Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What is Your Role?

Tuesday evening musings - since I am home early!

The whole philosophy behind this blog is to give information and overview and suggestions and support and challenge and do it with passion and clarity!!! The information should trigger your OWN journey of finding out more specific information. I am not here to name names or point fingers directly (!!) but rather to give my impressions and experiences and musings on what I see, hear and experience.

So this blog will perhaps give a very BASIC breakdown of this animal called "the theatre business"! What is your role in this wheel? And what is your responsibility???

We each have a responsibility first and foremost to know our contribution, its importance and its place and then its execution. We should be held to task for that responsibility by others and ultimately by ourselves. We should have a work ethic, an integrity and an honesty in order to understand fully how we can fulfill that responsibility, or walk away from it and let someone else do it who is more suited.

Whatever side of the table we sit/stand on, we are responsible. We must be willing raise the bar and rise above it if our business is going to have lasting value and does not fall to the lowest common denominator.

I have heard from many singers out there who prefer to remain anonymous, not because they don't think what they have to say doesn't have relevance, but because they believe they will be black-balled if they disagree with "establishment". When did our business become so power-hungry and faux-mafia?

Each side of the table is needed to make this business work. If one aspect decides they are ultimately the most important, the power struggle becomes ridiculously imbalanced and the process does not work. At all.

So let's begin to break it down. Forgive me if I don't get detailed - or forget a position. This is an overview to begin a general discussion and understanding.

The Artist: the person who executes the idea. Hired by the administration - GD/Company; The artist can be the singer/conductor/director/musician/actor et al - who HAS craft and talent and work ethic in order to tangibly realize the product and create the best possible performance. So the challenge of the artist is TRUTH OF SELF. Can you do it or do you just want to? What do you promote to get hired?? Truth of self and craft, or a mirage? You need to be truthful and honest with YOURSELF first. Pretending in the theatre isn't acting - it's pretending.

The Casting Director: Glorified Human Resources (thank you Paul Russell!). They take the headshots and resumes, they type; they try to create a possible short list for the Creative Team to draw from. They are not scary, omni-powerful or anything like that. They are there to collect and shortlist. They are human. They make mistakes. CDs can be great and can be lousy - like everybody else.

The Board/Producers: This is the money behind the season/production. They need to stay there and just raise the money. They cannot be a part of the creative process, but rather create a comfortable environment to physically work and know that there is money to hire the BEST creative staff and artists to execute the work.

The General Director/Artistic Director: Is the overview and the balance. They create a program/season, they act as liason between money and talent. They work with all facets of our business and get little sleep or rest. They must have business sense AND artistic sense. If they are honest and know they are lacking in either they must be honest in finding an assistant who is brilliant is what they are lacking. There are few who are both, but very few. The GD/AD set the tone for the company. It all comes back to them. They call the shots and answer to the board. They need to answer to the artists too.

The Agent: works for the artist. I shall say that again, the agent works for the artist. The artist does NOT work for the agent. The agent gets paid when the artist gets work. The artist and the agent must work together in a collaborative effort to create work for both of them. The agent works out the details and negotiates the business; The artist delivers.

These are only a few of the players in our theatrical overview. We RELY on each other to create art and produce it for commerce and product.

Even though commerce and product relies on the money, and if there is no money, there is often no real production, we must come back to the artist.

If there is no artist to execute the idea, there is no show. If there is no show, there are no tickets to be sold and no audience and therefore no business. The artist must remain the fulcrum of the business of theatre. We do not have theatre without the artist. We can then flesh out the creativity in business through these other very important and necessary components.

The clearer we are about our role, the more focused we can be to do it EXCEPTIONALLY. We should expect EXCEPTIONAL performance from ourselves, and then, expect it from others. Theatre demands it.

Our questions, our thoughts, our queries of the others should then be validated if we are pulling our weight and doing what we do well. If we can't do it well, we must be honest enough to see it and do something about it.

Theatre demands honesty. It tends to expose pretending. Acting isn't pretending. And money is real or it is not. Deciding on why you are doing what you are doing and claiming it - no matter what side of the table you reside - needs to be honest, forthright and clear.

Honesty and tough is easy. It's the chickenshit that is cowardly and useless.

If we all claim our position and DO IT, what a remarkable place we would create!


  1. Susan, your descriptions remind me of the "E-myth Revisited" ("E" standing for entrepreneur) series of books on why most small businesses fail. In those books they talk about three hats that a business-owner must wear in order to be successful: the Technician, the Manager, and the Entrepreneur. I guess in the arts world, the E-myth breakdown would say the artist is the "technician" part. If one of these jobs isn't filled, or is weak, the business has less of a chance of succeeding. I think it's great to break down the roles like that and examine them and understand the importance of each, like you've done here. It brings clarity. They have E-myth books for doctors, contractors and other professions. I'm waiting for them to come out with one for the arts world.

  2. Again, your wisdom is right on. As artists, we have a job to do. Our job is to sing, act, paint, dance, create. As singers, we often interpret a work of music that was created by a composers several years ago. Our job is to be authentic, real and use innovation within the parameters of the style.

    I think it is also our job to protect these sacred works. I am not a performance practice specialist. However, we owe it to these composers that starved to death (Mozart to name only one of the Greats) to interpret this legacy with outmost respect and accuracy.

    The other players in theatre need to know where their boundaries start and end. If a singer shows up unprepared, yes, please fire her-him.

    If a singer shows up prepared, sings the shit out of the role give them a break. Stop asking for insane choreography that has nothing to do with the show, stupid costumes that have nothing to do with the character.

    Respect the art and they shall come.

  3. GREAT blog. I've been smack in the middle of making this determination for the past little while, and I'm gladly getting closer to a resolution. I think only a small percentage of me wants to consistently be the artist-performer. What tipped me off? I relish (and feel good working at) the challenge presented to other positions, in contrast to how constantly defeated I feel in the role of an artist.

    Now, how to make sure I don't loose my understanding of the artist as I embark on other roles? *L*