Saturday, October 24, 2009

BoarsHead and Stormfield: Not or

Earlier this week, the founding artistic director of BoarsHead, John Peakes, sent a letter to the editor at the Lansing State Journal. It encouraged people to support the new theater that Kristine Thatcher is forming, Stormfield. It also encouraged people to pull their support away from BoarsHead.

The first part of that call is something I can completely get behind. I was thrilled to hear that Kristine would be staying in our community and continuing to bring in the works that made BoarsHead an exciting place to attend during her tenure. She will be filling a niche that true theater lovers can appreciate--producing those works that prove the art is still alive, evolving, and relevant. She'll be introducing us to works as a way of finding out whether they are worth loving.

The second part of John's advice is far more problematic. Yes, I understand the anger at how Kristine was treated. Yes, I understand that such a move reveals frightening things about the artistic direction of the oldest professional theater in the region. I also fear that they've chosen stagnation over necessary risk-taking. However, neither do I think it would be healthy for anyone in the arts if BoarsHead were to fail.

Forget about the personality conflicts for a few minutes. Let's look at things philosophically:

Theater as an eco-system

I've written about this idea so much in this blog that I'm sure my long time readers are sick of it. It bears repeating in reference to this issue. John's email assumes an either/or attitude--that we must choose one theater over the other to support. It's a model of competition. Yet, theaters are non-profit for a good reason and not just because they aren't financial cash cows. They exist to serve a purpose in the community. They enrich the community and the people who live in it, improving their quality of life.

Each theater company in the Greater Lansing area serves a purpose and an overlapping audience. While resources may be finite, live theater has not begun to reach the limits of those resources, particularly when it comes to audience members (and, if we are going to be cynical, the financial resources that accompany those audience members). I've had the good fortune to attend theater at all of the local theater companies. Yes, there is an overlapping audience, but each new group also brings new people to theater. As the years pass, you start to see those new audience members at other theater productions.

In other words, each group creates its own audience and brings more people to the wonder and miracle of live theater. Even with all of the productions that take place in the Lansing area, they are still a fraction of the number of movies that come out each year--yet you don't hear people making a call for fewer movies. There are few people who will ever try to see every movie that comes out and there are even fewer people who will see every live production that comes out. However, the play that one person has no interest in will appeal to someone else.

The more theater we have, the more people are able and willing to make theater a normal part of their lives. We have already reached the point in Lansing that you can see theater every single weekend. This is essential for a society that increasingly does things spontaneously--making decisions about their entertainment choices not a year in advance, but an hour in advance. Also, the more theater we have, the more passionate people become involved and passion is contagious.

If we want a healthy theater community, we can only benefit from trading the competition model for the ecosystem model. We can recognize that every theater has something to contribute and all of them support each other in a myriad of ways.

Both BoarsHead and Stormfield have committed themselves to different types of theater work. Those works will appeal to different people--albeit there will definitely be overlapping audiences. There is sufficient room in this community for both types of work. Indeed, having both types of work is going to make each of the other more successful because people will become increasingly aware of the diversity of theater offerings. Rarely will someone decide they don't like all movies because they don't like the horror genre. Yet, you will hear people write off all of live theater because they think the few shows that they've seen represent the entire spectrum.

BoarsHead as Employer

Aside from the artistic element of theater, there is another reason that the Lansing theater community would not benefit from the failure of BoarsHead. It remains the largest professional non-profit theater in the area, providing more artistic support and artistic jobs than other theaters in the area. Even with film incentives making it somewhat easier, it is still an extremely difficult path to make your living in the theater arts.

Yes, I understand John's anger at those who made the decision that they did about Kristine. But more people would suffer if BoarsHead went under than just those people. In fact, those people would probably suffer the least. There are people who rely on BoarsHead for their living. There are those who rely on BoarsHead as an important supplement to their income. It continues to offer an important educational service to the community.

No one will benefit from the failure of BoarsHead.

Let's not make our choice one of Stormfield OR BoarsHead. Let's make it a choice of Stormfield AND BoarsHead.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Theater, but not in Lansing

Last week, I took a trip with my mom, her two sisters and their daughters (my aunts and cousins). They had recently sold my grandfather's house and they decided to use the proceeds to take us all on a trip to Chicago to see "Jersey Boys."

