we do have a strong collection of artists both late in their careers and also brand new to the professional theatre world. Those of us who have "been around the block" have made a longer-term commitment to the company. Those artists yet to hit 30 years old, make a short-term connection. When the wanderlust strikes them, they do leave the nest. We currently have a former member planning a move to Chicago later this year. We have found, however, that while they are with us, these young artists give the company their all and work quite hard to sustain it. The company has been blessed, and I think Hal would attest to this, with an abundance of artists who want to settle. Some for many years and others for 2-3. Learning to "live" with those people—as in any family—is has been the key to our success. (Jeremy van Meter)

Tom,

Some of what has been key has been the adherence to a couple of key principles and the practices that have emanated from them. First is the notion of the supremacy of the long term development of the artist as central to the company's mission. This has led to the ensemble having a significant voice in season selection. Further, ensemble members are encouraged to put forward their own desires, not only in terms of casting but also in desiring to explore other avenues (e.g. actor to designer, designer to director, etc.) Also, all ensemble members participate in semi annual artistic evaluations, a discussion about goals and areas for growth, which also figure into season casting. We have re-dedicated ourselves to a weekly company class structure where all are encouraged to participate. These processes involve even those at the highest levels of artistic leadership.

This has led, as you might imagine, to some very unexpected casting choices, but we have found our audience has been more than willing to accept.

Oh YES, Brian, oh YES! I too had my formative years at a true rep company (the Asolo Theatre in Florida in 2000/2001) and saw the immense benefits of a resident company in repertory to everyone involved. It has been a great disappointment of mine that American theatre has nearly entirely (with a very few exceptions) done away with it.

Presume I'm agreeing with most of what you wrote - I'll just add a few specific comments to add to the discussion here:

- The audience and the community.

You touch on this, but the issue of the positive impact of rep/resident artists on the relationship with the community is a massive thing, especially when outside of NYC. When artists are hired on annual or multi-year contracts, not only do they have time to put effort into their art instead of constantly struggling just to eat and get a job - they also have time to invest in their community. They buy small homes. They have children. The join the PTA. They get their hair cut at the local barbershop. They help with highway cleanups. They volunteer at other charities. And on and on. They have fuller, healthier lives. This adds to their artistic toolbox, certainly, and makes them happier people, but it also changes the attitude of the rest of the community towards the artists. Suddenly the artists are members of the local community, who are connected to and can be identified with by the postman and the construction worker and the shop owner. It can completely shift how theatre artists are viewed by the rest of society. Right now, as Mike Daisey references, they're seen by most Americans as roughly on par with migrant farm workers - because that's how our industry treats them.

- Regarding James' point on diversity. Resident companies do mean less 'turnover' with who is working on shows, yes. And that can easily lead to 'bastions of white privilege'. But if a company is deliberately created with diversity held as a core value, then instead you have the opposite - an artistic group that is dedicated to deep cross-cultural explorations over time. If your resident company has artists from a variety of backgrounds/ethnicities/communities/experiences, then a resident company provides enough time for those artists to truly learn from one another and work together in a way that simply cannot happen in a six-week process, even in a show that's 'about' diversity. And in a rep company, then it's possible to address diversity questions over a long arc, rather than the often-default of 'doing a black show' or 'doing an Asian show' to add diversity to a season.

- I think it's worth noting, as James did to some extent, three of the biggest balances to having a rep company. Everything is balancing, and when you commit to multi-year contracts for artists, there are some things you give up.

One is, as James points out, the ability to do some plays. In our culture in 2014, no, you can't do an August Wilson play with a rainbow cast. And there are plenty of other shows which would be off the table, either because of the specific types of actors needed, the cast size (not going to do so many 2-handers, but is that a bad thing?), specific types of training and skill sets that might be necessary (going to do that Kabuki show?), or other issues.

We often default, in our current conversations, to protecting 'artistic integrity', at the expense of other things like artist pay or diversity concerns. Sometimes it's legitimate, but often what's really happening is that the Artistic Director or Board of Directors 'want to do the shows they want to do' - at the expense of the artists or the community. A resident company grounds the type of work that can be done, and re-orients the focus to the artists, instead of the administration, in terms of what can be produced. I personally don't think that's a bad thing. Not every theater should be able to do every play in the world. Only by being specific can we be successful, and being specific means saying 'OK, we won't do XXXX, because we're going to do YYYY.'

