Blogging the 2011 TCG Conference: Closing Thoughts

Apologies for the delay—here’s what I did on Saturday, the last day of the 2011 Theatre Communications Group conference in Los Angeles. I attended tech rehearsal for the piece I’m currently composing, Stranger Things.

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While there, I stuffed the piano with just the right amount of waxed paper, scotch tape, and bobby pins to give it that perfect “buzz”.

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(While I was at rehearsal, I understand the highlight of the TCG day was a session with Julie Taymor, during which the moderator continually tried to steer the discussion towards Spiderman, while Ms. Taymor was much more interested in moving on to other topics.) After rehearsal, my wife and I hit the post-conference party at REDCAT, but I think we got there earlier than anything was happening. We ended up ditching out for our favorite late-night sausage and beer hang, Wurstküche.

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So, although I didn’t really catch any of the conference on Saturday, there are a few thoughts and loose ends for me to wrap up… First of all, I did some more research on the Theatre Artist Survey I talked about on Friday. One important piece of information I discovered was that this survey was originally sent out to artists via TCG member theatres around the country, and via “the unions” (my strong assumption is that they are referring to Actor’s Equity and the Directors’ and Designers’ unions, and not AFM). Given my understanding of TCG membership, these are primarily not-for-profit theatres around the country as opposed to the big Broadway houses. (Someone please correct me if I’m wrong.) I say this because it seems to me that this very likely affected in a pretty significant way the artists who were surveyed, particularly in the music department. Composers, musical directors, and musicians on Broadway are operating under a whole different business model than those in nearly any other theater in the world. I’d love it if someone would investigate this more closely, especially in light of the current “Save Live Music on Broadway” movement. Anyway, some more figures. A reader was asking about the figures of the ethnicities of survey respondents: 86% (!) identified as White; 4% as African American; 3% as Hispanic/Latino; 2% each for Asian and Mixed Race; and 1% each for Native American, Pacific Islander, and Other. In the discussion on Friday, Cricket Myers said based on her experience she had a hard time accepting that as the ethnic makeup of theatre professionals as a whole, however Sonja Parks said that yes, she feels most of the time like one of the 14% non-white people in the room. (I guess it all depends on perspective.) Personally, the numbers that I find a little more suspect (which weren’t discussed on Friday), say that 33% of respondents identified New York as their home city, while only 7% called Los Angeles home. I’ll buy that a third of the nation’s theatre artists live in New York, but I’d lay good odds that LA hosts almost as many as that. Again, this speaks to the issue of who the survey was sent out to, and who defines themselves as “theatre artists.” Also flashing back to Friday, I had a great conversation with Michael Seel, executive director at the Boston Court Performing Arts Center in Pasadena, which produces not only plays and musicals but also a new concert series featuring local composers and cutting-edge music artists. Michael says, “We’ve found that, even in the short four months we’ve been doing this new music programming, we’ve seen a great deal of crossover between the new music audience and our theatre audience.” Kudos to the Boston Court for helping to strengthen this connection! (Full disclosure: I kicked off this concert series with an evening of my own work, so yes, I’m totally biased.) Finally, I’d like to close with some words from my conversation with Ben Krywosz on Thursday. As we hiked up Bunker Hill, we discussed how a composer in theatre is almost always pigeonholed into one of two camps: a conventional “big-time Broadway composer” (or one who aspires to be) or a more “artsy” type, usually relegated to a subordinate role on the design team, creating moments to support the direction of the play, working in partnership with the sound designer (or perhaps actually being the sound designer). I expressed some dismay that there’s not much of a role for the composer to be an actual creator of music-theatre pieces other than ones with primarily commercial motivation, and therefore more traditional form. (Not that we don’t all wanna make a buck, but you know what I mean.) In response, Ben shared an interesting opinion about the non-traditional music-theatre as a “growth industry.” According to him:

Cinema is doing for theatre what photography did for painting…. [After] the Renaissance… painting became very naturalistic, and very real, and you measured the quality of a painting by how much it looked like it was real. Then, in the 1800s, photography comes along… and says to painting, “Hey, I can do what you’re doing much better and cheaper by pushing a button, so let me take care of duplicating reality; you go back to doing what you do well, which has to do with form/shape/color on the two-dimensional plane.”…. [Similarly...] with Stanislavsky… plays became about realism and naturalism… and that was fine until film comes along, and says [to theatre], “You know, I can duplicate reality much better than you can.”… As a result, theatre in the last thirty/forty years has become more stylized, much more abstract, much more non-naturalistic, and as soon as you move in that direction, music becomes a logical tool…. And that’s why I think music-theatre is a growth industry.

