I really don't think this is a defeatist position.
I really want to frame this as a question for those of us making performance (theatre/dance/etc...) in Charlotte (or anywhere in the contemporary USA I suppose).
In the face of "Big Box" Culture Industry what is the role of...well, everyone else?
Perhaps this is a problem specific to Charlotte. I've not researched this exhaustively but I am fairly certain that we are the only city of our size where the largest professional theatre is the touring house. And the gap in budget and reach between that house and every other theatre in town is astronomical. When it comes to professional theatre made for adults, local audiences are attending work (in droves, it seems) created and performed by artists from New York. When it comes to theatre, Charlotte is an import town.
Now before anyone comes howling about the amazing work being done on smaller stages around town. Yes. I know. There is work being done by small theatres in Charlotte and some of it is even quite good. That isn't what I'm talking about. What am I talking about? I don't know!
I guess what I'm winding my way around here is a question that goes something like this:
If we accept that there is an audience for theatre in Charlotte, (and attendance at Blumenthal's touring productions tells us there is), what is keeping that audience from supporting locally made theatre in a way that would make a local professional theatre viable? Is our work just not as good? Is our work not as accessible? Do they just not know about it?
As to the question of quality...we can always do better. so let's try. that's another post for another time.
As to the question of accessibility...What are we even talking about? Parking? Content? Pricing? The fact that the audience can't see the work because of how you set up the chairs?
Do potential audiences just not know about it? Are my 8,000 instagram posts not working? Is it that the daily paper doesn't really cover the arts anymore? Is the Big B's marketing budget that impressive? (As a side note...I would like to suggest that if someone gave me the Blumenathal's marketing budget as XOXO's operating budget for a year we'd knock your socks off.)
Maybe the question we all need to be asking ourselves is "in an ecosystem dominated by Big Box Import Theatre...what is our role?"
As every 2nd year acting student's problematic fave Sandy Meisner was often heard to exhort his acolytes...We need to be specific. Sitting in the Belk Theatre watching the latest bus and truck production of the latest broadway juke box musical, we could be anywhere. There is nothing particularly Charlottean about the experience. The theatre/entertainment industry isn't immune to the malaise of this moment in history. Take a look around you the next time you are playing pickle ball at a just add water, oh so authentic prefab entertainment district, or look at the beige apartment buildings springing up all over the city. How do you know you are in Charlotte? You could just as easily be in Denver or Dallas or Des Moines. "Culture," my friend Chiron once said,"is how specific people respond to living in a specific place." And in our current moment of flattening (all in the service of global capital, but I digress) is Culture, as Chiron framed it, even possible?
To make culture, we need to be specific. We need to make work that feels like RIGHT HERE AND RIGHT NOW. That doesn't mean every show has to be a devised piece about how the trolley workers of the old west side were displaced (although it could be and I'd be down to watch that.) What it does mean is that we should stop trying to make work that feels correct; that feels acceptable and safe and flat. we should stop trying to make work that is going to get us an A+ and a pat on the head. Now I don't think anyone is doing this intentionally. At least I hope the cops in our heads are more subtle than that. I think we do this because we want to succeed. We want to succeed when what we maybe should be aiming for is to flourish.
We flourish by being ourselves. By responding to the world around us honestly and by encouraging others to do the same.
We have to nourish our wilder impulses, access our unconscious and trust in our vision. We have to make the room and find the resources to allow local writers, directors, actors and designers to be themselves, to be artists. When we do that, we create experiences that could only happen right here and right now. And in a world ever more explicitly mediated by screens and a thousand different kinds of difference and alienation, what people crave more than anything, I think, is the communion that theatre offers right here and right now.
This doesn't guarantee us the funding we need. It doesn't guarantee us the audiences we crave. But it might be the path to giving those audiences a reason to come to us. Not out of a sense of obligation or pity, but out of a hunger for the strange, the exciting, the fun. And if the audience's come, the funding might follow. And if it doesn't...at least we'll die with our boots on.