It has been a whirlwind 10 months since Propared first embarked on this amazing journey to transform the processes by which we all manage live events. This week we proudly launched Propared in full Beta testing, inviting the first users into the system that can actually supplant the "old way" of live event management. We'll be hearing from CEO Ryan Kirk in the coming days about what this time has been like. But today, we want to spend a bit of time talking about the massive shifts in our industry over the past 5-10 years and how we see Propared stepping up to support it moving forward.
We came across an amazing article written by Rebecca Novick, founder of San Francisco's Crowded Fire Theatre Company. In it, she makes a bold case for putting artists and the work at the center of a company's financial/business decision making. In other words, a theatre or artistic collective is only as good as the art it produces and the quality of the art relies solely on the procurement and retention of the highest quality of artists. So if an institution has, over time, engaged seriously talented individuals and that institution has benefited from the work, great, right? That institution is now worthy of our patronage and financial support forever. Hang on, Ms. Novick writes. Past success alone should not be a reason for continued support of that institution. It is the artists - new, seasoned, and master - that we should invest in and it is the institution's responsibility to nurture that talent. Ultimately, she writes, what does it matter how this art is produced and in what house? Administration and support should grow up around the art out of necessity. Art should not be procured in an attempt to "pay for" that system.
Some very big ideas - granted, her piece was written in 2011. But looking at the events of the past few years, clearly, something needs to change. Let's start with some big news over the past two months. We were saddened to hear of the continued struggles of the Philadelphia Theatre Company (PTC), as it fights to regain solvency and retain its powerful voice in the development of thoughtful, provoking new American theatrical work. There is still a distinct possible the company will find angels in the community to financially support it for its 40th season and beyond.
(Karen T. Borchers/Mercury News)
However, there was no 11th hour reprieve for San Jose Repertory, which was forced to shutter its doors under increasingly heavy financial obligations and decreasing sales (side note: erstwhile SJ Rep artistic director, Rick Lombardo is currently helming The Snow Queen at the New York Musical Theatre Festival, having first premiered it in San Jose in 2013). Carousel Dinner Theatre in Ohio, Intiman in Seattle, Theatre of the Stars in Atlanta, NYC Opera...the list of reorganized, gutted, or outright shuttered companies over the past 5 years, many of them venerable old standards is alarming.
While there is no smoking gun that points to the crux of the problem, one thing is certain. This damaging cycle hurts individual artists, managers, and stage crew the most. When a company goes under, not only does an artist lose an outlet for work, the very freedom and creativity that ultimately drives them to take on so many different projects becomes stifled in a search for "safe" and "secure" employment. It is completely understandable. How long can a person be expected to take risks without the promise of stability? Doubtless this applies to producers and managers as well. Bills need to be paid - it must be incredibly difficult to make the decision to pass on a new, challenging piece of art because it won't meet debt obligations the way a 40th revival production of an older, tested work will.
As freelancers ourselves, we understand this stress. And we also know that we can't change the decisions that companies make - how to staff, create, market, and innovate within their frameworks (for-profit or non). What we can do is try to offer as much power and efficiency as we can to the individuals. This is one of the principal tenets behind the development of Propared - to give the power back to the artist. And when we say artist, we truly believe that everyone who works on a show or a live event production is an artist in his or her own right. When we lay a foundation of sound business practices, it can create a greater sense of freedom, encourage more risk taking, and hopefully increase the engagement of our audiences. We would see longer careers, increased diversity and variety of work, and stability where there is currently little to none.
Of course, Propared is just a program, right? Or is it part of the new way artists create and manage live events in years to come?