FlyOver: February 2008 Archives
About a month ago, Orange County Register blogger Paul Hodgins wrote a post about his conversations with various theater professionals around the Los Angeles area.
His findings are no real surprise:
Those who bemoan the state of American theater should consider this sobering fact: even for its most successful playwrights and directors, it's a world without money or security.
Of course, Hodgins bases what he says on the anecdotal evidence he sees around Orange County and L.A.
Which makes me wonder: Is it better, or worse, in smaller cities around the country? My gut tells me worse; there's certainly no-one in my town of Missoula making a living as a freelance theater professional. In fact, even here -- more than 1,000 miles from Los Angeles -- the only folks I know making a living by writing scripts or acting do pretty much all their business in Hollywood.
But I also know that life in Missoula is a lot less expensive than in L.A. (just ask the scads of transplants who come here every year to get away from the big city, pushing up local housing prices....Not that I'm BITTER or anything...grrrr).
And as a journalist, I had an eye-opening conversation with a senior Chicago Tribune reporter a year ago in which it became clear that my standard of living here is actually no worse and in some ways infinitely better than his.
Journalists aren't theatricals, of course. But I do wonder, can people make a decent living acting, directing, and/or writing plays outside the major metro hubs in America?
I'm standing in a crease between two towering folds of brushed stainless steel, looking up. A wall of glass fills the seam, partially reflecting the cold glint of metal and city lights outside, simultaneously revealing the warm glow of welcoming light and blond wood inside the building. Rooted in my tracks, gawking, I know I look like a tourist, and I just don't care.
I'm supposed to do this, of course - supposed to be overwhelmed with awe as I walk through the doors of Walt Disney Concert Hall, the most audacious work of architecture in the extravagant history of Los Angeles and the most paradigm-busting concert hall built anywhere in the world during the past generation. A few minutes later, standing inside the lobby, I watch through the glass as a well-dressed couple stops outside the front door and repeats my heavenward gaze.
Can you see what I see, feel what I feel? No, of course; you can't. To twist a familiar truism, writing about architecture is like dancing about music. Words can't create the experience itself - especially when the experience involves Disney Hall. Great architecture, like a great concert performance, demands first-hand engagement for real appreciation.
How to rebuild an economically languishing community's identity around the arts? Well, here's one solution: Build a place for artists to live and work.
The city of Ventura, Calif. has apparently sunk millions into the project, which will combine "54 affordable housing units for artists and their families, 15 'supportive' apartments for people facing severe poverty and trying to end their homelessness, and 13 ocean-facing, market-rate condominiums likely to fetch upwards of $850,000," plus "a gallery-theater, park and arts-related commercial space."
Reminds me of the old joke....
Q: What do you call a drummer without a girlfriend?
...unless, of course, he lives in Ventura!
Yes, it's contest season for us daily newspaper reporters, the time of year when we break out the glue-sticks and tape to assemble our personal best-of work from the past year, in hopes that someone, somewhere, will give us the thanks and recognition that we so rarely get from our own employers.
Do I sound cynical? Well, I guess I am a bit cranky about the whole thing. After all, as an arts journalist, my chances of winning an award are slim to none. While some might assert that that's a function of my lousy writing, I find myself stuck at the starting line.