"Every great play we have ever been lucky enough to feast our eyes on has come out of a public [for profit] playhouse." ~ Walter Kerr, How Not to Write a Play.
As mission statements go,"Seattle as a world class theatre town," stirs me not at all. "Seattle is the epicenter of a theatre revolution," is a good start, and we have the motive, opportunity and means.
Mike Daisey's article in The Stranger, The Empty Spaces, motivates. He sums up the argument against the status quo reasonably well but overlooks the fundamental cause. A theatre on subsidized life support is incapable of innovating and competing against other forms of entertainment. So long as not-for-profit theater remains, in the words of Todd London, "The way theater gets done in America,"our theatre will live on unchanged.
The basic conventions of our theatre haven't changed since Ibsen's Pillars of Society opened in 1877. Social drama remains the dominant genre. Thesis driven chamber pieces requiring four actors and a couch are our stock in trade. Neither have produced a masterpiece on par with the greatest plays of the past, nor have they resulted in a popular, profitable and vital theatre. Our audience is getting smaller, new plays are a novelty, and only theater administrators are making a living, still season after season we keep raising the curtain hoping a miracle is waiting in the wings.
The thing I find most depressing about all of this is our lack of imagination. We can imagine a 48-hour play festival and make it a reality. We can imagine the plays of the dead back to life. We take great pride in the powers of our imaginations, but we can't imagine a theatre more popular, vital and relevant than basic cable.
Once upon a time, we were troubadours surviving on talent and wit, scoundrels smart enough to give audiences what they were willing to pay good money to see. These days, all but a very small number of plays and musicals lose money, and most Equity actors make more on unemployment than they do on stage.
We have plenty of opportunity. If most theater is being done for free anyway, why not spend our labor innovating, inventing new ways of working and a new product. We need to start taking enormous risks. We have nothing to lose but our day jobs.
As for means, any empty space will do.