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Monthly Archives: June 2015

As Venus Theatre faces the final five performances of woman-empowering script #52 I can’t help but pause and reflect as I sit in my booth and stare at my dark stage.

You know that thing about the road to hell being paved by the best intentions? I think that is the symbolic alligator I’ve been wrestling for a few years now. In many different instances I’ve been told to give people a break. I’ve been told they are truly good people. They mean the best. They may not be qualified but they are here. They may not have the skill set but they have the bank account. I mean I haven’t heard that directly. The elephant in the room. The room quickly becoming a zoo full of metaphors because talking about what’s really going on is taboo and disrespectful. Like peeing on a sidewalk, or calling your inappropriate relative a sexist at the dinner table.

This year we have received more funding than any other year. WHAT A GIFT!!!

When I say more funding I mean enough to buy shoes for one play at a major house. But enough for us to produce four brand new plays. Our annual budget is only $30,000.

With that money we pull out 80, this year 85, performances of new work that would likely otherwise not be produced. All artists receive stipends, this is professional work. That requires so much cell tissue and it’s always been worth it. But, there is more funding to be had. And as I approach the age of 50 I’m going to have to find it because I’ve already spent much of my cell tissue. There is funding earmarked for exactly what I’m doing but because I don’t have a staff of grantwriters that funding does not come to my organization. That funding goes to the organization with the grantwriters who do nothing else but look for and apply for grants. This raises the question around what we like to call in theatre – objective. Is the object really to launch women in the theatrical arts OR is the objective to perpetuate an administrative system that requires more bureaucracy and less art by the year?

soft-foam-lego-style-toy-building-blocks-1

If this were not theatre. If this were architecture say, it would clear a lot of things up. Because if this were about building a structure that had to withstand the elements outside and human management due to wear and tear on the inside no one would defend the guy who played with legos as a kid now building a skyscraper, or even a three story walk up.  No one would defend that he didn’t know what he was doing but loved them a lot and really meant well so he should be given a few million and when the thing comes tumbling down a few million more after he’s been forgiven his previous debt of a few million because what would we do without buildings?!?! They wouldn’t be able to afford to do that. So, this lego-lover may have to be told no. No thank you. We appreciate your passion around “architecture”. We appreciate your extensive collection of varying colors and shapes of legos. We love that you have more than you need and we hope that you will take every architectural tour in the country, save every brochure, give money to architectural groups, and share your passion with all of your friends and family throughout your lifetime.  Because really, it would be impossible to love “architecture” TOO much. But, loving it doesn’t make you an architect. I think we can all agree, loving architecture doesn’t make you an architect.

Legos are legos and bricks are bricks.

I know what you’re thinking. The hubble telescope was saved by legos. Yes, and also an experienced and incomparable scientific mind.

We need that kind of clarity in my world. Because, loving theatre does not make you an artist. Getting a masters degree in theatre administration with no practical application does not make you an administrator. You have to actually APPLY the lessons to reality and cultivate your skillset over time and under experienced people who have actually run theatres. Not professors who have a theory about it. Listen, I know this is almost forbidden language but it’s true. Neither does being an embittered and stifled shadow artist qualify you as a critic. Neither does singing in the shower qualify you for opera.

I know what you’re thinking. Pavarotti sings in the shower. Yes, and also at the Met.

The comparisons go on and on. In the end, study and application equal cultivating craft. Writing checks and buying fancy suits don’t. So, to the man at the meeting in the important room in the city wearing the stupid bow tie with the suit that costs more than my car who condescendingly asked if I would be costing him money, WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?!?!?!

In a unanimous vote by my board of directors this year, we have withdrawn from participating in a few different organizations. In each case, they had the best intentions. But why should we set aside our skill set for someone else’s ego or clogged up bureaucracy? That’s how structures crumble.

by Photos8.com

by Photos8.com

A play I produced was acknowledged on both coasts but disqualified in DC because of a retroactive program requirement sent us in a survey three months after the show closed. A lady in town ostracized me because I couldn’t change the way FaceBook worked so she told business people to no longer talk to me as she sat in an office and held an officers title. She sent angry emoji’s to my cell phone, and threatened a police escort if I didn’t return her dusty coffee mugs she left in my lobby on a Saturday morning when I had other plans. A festival claiming to empower women’s voices is two months behind on deadlines they set themselves and complicating systems in the name of women in theatre fortifying a negative stereotype of women in the arts. This is manipulative because to talk about the elephant in the room comes with a reputation of BEING the elephant in the room. That’s the dynamic of codependent dysfunction always. A Mayor was able to let his friend build a virtual hanger on the street but still hasn’t -in those same years- been able to change a sentence in the paperwork of the cities charter that would allow us to apply for state funding. Why is THAT?

Afterall, it’s just the slow turning heavy gears of bureaucracy. Nothing to take personally. They all have the best intentions and they are doing the best they can.

So am I. And, food is not free. And, it’s not just ME.

I KNOW there are funders out there who want their money to stretch as far as possible. Please stop investing in the lego builders. Please make it less about filling a form. Please look at the actual work going on and invest in the artists. I say this as the writer of a proposal that was not granted but monies instead were given to a company that had already donated all of their equipment to Venus because they were shutting down. But still, they knew how to fill out the form. So they got the check.

I represent artists who have few opportunities. So, when I give a portion of my life and the resources of my company to producing them no one has permission to erase that work. NO ONE! No matter how big the oopsie of the well intentioned lego builder. See, this is my profession, not my hobby.

I’ve rented the same space month by month for 10 years now. Before that I rented space through five states for five years. And, if one month goes by where I can’t pay the rent then guess what? I don’t get a space. So, these larger houses running millions of dollars in the deficit margins make no sense to me. They are lego builders asking for more money because their structure simply cannot hold its own weight.

Listen, this isn’t personal. This is my profession. This is my craft. I’m tired, I ache, I’m sweaty,because the bricks never move themselves. I can’t just stand around watching this form become butchered by knife wielding, bow-tie wearing, lego architects. It’s PURE insanity from where I stand.

These writers I produce sacrifice so much to get their words down on the page. And if those words can simply be erased by a persons ego or the administrative cellulite of incompetence then we are not dealing with artistry at all, we are dealing with bureaucratic kerfuffle. My actors, my designers, my teams. They deserve respect in the way of a living wage. How am I to explain to them that if we are to continue to do new works by women we must live in poverty. If we wish to come out of poverty we must become bureaucratic fillers of forms. We must say the one thing and do the other. PURE insanity. Seriously, that is the exact recipe for terrible theatre.

I want potential funders to know that there is a way to put theatrical arts at the center of economic development. Specifically, women in theatrical arts. I want to tell them that it would be a very wise investment to do so. I want the politicians to understand that arts organizations are the heart of community, not a burden. I want them to know without a doubt the people I work with are resourceful, gifted, well trained, qualified, and professional. They are not hobbyists and they are not bureaucrats. They are artists. And, when do we prioritize that?

WHEN?!?!?!?!

Because right now we are still largely paying with cell tissue. I sat in a downtown meeting to hear $10,000 donors called small change people. This chasm makes no sense.

So many artists are gifted, trained, and ready for real opportunities. Let’s give them that please. These minutes, they don’t come back around again. The clock is ticking and the moment is everything. Please invest in artistry over ego.

Please.

Thank You,

deb randall, venus theatre, founder