VIEW FROM THE MEZZANINE
PerformInk Publisher Jason Epperson’s take on the business and life of producing theater.
2016 was a wild year for Chicago theater. Lots of tumultuous change, lots of incredible work, some vile people outed, some luminaries passed. And it all pales in comparison to the realities beyond our little community. In Chicago. In America. In the world. In 2017, we have work to do. Here are my New Year’s resolutions for Chicago theater:
Fight for diversity in creative teams. It can’t be said enough that diversity and inclusion should be one of the most important driving forces of our artistic endeavors. I’d like to see us concentrate particularly on creative teams this year. We are hardly even considering the lack of directors, choreographers, and designers from marginalized groups. It’s often said that it’s hard to find these artists, but let me tell you this: I taught college-level design, directing, and stage management students in this city for seven years. The level of diversity in a college environment (which has its own roadblocks) is much greater than the professional world. We aren’t hiring them when they graduate. Period.
No sophomore slump for the Non-Equity Code of Conduct. The community made great strides this year in creating the draft Non-Equity Code of Conduct, which aims to protect artists by providing a clear approach for theaters to take for “safety, respect, communication and accountability.” Theaters are beta-testing the code throughout the course of this season, and the first official version should be available next summer. But that doesn’t mean companies can’t download the document now and begin to follow the tenants within. Naysayers would do well to read the text — it’s very thorough and thoughtful. I hope that the 2017-2018 season sees mass adoption of the code. Let’s figure out ways to reward theaters that do.
Support our small to midsize institutions. 2016 was a banner year for Chicago’s biggest houses. New facilities opened, programming expanded drastically, and most importantly, the work was stunning, biting, and of its time. Many smaller theaters struggled, some closed. Perhaps the increased competition was detrimental, perhaps the election. Whatever it was, smaller theaters need our support now more than ever, particularly midsized institutions like The Hypocrites. The Hypos did the right thing by facing reality and stopping the bleeding. Let’s make sure they don’t fold in 2017.
No more back-patting of inclusion efforts. Every few weeks, we get a press release headlined “All-Female Cast Announced for [play that was written for a female cast in the first place]” or “Diverse Cast Announced for [play that is still lead by white protatgonist].” Diversity and inclusion should be our number one priority in 2017, but using people’s gender or race as a marketing tool is just sad. I’m not talking about an all-Asian production of “Little Shop of Horrors.” The point of that is that it is all-Asian. No, I’m talking about when a press release goes the extra mile to point out that you did what you were supposed to do. If you declare your cast is diverse, it damn well better be unusually diverse, and when your creative team is careful enough to cast inclusively, you only devalue what they have built by tokenizing those people. Just — you know what — try to avoid adjectives altogether.
Make art based on what Sheldon Patinkin said is one of its most important functions. “We live in a time when, more and more, the response to trouble is violence; when too many individual communities have become too insular for the good of the larger community; when too much beyond one’s immediate world seems to exist either to be feared or taken advantage of; when too many people try not to feel deeply or try to disguise their feelings with catch phrases, crudeness, inarticulateness, and sentimentality. It is one of the most important functions of both art and entertainment to help us transcend such times, sometimes by helping us to think things through, sometimes by helping us not to think at all” – from the book “No Legs, No Jokes, No Chance” by Sheldon Patinkin.
Best wishes from all of us at PerformInk in the new year. Now let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work!