Category Archives: NEA

Pay What You Can Night at “Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming” and “the arts aren’t real jobs”

Part of the line up of 217 people coming to see Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming, July 16th.

Part of the line up of 217 people coming to see Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming, July 16th.

We have a Pay What You Can performance for every production at Taproot Theatre, and this is the line that greeted the cast as they arrived at the theatre the other night. The actors were a) thrilled, b) freaked or c) both to see the eager crowd standing in the heat waiting to get in  — an hour before showtime to see Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming.

These PWYC performances are close to our hearts, as they are a blessing to people who – for many reasons – can’t afford a regular ticket.  Seniors, whole families, the unemployed, people with disabilities, students … you name it and I bet they’re here. Many of these people are regulars too, showing up for the serous, thoughtful plays and the lighter comedies and musicals.

After we completed the post-play discussion I was walking toward the lobby and was stopped by an older woman with a walker. “Thank you for doing these performances…” she said and went to to explain how TTC’s PWYC shows were important to her and the only way she could afford to attend live theatre.To the left I saw another woman in a wheelchair, and in the lobby another with a walker. On the sidewalk were a mix of seniors, high schoolers and others. For whatever reason, these people couldn’t afford a ticket – but got seats at this show and were thrilled by the performance and thankful for being able to attend!

...the rest of line  - going around the corner and another 100 feet or so!

...the rest of line - going around the corner and another 100 feet or so!

To those who say that the arts aren’t real jobs or don’t matter, how do you feel about extending affordable access to people who can’t otherwise attend the Arts?  (I’m reacting to some ill-informed comments to a seattlepi.com article on NEA funds flowing to arts organizations. ) IF Taproot Theatre were to get any of these arts-stimulus funds (and that’s a very big IF), it would help us fill the seats with groups (with a small group discount) and people paying full price too — all so that we can afford to have these PWYC shows, provide compelling stories onstage and earn as much as possible. The jabs of  “artists should get real jobs” doesn’t begin to understand the commitment of our staff, artists, technicians and staff who earn a pittance after investing in college and grad school. Nor does it recognize that a society is so much more than commerce, money and consumerism – but it includes softer things that make us fully human like the arts. In our case, in addition to wanting to tell the stories that matter and encourage us, or performing plays in hundred of schools that counter violence and bullying, and teaching kids about theatre and responsibility … we’re committed to being as accessible as possible to our audiences and community.

And although government support to Taproot Theatre is only about 1.6% of our annual budget, it acts like a seal of approva” and opens other doors at foundations and corporations. And like the biblical “widow’s mite”, we’re thankful for anyone who want to help us serve the public.

The NEA Stimulus package is not a “bail out”

The Christmas Foundling

The Christmas Foundling

There’s been unnecessary and uninformed criticism of the National Endowment for the Arts $50 million dollar share of the ginormous $700 billion dollar bailout. Such a teeny slice of that pie to whine about…none of it going to private companies, and none of it enriching CEOs with private planes and limos.

Let me give you a few ideas to ponder. (By the way Taproot Theatre Company, where I’m the producing artistic director, has never gotten an NEA grant so we’re ineligible to apply.) Here we go:

1. The funds do safeguard real jobs, and mostly under-valued (i.e. underpaid)  jobs. In the theatre world, most of my actor, designer and technician friends cobble together a scant living from short term jobs (including acting roles), teaching and odd jobs. It’s a scramble. Every theatre (or dance company, museum, orchestra) worth its salt is doing everything possible to fairly pay its people, short-term employees/guest artists and permanent staff. And permanent staff are radically paid below the market rate of private industry.

2. The grants assist us in surviving this economic storm. At the end of this tough economy, do you want a city with its museums, zoos, orchestras, theatres, ballet/dance companies decimated? We do need our industries and schools to survive, but we also need the vital ingredients of a healthy, whole society including the Arts where we learn about living, ourselves and one another.

3. We use those funds to keep the doors open to people in need …NOW. Again, all the arts organizations I know are thinking of ways to stay affordable and accessible to people during times like this. Free shows, “Pay What You Can” shows, discounts for students and senior citizens, deals for university and under-25 young adults – we recognize that people need a night out to laugh, cry, ponder, celebrate, reflect and connect with others. Actually we’re always doing that (!!) but in these anxious times people need a renewed if not urgent access to reflection and diversion. (In Taproot Theatre’s case, we’re still running without a patron saint/major grant picking up the tab for most of these efforts. We’re on the line to raise $750,000 to balance the books in 2009.)

Around here – Seattle  – I know one of our largest theatres is cutting their budget by a third. Most are laying people off, mandating unpaid furloughs and cutting programs. As one of a cadre of mid-sized theatres, my peers have trimmed budgets, leadership have taken unpaid weeks off, and more. Planning for 2010 includes small shows that we hope also “sell” well, but small shows means fewer acting jobs too. In case you miss my point here: we, non-profit arts organizations, are accustomed to cutting budgets, squeezing every bit of value out of a buck, and still working to extend ourselves and missions to be a good thing in the lives our audiences.

So, if anyone around you trash-talks the NEA funding, tell ’em to back off.