I’ll raise a glass to that. David O, signing off from Los Angeles. It’s been a pleasure.

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5 thoughts on “Blogging the 2011 TCG Conference: Closing Thoughts

  1. Teresa Eyring

    David, thank you so much for taking the time to attend and cover the TCG national conference. Your posts were informative, and was great to have your perspective. Good points about the artists survey, and we’ll make sure our researcher sees them. Love the Krywosz quote too. Good luck with everything and stay in touch.

    Reply
    1. David O

      Thanks, Teresa, for a great conference. Wish I could’ve attended more of it. Congrats to you and everyone involved. Everyone I talked to expressed what a great time they had, and it really brought the LA theatre scene together in our responsibility as “host city.” A great experience all around. Hope you are able to get some rest now!

      Reply
  2. Jon Silpayamanant

    Anyway, some more figures. A reader was asking about the figures of the ethnicities of survey respondents: 86% (!) identified as White; 4% as African American; 3% as Hispanic/Latino; 2% each for Asian and Mixed Race; and 1% each for Native American, Pacific Islander, and Other.

    Thanks, David–that’s very intriguing. Obviously it would be good to know who and where the surveys were sent out, but ironically that number meshes pretty well with the proportion of Whites in Symphony Orchestras in the US according to the League of American Orchestras.
    http://www.journalgazette.net/article/20110515/ENT02/305159983/1011/FEAT

    I think that in light of the 2008 NEA surveys and subsequent analyses of the data, this would also be consistent with audience attendance being primarily by an aging white audience for most of the “orthodox” arts.

    Thing is, while the average age of audiences at what the NEA calls “benchmark events” (Symphonic concerts, Ballet, Opera, Theatre, Art Museums) is aging faster than the average age of the population of the US as a whole, in conjunction with the ethnic make-up of the audience, what I think is intriguing is that in the US, the self-identified white population is also aging at a quicker rate than the non white population (see “New Demographic Racial Gap Emerges” http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/17/us/17census.html and my post about the emerging Demographic Racial Gap in Classical Music: http://silpayamanant.wordpress.com/2011/06/08/classical-music-aging-audiences-and-the-emerging-demographic-racial-gap/). This seems to suggest to me that there might be some sort of correlation (not necessarily causation, of course) between traditional US Arts being primarily patronized by whites as well as being produced primarily by whites. Which isn’t too surprising given the white majority, except that that majority only constitutes about 72% of the population (2010 Census).

    Ben Krywosz’s quote is interesting, and while I might agree with it to an extent, there’s also another possibility. See I’ve been charting the rise of non-Western Orchestras and ensemble in the US (see especially my post about traditional Chinese Orchestras in the Bay Area for a specific case) and that could also be applied to non-Western Theatre forms in the US (the types of dramatic orms and dance-dramas I mentioned in your other post) and found what seems like some very rapid growth of these kinds of groups throughout the US, but especially in regions and areas where high proportions or populations of ethnic minorities may be found (as in the Bay Area Chinese-American Population). I’m not sure the NEA survey or other Arts participation surveys accurately reflect what seems to be a growing demand for these types of “benchmark events” since the categories usually don’t extend beyond the canonical Western genres (e.g. Orchestras, Art Museums, Ballet, Theatre).

    Since there is a rising ethnic population in the US (which some predict will reach a proportion of over half the population of the US in a couple of decades), it makes sense that a majority of them will support, create, and participate in art forms native to their countries of origin. And while quite a bit of that activity does include the composing, writing, performing new Chinese Opera, Arabic waslah, etc. these forms were never representation in the way that Western Theatre and Art has been, so for all there might be a thrust into that direction for some of these arts (as what’s happened in the Indian film Industy as more and more realistic films start to replace the Bollywood films as cinematic fare).

    Anyway, thanks again for the statistics and thought provoking post and awesome reporting of this event!!

    Reply

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