I've also heard from some artists who crossover in TV/film that they like the in-and-out show structure, because that frees them to do the more lucrative commercial or film job that can pop up out of the blue. I'm sure for some artists who are succeeding at a certain level, and who live in certain communities (NYC, LA, Toronto, etc) that's very true and that they would not accept a multi-year job in a theatre.

On the other hand, I'm very confident that if you offered a three-year, $45k/year plus benefits job just working in the theatre to most theatre artists, they would take it in a second. Shall we do a survey?

Another drawback, as mentioned, is that creating a resident company cuts the cord in many ways with NYC. Shows cannot just pick up and transfer to the Big Apple, because the cast, at least, is committed to staying in their local community. The concept could have a future life, but the show as produced cannot function as an 'out of town tryout'. Similarly, the artists, even if hired from NYC, would be committing to staying in a community for a year or three or five, which means letting go of the drive of the rat race to succeed in NYC (or LA, for that matter). These are sacrifices for the organization and the artists - but they are sacrifices made in the pursuit of artist-standard-of-living, commitment-to-the-artist by the producers, and commitment-to-the-local-community, which seems to me to be core to the whole idea of live performing arts.

The underlying secret that makes this cutting of the umbilical so challenging is that many of the leaders of the regional theatre - artistic directors and board members - are not really committed to their local communities, but are instead harboring heavy prejudices (in some cases reaching the level of fetishization) of New York. It's easy to see this. Look at the large regional theatres across the country. How many are being run by leadership that came up through their communities? How many, instead, are run by artistic directors who had careers in NYC before they took the 'steady job' of an artistic director? In Los Angeles, every single LORT artistic director was hired from somewhere else, even though Los Angeles has more theatre artists than any other city, including NYC.

Why is this? Board Members of our larger institutions presumably love the theatre, and have lots of money - which probably means they fly to NYC or London regularly to see theatre there, even if they live in any other part of the country. So when they are in the position to hire a new artistic leader, their inclination is to hire someone from somewhere else - because they have internalized a belief that artists in NYC are 'better' than any artists they have in their community.

And when you bring in a leader from somewhere else, who has spent thirty years building relationships with artists from somewhere else, it's not surprising that their inclination will also be to fly in artists from NYC to create the shows. (In some regional LORT theaters it's easily over 90% out-of-town artists creating the work). And then the local audiences come to the theatre, and see in the program that all the artists are fly-in's from out of town, and get the dual message that A) the artists have no interest in connecting to the community and that B) their local artists clearly suck, or they'd be used instead of paying to fly people in.

No wonder audiences seem alienated from some of our largest houses - particularly audiences who aren't the 'older, wealthy, white' demographic, who probably ALSO fly to NYC to see theatre at least occasionally.

- Resident companies (and rep companies) would turn this dynamic on its head. It's just about values. Where does standard of living for artists, collaborative artistic development, and connection to local communities fall on the scale relative to the artistic director's personal artistic desires, the drive to connect to NYC, and the freedom of artists to disappear at a moment's notice?

I know where I stand on those questions. And if you read the stories of the founders of the regional theatre movement back in the 1930s/40s/50s/60s, you'll see where they stood on them too. It's a shame that those values changed so sharply in the 80s/90s. Perhaps it's time for them to swing back.

Right on Douglas. Yes, I think one of the most important effects of the repertory system is the 'normalization' of artists in the community. As you said, the artists come in contact with community members and take part in their own community as active participants. Over time that type of community engagement/investment reaps enormous returns for society and the artist themselves.

Trinity Rep has a resident acting company, as well as a few resident directors and designers, but its programming is not repertory. It seems that a big problem of going to a rep model is contracts-- it's hard to work it out with the Equity / LoRT agreements, the stagehands union, the performance rights, etc.