I was excited about it because while I see a lot of theater, rarely do I see it with my relatives. Indeed, for my one aunt, this was her first time ever going to see live theater. She said it was on her list of things to do before she died.

So on Monday, five of us took the train into Chicago while my other cousin flew in from Arizona. We checked into the beautiful boutique property, Hotel Felix, and proceeded to go shopping at Water Tower Place.

On Tuesday evening, we headed to the Bank of America Theater to see Jersey Boys. We had a little trouble getting in as two of the six tickets had printed out in Japanese on my aunt's printer rather than English and we had to get that fixed at the box office. However, we all made it in in time for the first act. It was a pretty good show. I could tell it was a Tuesday night performance as the energy was low and some of the lead performers were struggling with mush mouth for the first half hour.

At intermission, everyone said what a good time they were having and we did the usual intermission things. After some time had passed, we realized that the intermission was lasting a really long time.

Then the ushers went to the front of the theater, and we watched as everyone in front stood up and started coming up the aisles. Sure enough, the ushers were evacuating the theater. They did so very calmly and efficiently. We all got outside and they moved us across the street. The Chicago police were there, as was the SWAT team.

Soon they evacuated the entire street and the hotel above the theater. Then people from the theater came out and told us all to leave, that our tickets would be refunded.

Later, we learned that two suspicious packages were found in the alleyway next to the theater. One of them had a note that read, "This is not a bomb." The other had a note that read, "This is not going to end good." (Obviously, they need to look for someone with an incomplete grasp on grammar.)

Eventually the bomb squad exploded the two boxes. There were not explosives inside and last I heard an investigation was going on to find who did it and hand them a bill for the city's response.

It was definitely a memorable night at the theater, even if we all left at intermission and can't tell you how it ended. Nor could the actors be blamed if the audience complained that the show bombed.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fall Memories

Dear readers, will you indulge me for an entry that has nothing to do with theater?

I recently found something I wrote 8 years ago; something that I rather like and find it to be as true today as it was when I wrote it (except the years listed would have to add 8 to them). The event I was writing about was now 24 years ago, not 16 years ago and I've been married for nearly 17 years now, not nine. But the sentiments are surprisingly unchanged:

A Lunchtime Drive

Earlier today as I drove home for lunch I admired the vibrant strokes of color that had painted the trees and leaves. Squirrels bearing nuts bounded over golden carpets and trees wept red and brown tears against the overcast skies.

Autumn is one of my favorite seasons and it always makes me nostalgic. Today on the drive home it made me think of an autumn night 16 years ago. Two nervous teenagers were returning home from their senior homecoming dance and the young man stood on the young woman’s front porch preparing to bid her goodnight.

It wasn’t exactly their first date. They had spent an afternoon together after a forensics team trip to book stores in Ann Arbor. They’d shopped together at a mall and spent a few hours in a video arcade, shared a Toblerone bar, and gone out to eat at a Coney dog restaurant. When the teenage boy had taken the girl home that night, he’d pointed out that it wasn’t exactly a date, and so he wasn’t sure if he should ask for a good-night kiss. She, somewhat flustered, demurred and suggested she just give him a hug instead.

But the homecoming dance was definitely a date. She was decked out in a sequin-covered, 80s-style black dress and he looked especially sharp in a thin gray tie and matching suit coat and pants. The October evening was brisk, but not cold yet, much like today’s weather. He gave a smile that she would soon become addicted to, and said, “Now I know it’s appropriate this time to ask you for a kiss goodnight.” She blushed, agreed, and they exchanged what would now be considered a rather chaste kiss goodnight.

Later he would learn that he’d just given that 17-year-old girl her “first kiss” and their dating relationship would be rather tumultuous over the next couple years. After all, these two were yet children as much as they might have wanted to think otherwise. They had yet to learn that love is more than an emotion. They had yet to learn that passion is only one part of a successful relationship. It would be years before they would discover that love has only begun to grow once the initial excitement and ardor wears off. They would have relationships with other people before they would learn that a marriage is made of something stronger than a fluttering heart.

But my drive home for lunch today was rather short, giving me time to think just about this one enchanted fall evening so many years ago—not the painful lessons that those two would later learn from each other.

I walked into my house to be greeted enthusiastically by my blond imp of a son who quickly filled my ears with giggles. I then turned to his dad—my husband of nine years—and greeted him with a kiss. How sweet to discover that his kiss is as dear today as it was on that brisk October evening 16 years ago.