I spent an hour yesterday listening to the launch announcement for In the Intersection: Partnerships in the New Play Sector, Diane Ragsdale’s book-length documentation of a convening hosted by the Mellon Foundation and the Center for the Theatre Commons, then housed at Arena Stage and now at Emerson College. As I listened to Diane, Robert Brustein, and others talk about the relationship between the for-profit and nonprofit theatre sectors, I was most struck by the discussion about how the for-profit “enhancement” environment in larger nonprofit theaters hasn’t necessarily bastardized the artistic product but has changed the way those theatres define success. [i] The concept of how we define success put me in mind of the election about to commence in just a few short hours.
Yesterday, I heard a news report on NPR indicating that over 6 billion dollars would be spent on this presidential race – that’s billion with a B. Monthly election finance reports let us know which candidate has raised more money. Should we measure success by how much money one or the other candidate has (much like the friendly competition among large nonprofit theatres for the number of Tony nominations received for productions spawned in their theatres)? Perhaps whomever can collect the most donations should just be anointed president?
Then there is the whole electoral college issue. Supposedly firmly in Romney’s camp, the state where I live has been completely ignored by the presidential campaigns. If success is measured by the electoral college math, then there is no reason for a presidential candidate to make an effort in Arizona. I’m a bit relieved – I wouldn’t want to live in Ohio, Florida, or Virginia in the weeks leading up to this election. It would be a bit like Broadway enhancement money pouring into the community-based performance project I’m working on now. What would some kids in the Boys and Girls club in Mesa do with that kind of money? Hopefully, they would save it for college. It wouldn’t make their art any different or “better” or more “successful.”
What if we measured the campaign not by the amount of money collected or spent, but by the impact on lives. All you have to do is look at the pictures of Democratic president Obama and Republican governor Christie working together on storm relief to see that both sides can win when people come first, when we measure success by the positive impact on lives. Can we define artistic success that way as well?
[i] I have admittedly not had time to read the book yet, but have followed the conversation on this topic for years.