Apr 11, 2007

Reading Reid

I didn't realize how much I missed it: Kerry Reid used to review plays in San Francisco for Back Stage West when she and I were, respectively, there and there. And she was always fun to read, fiesty without being overly snarky (she may have been the first writer I read who used that word, in fact), and, above all, deeply insightful and pointed. She's now in Chicago writing for PerformInk and The Reader, and occasionally turns up in comments on this blog.

I just came across her again, entirely thanks to Isaac Butler's recent posts on class in the theater, and Kerry's recent piece on the same issue rang a lot a bells for me, not just the how-great-to-read-her-distinctive-voice-again bell. To wit:
I spend most of my time writing about theatre for newspapers, so I’m two-for-two in the endangered-workplace derby. Occasionally, I’m asked to speak to college classes about what it’s like being a theatre critic. I always start by asking the students how often they attend theatre. The answer is usually in the vicinity of “never.” Then I ask them how often they pick up a newspaper, rather than read it online or watch television news, and the answer isn’t much more encouraging. This is the point at which I wonder if what I’m about to talk about will be as fascinating for them as a tutorial on churning butter or carding wool.

Ouch! Hits close to home. As does...
I make more in a year writing about theatre than most theatre artists will make creating theatre.

But then Kerry twists the knife brilliantly, and brings it all home. Discussing the Urinetown rights controversy, she notes:
The fact that this stink (pun intended) is being raised over one of the few original shows in recent years to address, however puckishly, issues of economic injustice and environmental scarcity is almost painfully ironic, and it will be near-tragic if the overall effect is to make regional producers even more loathe to bring in new shows, rather than those penned by dead white guys who can’t sue.

And finally:
So what I want this year is the courage for theatre companies and theatre artists to look calmly and clearly at the bottom line, to take an X-ray, if you will, of the underlying structures. I want board members to start asking if the money paid to actors (and designers, and stagehands, and musicians, and front-of-house staff) is fair, and how it measures up to the money spent on, say, patron amenities. I want corporations to stop setting up false dichotomies between donating to the arts and other social goods, like living wages and health benefits, especially when they have no problem paying eight-figure salaries with exorbitant stock options to their top executives. I want to never hear the phrase “unpaid internship” again--particularly if it’s coming from well-heeled cultural institutions that then wring their hands over how hard it is to build diverse audiences. And I want to see a few plays that suggest that maybe, just maybe, what we do to earn our living matters, because it has some effect on who we are, how we live, how we feel about the world, and how we contribute to the greater community good.

Amen. Doesn't Kerry 2008 have a nice ring to it?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh man, you can see the blush across two time zones! Thank you for the props on my end-of-year temper tantrum.

And the Other Carrie at Performink (our redoubtable editor in chief, Carrie Kaufman), is already planning a number of articles in coming months on, to put it broadly, class in theater. So keep checking in!