Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Key "Stage Company" question, how much have the members pledged?

I was reading Caleb Hale's nice piece about the Varsity Theater building in the SI yesterday and was amused by the constant rattling of the pauper's cup by the Stage Company.

Let's recount a little history. They had a free building for many years. Put on shows, had a nice time, did good things. But they didn't do any maintenance on the building and like most buildings in Southern Illinois, if you do no maintenance the building falls apart. Sad end, the building was torn down. Now they are searching for a home and would like someone else to pay for it. I guess I understand that feeling, I like it when someone else pays too.

Today, there are many stages for rent in Southern Illinois for a fairly low rent. SIU alone has 4 or 5 stages to choose from. Throw in CCHS and a few other places and you realize we have a huge number of unused stages for rent in a town of 24,000 people. But, renting a stage isn't optimum, it would be so much nicer if someone would build the Stage Company a new building to their specifications and maintain it forever, for free.

I have been approached a few times to see if I wanted to write "the check" to make the "Stage Company's" dream a reality. Any good fund raiser will tell you to ask a key question, has everyone in your group pledged or given money already? The "Stage Company's" answer is something like we are too poor to give money. Oops.

Let's assume that you can rent any stage in Carbondale for $200 per night. Let's further assume they need the stage for 30 straight days, 4 times a year. That is $24,000 per year. I bet that is less then the electric bill on a new building they propose. You had to know that the $600k was just the beginning of the money they wanted right? Starts to make a new pool look reasonable.

What do you think? Are you ready to have the tax payers pony up the money to make the "Stage Company's" dream a reality? I'm not feeling the love myself.


sandra said...

Peter: This is a huge “comment,” more like a letter…so please feel free to edit for length. I trust you will keep its integrity. I’m passionate about the topic; I could write endlessly about it…Thanks for publishing it.


What an interesting topic, very close to my heart…OK, but first I think this will require a bit of self-disclosure, a leap out of anonymity so you'll understand where its coming from. Let me re-introduce myself, “Hi bloggers, my name is sandra, otherwise known on this blog as 'Concerned'” (that just felt like a “twelve-step” program introduction!)…I'm a female grad student/instructor currently working on her dissertation in Speech Communication here at SIUC, my particular area of study is Performance Studies. I have formally been practicing theatre/ performance for the past 16 years (oops, there goes my age!) and have had the opportunity and privilege to have been trained by excellent acting/ performance teachers in places ranging from Mexico, to NYC, to Carbondale. Surely my "resume" is of interest to absolutely no one in this blog, other than that of serving to establish a bit of ethos in this area to back up a bit of my opinion.

I've lived that life of trying to have an independent theatre/performance group, I've "pan-handled" to do theatre abroad, I've worked odd jobs just to produce shows, I've drawn up proposals and presented them, I've painted, nailed, stapled, re-upholstered, sewn, lit, designed, directed, written, etc., etc, and I’ve learned a thing or two from that experience, a) theatre/ performance that wants to claim a certain level of professionalism is nothing if not labor that is practiced 24/7; it is a way of life. Until someone steps up who can make that kind of commitment and sacrifice, it is unlikely a theatre can “succeed;” b) “Successful” theatre/ performance (and I am not equating this with revenues necessarily) speaks about the context in which it is produced, holds itself up like a mirror upon which an audience can see, or hear itself. In other words, what is produced is key to an audience wanting to witness it.

I recall the first day I arrived here to go to grad school, I was eager to learn what theatres were around, and the kinds of shows they were doing. After living here for a while, I confess I was disappointed by the choice of material The Stage Company was producing in the sense that it didn’t seem “relevant” to the community’s everyday-life (e.g. its struggles, its thoughts, its desires). Often the justification for commercial theatre is that it should provide “release” and “entertainment” for people to “forget” the hardships of reality, and by this account unfortunately some bad comedy sees the light of day. However, I would argue that theatre that reflects/ refracts a community’s identity, AND entertainment, are not mutually exclusive.

I’m entirely uncertain about the circumstances under which The Stage Company did not keep up its space, and although I disagree with having demolished such a beautiful old building to now give way to the advertisement of alcoholic beverages, I wonder whether The Stage Company might not reflect on its theatrical project as a whole. Perhaps asking themselves why it was unable to survive, why people would prefer the movies instead of the theatre. What can a community theatre offer to its own people that a film produced elsewhere cannot? Maybe that would be a good starting point. Perhaps they have already done so, for which I offer a deep apology for speaking without knowing all the facts, but, having outgrown the idealism of “we should exist ‘just because,’” I’ve realized that what is left after one “grows up” is that ineffable thing that gives theatre its uniqueness: the very real reality of the labor involved in producing it, which includes everything from sweating on stage, to justifying one’s existence on it.

Peter in Carbondale said...

I only have thumbs up or thumbs down power on comments, clearly this is good comment. Interesting, full of facts, opinion and good will.

Thank you for a nice contribution.

Anonymous said...

Well, perhaps this is a moot point.

I attended the annual "Music Festival" last Saturday night at the Grace United Methodist Church on Tower Road in Carbondale.

Sometime during the program, which was a benefit for the Women's Center and the Good Samaritan House, the master of ceremonies announced that inasmuch as the Grace Church has stage facilities (complete with sound, lights, and seating for several hundred people) , and the facility is rarely used, Grace Church was working on an agreement with the Stage Company to make the Grace Church the permanent "home" (for lack of a better word)for the Stage Company.

The announcer didn't give a timetable for the negotiations, but it seems like a win/win situation.

The Stage Company would have a permanent base of operations, and the church could better utilize their facilities.

Peter in Carbondale said...

That is good news. There are so many good places to run a small troupe in Carbondale, using an existing location sure makes sense.

Thanks for the info.

sandra said...

That's great, good for them! Thanks for the info Anonymous.