Brian, Lovely piece! Spanish Repertory Theatre in New York City (Repertorio Espanol) runs on the rep system. There is a core acting company. I have worked there as a playwright three times, and have always admired the fact that some of my cast members have seven to to roles in their head, so to speak, and on any given week will do five or six different roles in different plays whilst rehearsing another. On a purely technical level, it's quite something. The rep itself is not one or two shows rotating but more in the old school Russian style - five to ten shows performing a month - which means fewer performances a month for each show. When a new production is put into the repertory it usually gets what would be the equivalent of a "run" - i.e. consecutive performances over two weeks or so, before becoming part of the Rep schedule and its machinery. The company has been around for more than forty years, but there are growing pains, as you might imagine, and a desire from some company members to work differently. Maybe more in the rotating style. Some shows in the company have been running for ten years, for example, and the sheer maintenance of such shows is a challenge, albeit a fascinating one, certainly for me. As a theatre-maker, I have mainly worked with what could be called the "biz as usual" model. You walk in, you rehearse, there's tech and then the show shows 21 perfs and that's it. If the play gets a second or third (or more) production opp, then you have the opp to engag with the work again. Actors are jobbed in or cast locally and there's little sense of continuity not only with companies but with audiences. It can be disorientating and bewildering. Like having lots of short intense love affairs but no long term relationships. ... I have two shows running at Spanish Rep for three years, albeit not consecutively, but in the rep system. When I do visit the shows with new audiences it is fascinating to see how audiences respond and also to see sometimes the same original company members and how they have grown into the work.

Thanks Caridad! Its great to hear that you have had such a positive experience with Repertorio Español, I was not aware of their work, but I'll be sure to catch a show there next time I'm in NYC. I think your comparison of the current system to short intense love affairs is spot on, and likewise the continuity of rep as a long-term relationship. There will certainly be growing pains when a company remains together that long, absolutely. There is an interesting rule here in Germany that if you work at a theater for 15 years, you are entitled to a lifetime contract. This sort of becomes insurance against the ensembles becoming too stale, because the artistic director as well as most actors are rarely at one house for more than 14 years (on average more like 3-7) for fear of the theater being stuck with them forever. Which means that every 10-15 years the majority of the team cycles out and fresh blood comes in. It also means that you have a few colleagues that have reached the 15 year mark and are lifers. There are pros and cons for sure, but it is an interesting solution to the problem of keeping things fresh.

I've been trying to figure out a way to do a startup rep co. in NYC in the current climate and have been feeling at a loss. Nice to read something that gives me a kick in the butt to keep working on it. Thanks.

Thanks Taylor! Interestingly enough, a quote from your Manifesto was part of what inspired me to write this: "I believe a culture of repertory is the answer to most of our industry problems." So thanks likewise for the kick in the butt. I look forward to hearing about your startup rep company in NYC--go do it!

While lamenting the lack of a repertory ensemble here in NYC to a friend of mine, he made the very astute observation that the acting community in NYC as a whole can serve as a de-facto repertory. These actors get cast in the same plays often enough to start forming the types of bonds typical of a traditional repertory company. Granted, this won't come with the steady pay, or the health benefits, or any of the types of things that provide a safety net. But artistically, his position was that maybe there is a larger sense of community already at work in a place like NYC.

I think he raises an excellent point, though I will still lament the lack of a true and representative repertory company working here in NYC, until someone can prove to me that there really is no room in the ecosystem for one.

Thanks Mr. Bundy for your thoughtful response and for takingthe time to raise some excellent points. I would like to quickly touch on twoof them:

Diversity: I wholeheartedly agree that diversity in the theater is still anenormous problem, and I definitely understand the danger of resident companies becoming “bastions of unexamined white privilege”. One of my biggest critiques of the German system is how completely homogenous the ensembles are, the awareness of which seems to be only just beginning to dawn on the artistic leadership over here.

However I see the creation of resident companies not as a hindrance to diversity but rather as an invitation to establish new, wildly diverse and gender-balanced ensembles. That is part of what I found so exciting about the Lyric-Hammersmith’s new ensemble and their commitment to five women and five men.

As to whether the conditions of working with an ensemble would be too limiting for a playwright, I think there are definitely ways to work around that. If a new play calls for an actor of a certain gender/ethnicity/type that is not present in the ensemble, a guest performer could be hired for the creation of that role.

Also the limitation of working with the actors in the theater’s ensemble could be a positive thing, leading the playwright to creative solutions for their casting choices that they otherwise might not have come to on their own. Just as you mentioned that the dissolution of the acting ensembles in the 80’s and 90’s led to positive advancements in the field, so too the re-creation of new ensembles could lead to new innovations. The idea of a LORT theater with a resident acting company that reflects the diversity present in our art form is a really exciting one to me.

And quickly to your comment about Oregon Shakes: OSF is agreat example of a successful repertory model in the states, and I agree thatanother institution of that size and draw is not needed in the pacificnorthwest. I would argue rather that a theater company does not need to produce on that scale or anywhere near it to be able to benefit from the repertory model. I would mention the Barter Theater again as an example of a smaller institution that thrives on the repertory model.

