Fundamental Creativity for Theater Companies
By ROBERT W. BETHUNE
Itís not unusual to see two companies in the same area, who compete for the same audience base, wind up deciding to produce the same play. Sometimes they even do it at the same time. On one occasion I had the regrettable experience of being involved with one of four simultaneous productions of Dracula. I suspect the Count himself was somehow involved in fomenting the situation, probably for the sake of revenge. Sometimes one even sees more than two such competitions going on in the same market.
This is a good example of how live theater as an industry loves to take out toe permits — the ones that allow you to shoot yourself in the foot. Theater companies fiercely guard their artistic independence, as well they should. Theater companies rarely look outside of themselves and the circle of artists they work with for input and insight into anything, let alone something as fundamental as choice of repertory.
That might need to change. Theater, as an industry, is extremely weak. Anything the industry can do to strengthen itself would be a positive change. More willingness by artistic directors and executive producers to communicate with each other about such fundamental resources as repertory would avoid potentially destructive conflicts between companies that are already weak. It means being slightly less fiercely independent and slightly less centered in oneís own company, oneís own creative inclinations, in short, oneís own navel.m
Thereís another change that needs to happen, a much more fundamental one. Theater companies need to review who they are and what their core mission is — everybody knows that. What doesnít seem to be part of that process is taking a look at the competition, or if you donít like that word, the artistic environment. Who in the area is doing what? Who can do what best? What can we do that we can do better than everybody else, and that is different from what everybody else is doing? The world of theater, from the dawn of time and around the world, offers a huge variety of repertory, style, and content. How can oneís company explore that rich resource so as to define a niche for itself, to distinguish itself at a fundamental level from the competition?
Living creatures do that all the time. Thatís the way evolution happens. Theater companies are like living creatures; they also need to individuate themselves, exploit their own unique niche, and develop themselves to fit into it ever more perfectly.
A calibration point: are you one of three or seven or ten companies in your area devoted to the production of new plays? Are you one of two or four or eight or twelve companies in your area whose normal style of performance is fundamentally Stanislavski/Strasberg/Meisner? When was the last time you did a set that did not represent normal Euclidean time and space?
The point here is that creativity in theater starts at a far more basic level than the problems of standard rehearsal. It starts with an intrinsic idea of what kind of work one will do. Originality at that level cannot help but produce originality at less fundamental levels as well, and goes a long way toward finding, or even creating, the niche that only one company occupies at one time.