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The Elevator Project on Art & Seek

Posting at the top of this because ALL THEATRE ARTISTS (and even other artists) should read this. It is not exclusive to Dallas. Not all art needs to be aiming for “bigness.”

bradmcentire:

Over on the Art & Seek Blog today, Jerome Weeks has posted an article on the Elevator Project. In a nutshell, the Elevator Project is an initiative where several smaller theatres and dance companies will rent the sixth floor space at the large AT&T Performing Arts Center in the Dallas Arts District. Each company will present a single production there over the course of the 2014-2015 season.

It is happening because the Dallas Theatre Center, the usual and somewhat exclusive residents of the AT&T Performing Arts Center, which usually produces in the large Wyly Theatre space is having a few scheduling and financial troubles going into this next season. Most of their productions will be at the “old” Kalita Humphreys venue (DTC’s “old” rent-free home).

First off, I’m a supporter of the Elevator Project. Despite the weird vibes of “helping these little guys” that seems to surround the project, as someone who runs a small theatre group, I feel it is ultimately positive for the Dallas theatre community. Plus, the groups utilizing the project are all pretty strong.

I mean, even though it is a “performing arts center” AT&T could have easily (and perhaps expectedly) rented the space out to corporate functions or private events rather than actual arts groups. So, kudos to ATTPAC and the Elevator Project.

Reading the article on Art & Seek, though, I was struck by a few things…

1.) It is such a Dallas thing to really go to an extreme effort to manufacture and inflate the need for the project. Sure the Arts District doesn’t have small, affordable spaces that the dozens of small performing arts groups in the city could utilize, but why is there an assumption that there should be small, affordable spaces? I like the Arts District, but it is only one small piece of the cultural landscape in Dallas. No need to jam everything into one little piece of real estate. 

I associate the Arts District with big, corporate, institutional arts events. Like the Dallas Theatre Center, the Wingspear Opera, the Symphony, the DMA and Nasher. And there’s nothing wrong with this association. Most little arts groups, like my Audacity Theatre Lab or most of the groups in the Elevator Project, would be out of place in the Arts District as a regular fixture. They’d need to get bigger to fit.

In a side observation to this point: if the Arts District is genuinely wanting to bring small arts groups to downtown, it seems akin to me of when Walmart comes into a small town and absorbs the business of little mom-and-pop stores. Is the Arts District trying to cannablize the specialized audiences of small theatres?

2.) Though I like David Denson, the Artistic Director of Upstart Theatre, as a person and think he’s a pretty good director, he says a lot of asinine stuff in the article. 

“Most of the groups in the Elevator Project,” [Denson] explains, “are performing in spaces that are not nearly as nice and are out of the way. So an audience has to really want to go there. What the Arts District does is remove all those obstacles.”

Though I produce most often at the cheapest, most divey, but perhaps most affordable space in Dallas (the Margo Jones Theatre in Fair Park), a lot of the smaller spaces in Dallas are really nice. The Bath House is always clean, comes with great views of downtown over the lake, and is pretty accessible. The GreenZone is a great, clean, versatile space. The Latino Cultural Center is also really clean and nice. Same for Second Thought’s space at Bryant Hall on Turtle Creek.

The Arts District is only not “out of the way” if you live close to downtown. And since just the city of Dallas alone (not including the suburbs, midcities, Frisco,McKinney, Ft. Worth or Denton) is about 386 square miles in size, this means a lot of the residents in Dallas don’t live in downtown.

Also, one of the biggest concerns with heading down to the Arts District actually is the number of obstacles, such as traffic and parking and panhandling.

Denson goes on to say toward the end of the article:

“We’re at a place,” he says of Upstart,”where we either need to grow an audience or kind of go away.” Why should it go on if it merely survives? What’s more, he says, Dallas’ spectrum of theaters is very limited. “We have one really large organization, just a handful of medium-sized and all these small organizations, and we have to start filling out those levels.” Someone in this swarm of smaller companies needs to put up “And my hope is that this is where Upstart starts to grow an audience and build beyond, like I say, this three-man band.” 

This statement particularly strikes a chord with me because my whole m.o. is championing small theatres and individual theatre makers. Audacity was at a similar crossroads a few years back as what he is mentioning for Upstart. We had been in existence for around eight years and decided it was time to grow up or quit… or come up with a new paradigm altogether. We ended up creating a new game and leaving the old assumptions behind.

Denson only sees two ways. Grow or quit.

My personal (highly biased) philosophy is that the motivating force behind making theatre should be to genuinely say something about the world and our place in it. At Audacity, we threw out the notion that we would need to “serve the community.” We don’t do art for a community, for a city. We do art for ourselves and present it to our audiences. We serve the artist. The artist (not the company) serves everything else.

As far as his quote about the strata of different size theatres in DFW… If the spectrum of theatres -small, mid-size and large institutions - is limited and unbalanced, then I would argue that that is how it should be. No use trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. When Dallas has genuine need of more mid-size and large arts groups, then they will evolve. No need to force it.

In fact, I think it might be a fallacy to believe more mid-size and larger theatres would be good for Dallas. There are so many smaller groups percisely because there is room to operate, room to say something unique and audiences to appreciate what is said at the smaller end of the spectrum. Dallas seems to reward gumption, spark innovation and foster scrappy go-getters. And I would hazard to argue that there are no groups more scrappy than the 40-someodd theatre groups spread all around the Metroplex that do little shows for handfuls of audiences at a time.

Think of the support for the arts as a pie. This includes funding, audiences, media coverage, etc. The pie is the same size, regardless, even if more of the slices are thinner.

I mean, everyone still gets a taste.

See the full artilce HERE.

Filed under independent dallas theatre ATTPAC

2 notes

ishouldbewhat:

I was searching for reference pics for some doodles and found this.

I read this with Alanis Morrissette’s “Hand in My Pocket” in my head, and now it’s stuck there. With these words.

ishouldbewhat:

I was searching for reference pics for some doodles and found this.

I read this with Alanis Morrissette’s “Hand in My Pocket” in my head, and now it’s stuck there. With these words.