I also recognize that my financial comparison of Gorki and Steppenwolf was cursory at best, and there are myriad other factors that I (intentionally) left out to prove the point that its not just about money. My hope would be that through the discussion about repertory work and resident companies, perhaps other hybrid models could arise that might meet the needs of different theaters. Certainly there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the needs of the various institutions.

Again, thanks for your insightful response, and for continuing the conversation!

This posting clearly arises from important and compelling values, the kind that are in tension in any theatre, and which are resolved in a variety of modes around the country, not just in the League of Resident Theaters, or LORT, which I assume are the 74 theatres mentioned.

The example of summer stock, where there is typically less rehearsal time than the vast majority of resident theaters, seems to confuse the issue--yes, it keeps artists working. But are summer stock theaters also failing because they do not typically promote adventurous or non-literal work? How do we progress logically from summer stock to the failures of LORT to "repertory is the answer." And do we even want to promote "the answer", rather than "an answer?"

The debate about acting ensembles and the loss of rotating repertory rarely includes the notion that there are meaningful artistic values imbedded in the move away from this company model. Historically, among the acting companies with which I am familiar, there was less diversity in personnel and in repertoire than any theatre seeking a broad civic and artistic profile would would risk today, or even in the 1980s and 1990s, when most companies were disbanded. The same company of actors who did excellent work in repertory at Yale Rep in the 1970s could not have responsibly performed the plays of Derek Walcott and August Wilson as Yale Rep did in the 1980s--this artistic choice on Lloyd Richards' part, to disband the acting company, did a different kind of service to the art form and the field. Like it or not, many of the ensemble companies at the outset of the resident theatre movement were bastions of unexamined white privilege, and we are still striving today to make individual theatres and the field more inclusive.

In addition, though many companies were founded by actors and directors who wanted to work, just as people do in summer stock, as those companies grew and wanted to bring playwrights into their midst, they had to be responsive to the aesthetics of those writers as well--why shouldn't the playwright, as the generative artist whose work is being interpreted, have a say in that matter, and if one of the key elements of interpretation is casting, what's wrong with the playwright fighting for her own interpretation of the work? It's clearly a good thing for actors to be acting more often and deepening their own work--is that an inherently better thing than for the playwright to see her play realized with the kinds of actors she longs to see and hear in it?

A theater Mr. Bell does not mention, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, has a very large and diverse acting company performing in rotating rep, in a range of plays both canonical and new, across a spectrum of aesthetics that is truly admirable. It's an expensive model for doing business, supported largely by ticket revenue, but also by major philanthropic giving. Is there room in the American cultural ecology for a lot more theatres like this? Since OSF draws audience from all over the western US, my guess is that another theatre of such scale would not arise in this region. In addition, more factors weigh against an imagined shift to repertory by, say, Steppenwolf, than Mr. Bell considers here.

Mr. Bell's cursory examination of the budgets of the Gorki Theatre and Steppenwolf (which is not in LORT) makes the reasonable point that it's about how the money is spent, and there is evidence that resident theatres have shifted capital to facilities and administration at the expense of artistry. In some cases, this shift represents generational efforts to revitalize or secure a theatre's future--50-60 years into the movement (or 100, if you count the Cleveland Playhouse), significant recapitalization of facilities makes a lot of sense, but it is also a project fraught with risk, and as audiences change, the field feels artistically fragile and programming appears more conservative.

Still it's important to note that the Gorki's larger federal subsidy really does take pressure off other revenue streams, such as ticket income, which has implications both for the pricing of tickets and the selection of repertoire. In addition, it's worth considering what other cost and artistic advantages (universal health care? state subsidized actor training?) the Gorki enjoys.

To gloss only at the level of aggregate income, as Mr. Bell does, is to capitulate on the deeper political question of how government, and the wider culture it reflects, interact with theatre artists. Is it easier to be an artist or theater manager in America than it is in Germany? I don't think so. A reasonable person could look at Steppenwolf and American culture and say, "This is an astonishing success story in a country with regressive taxation and inert cultural policy." I haven't read everything that Diane Ragsdale has written, but I don't think she's talking about Steppenwolf when she speaks of constant failure, and if she were, then I would argue that it's constant failure in the Beckettian sense of risking, failing, failing again, and failing better.

