Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The State of Austin Theatre: Robert Faires' World Theatre Day Address, March 27, 2010

Robert Faires, noted actor, writer and arts editor of the weekly Austin Chronicle, has kindly allowed AustinLiveTheatre to publish his address on the state of Austin theatre, delivered at the commemoration of World Theatre Day, March 27, at the studios of the Greater Austin Creative Alliance. Notes are appended by AustinLiveTheatre.


World Theatre Day Address, March 27, 2010

On Sunday I started the week as one of a dozen people watching one of the longest established independent companies in the city mount its production of a drama by a master playwright of the American theatre.[1]

Yesterday, I ended the week as one of a dozen times a dozen people watching the city’s most renowned theatre collective present one of its original works at perhaps the most prestigious festival for new plays in the country.[2]

That continuum says a lot about the state of theatre in Austin in 2010.

On the one hand, our city is one in which small, independent companies produce the vast majority of the work on our stages. They are the spine of our theatre scene, as they have been for decades, doing the hard work of mounting dramas and musicals in converted storefronts and warehouses with fewer than 100 seats for little financial reward and often no pay at all -- purely for love of the art. Recognition for their efforts is meager compared to their sizable contributions: the occasional mention in the press or online, the praise of friends and family, and the applause of appreciative and devoted audiences that sometimes aren’t even sufficient in number to field a softball team. On the radar of the larger community, unfortunately, they are a blip that registers but faintly.

On the other hand, our city has a reputation around the country as having an active and lively theatre scene. People who know the art form know of companies that work here, of playwrights who have written and write here, and of the audiences who attend their work and who are the envy of many cities these days because they include in substantial numbers people in their twenties and thirties, the generation needed in the theatre to keep it thriving and relevant in the 21st century. Over the last decade, Austin theatre artists have worked or presented work outside the city in greater numbers and with greater frequency than ever before, with media outlets across the nation covering what they’re creating on a regular basis now in a way that was unheard a generation ago. And why shouldn’t they? Austin is home to one of American theatre’s leading companies of ensemble-developed new work and to the country’s most produced living playwright,[3] to playwrights who have been recognized with national awards and to universities drawing students from all over the U.S. with programs that are models in developing dramatists and musical theatre artists,[4] and to companies open to experimentation. Indeed, artists of national reputation are increasingly choosing to work here because of the city’s openness and receptivity to new work.

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