Blogging the 2011 TCG Conference: Economics of Individual Artists

Friday at TCG: a day of much talking and not very many pictures. First, the shortcut du jour: driving through Elysian Park, home of Dodger Stadium and the seemingly haunted Barlow Respiratory Hospital.  When I drive down this road at night I can never shake the feeling that there are werewolves lurking amongst the palm trees.  (There are certainly coyotes.)

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Parked in Chinatown again and walked to the Biltmore, where the afternoon was spent in plenary sessions.  The location was the “Biltmore Bowl” – a large underground ballroom which happens to have been the location of the first Academy Awards, or so people kept saying today.

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As I walked in, I was frankly quite dreading a full afternoon of sitting and listening, but fortunately I found myself quite interested in what people were saying. The afternoon started with a presentation by Mark Shugall of Shugall Research, presenting the data collected from a recent survey of theatre artists regarding the economics of individual artists and the relationships of artists and institutions.  It was a very insightful and interesting study, and the results will be published formally in a couple of weeks in American Theatre Magazine.  As it relates to the field of new music—when compared to other professions in the field, theatre composers make an average annual income of approximately $40K, which is on the high end of theatre professionals (roughly equivalent to the average directors and designers).  The professions with lower income levels were, not surprisingly, actors and dancers.  I don’t recall seeing musicians in the income spectrum—I wonder if most gigging musicians on Broadway or elsewhere would call themselves “theatre professionals”, even the ones who spend most of their time in the pit. Immediately following Shugall’s presentation, we heard a panel discussion by Angel Ysaguirre (Director of Global Community Investing for Boeing), Susan Booth (Artistic Director, Alliance Theatre), Cricket Myers (Freelance Sound Designer), and Sonja Parks (Actor), responding to, interpreting, and speculating onward from the data presented.  The discussion ranged from possible ways to improve relationships between artists and institutions, questioning the lack of cultural diversity in the artists surveyed, and ways to improve the economic situation for both artists and institutions.  Susan Booth expressed a commitment of the Alliance Theatre to increasing artist residencies there.  Cricket Myers seemed to cut to the core of the economic challenges of doing theatre in America, saying:

“The artists say they’re not making enough money, the institutions say they are spending too much money… We all say that we need more money; we have to convince the nation as a whole that we’re worth more money [...] People will pay hundreds of dollars for the live entertainment of sporting events, but will ask why a theatre ticket costs fifty dollars.”

Other speakers included Todd London (Artistic Director of New Dramatists), who gave an interesting and inspiring speech on the revolution in the field of theatre over the last 100 years, and Larissa FastHorse (Playwright), whose speech “What If… Being a Native American Female Playwright Was No Longer Exotic?” discussed the pros and cons of being a kind of extreme minority in her field while challenging American theaters to examine their own attitudes and practices (or lack thereof) regarding Native artists. Other events and performances continued through the afternoon and evening, but I had more important things to attend to.  I had to take my son to the 5th Grade Dance.

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5 thoughts on “Blogging the 2011 TCG Conference: Economics of Individual Artists

  1. Jon Silpayamanant

    “What If… Being a Native American Female Playwright Was No Longer Exotic?” discussed the pros and cons of being a kind of extreme minority in her field while challenging American theaters to examine their own attitudes and practices (or lack thereof) regarding Native artists.

    Oh wow–that sounds like a fascinating topic.

    The discussion ranged from …, questioning the lack of cultural diversity in the artists surveyed…

    Would love to hear more about this aspect of the panel after Shugall’s presentation. This especially resonates with something you mentioned in your previous post:

    A few of us in the audience, including myself and Ben Krywosz of Nautilus Music-Theater, asked if there were opportunities in their organizations for creators of theater who are not playwrights (i.e. composers, choreographers, etc.). The members of the panel were surprised by the question, but open to the idea that theatrical works might be instigated by folks other than writers of words.

    Western Theater is, in its own way, a relatively conservative art form. That the members of the panel were surprised by your question belies the fact that so many dramatic genres outside of the west is intimately tied to music and dance (Chinese Opera, Indian Kathakali, Thai Khon and Lakhon, Iranian Tzadieh, Japanese Noh). I’d love to see an American Theatrical artform (outside of musicals) develop that is more like this.

    Reply
  2. David O

    Jon – thanks so much for your response and thoughts. I’m working on digging up more specific information and should be able to post it in the next couple of days. : )

    Reply
  3. Larissa FastHorse

    Love you David, but you got my name wrong here, but not on your FB post. It’s actually a pretty funny typo considering the topic.

    Thanks for the shout out though!

    Reply

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