It would be great to see exciting repertory companies arise. Mr. Bell's idealism is invigorating--if his underlying premise is true, that it's about how the resources are allocated, then the barriers to starting a repertory company are no greater than the barriers to starting a stock company. But I believe that the first two postings above herald a meaningful obstacle--when all other factors are equal, repertory requires more human capital. And my experience is that it isn't just the capital to prepare the shows: it's also the capital to include diverse voices in the artistry.

Yes, James, we need to look inside the budgets of Steppenwolf and the Gorki (as examples) to learn where the money actually goes and why. Where the money comes from doesn't matter as much, since in both cases it does come. But I'll hazard a guess that Steppenwolf perforce does a better job of community consultation, at least with its donor community. And I'd rather co-create with my community than be beholden to the government.

I also agree that summer stock is a model we don't need to bring back. (I think Brian used it more as a metaphor.) But the closed company, while it worked for Shakespeare, may indeed be counterproductive. At ZJU, I enjoy the freedom and fluidity of an open company. It leaves each artist free to be involved as s/he chooses, without dues or compelled duties, and widens the theater's palette. Admittedly, it does make program planning more of a challenge.The "LA model," which occurred to a couple of us while reading Brian's essay, would involve several small companies working together in a loose rep style ... any comments you can contribute to that idea?

I certainly love the idea of a rep situation, especially as a designer, when you do a show you really love, it's hard to see it go forever just because of market forces that restrict runs. I recently composed a bunch of live music for a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and I would love to see it happen again. Thankfully, due to my mixing gig, I make enough that I could spend significant time in rehearsal with the cast to collaboratively generate the underscoring and some sung sections. This is a benefit that becomes more common in a rep situation: designers tend to have daytime availability, so the interaction of design and acting can happen more readily.

so excited to see this topic up here, kudos to Brian! I want to highlight the first point under the Good for Institutions heading because I find the idea of storing and playing productions at a later date especially important. I understand the desire to underline the transience of theatre, the get-em-while-you-can way of selling tickets. But there's also an incredible joy in being able to see the same production five years later, possibly with the same exact cast, possibly with new actors in some of the roles. To use a terribly easy metaphor, it's like being able to drink two bottles of wine from the same vintage five years apart. It's also like having a long-running Broadway show, but in any city -- a certain production can actually become one of the local landmarks.

And over my time in Germany i can only confirm, as Aaron pointed out quickly, that it is truly valuable to get to know spaces and audiences over time. The community that the theater builds isn't just in the seats or perhaps behind the scenes, it's also on stage. My experience is less with Chicago and more with California but names like South Coast Repertory, San Diego's Old Globe and La Jolla Playhouse could easily serve as similar examples of institutions that could consider shifting to a more "repertory" model. And I think the Lyric Hammersmith's involvement with young artists is a pretty good test case. It'll be interesting to see how Secret Theatre's second season goes...

Hey Aaron! Yes, the pace of summer stock production would not be sustainable over the course of a year, some economies of scale would be in order.

And I agree that many theaters in Chicago (and elsewhere) work on an ensemble-ethos, though the idea of working in repertory would not be feasible. I'm thinking more directly about the regional theaters that currently have the resources to enact such a plan. I think the influence of Steppenwolf in Chicago also has a big positive effect on ensemble theater as a value.

And yes, the repertory model may not be a panacea, but perhaps something like a hybrid form could be a step in the right direction. For example where a regional theater would invite a company like Redmoon for a residency, or a particular window of time where Redmoon's work could be shown in repertory to give that community a sense of their aesthetic. I think there are a lot of different ways the repertory model could be used to re-enliven the theater landscape.

Having done summer stock as a designer/technician, the schedule can get incredibly strenuous, so a 3 month stint isn't that bad, but an 11-12 month model would be hard on everyone, but I suspect there's some economies of scale that would end up working in favor of the model (once you have a few shows set, all you have are frequent changeovers, which can be optimized.)

I'd be interested to look at the full economics of specifically mid-size Chicago theatres, especially since I'm the resident designer/mixer at one "Ensemble" theatre and a design ensemble member at another. Neither even approaches the repertory model, but it would be interesting to do the math and planning for one.

I also wouldn't expect repertory theatre to be anything of a panacea for the lack of really innovative theatre in the US (again, specifically my experience in Chicago, Redmoon is one of the few companies doing really experimental work and they survive on legions of unpaid interns and dedicated staff)

Edit/Update: One more thought: As a designer who, in the last year, has worked at only about 4 different theatres with frequently similar actors, there's something to be said about being able to intimately know spaces, actors, and audiences over time.