there is too much theater in Cleveland

In light of the closing of David Auburn’s PROOF at Lakeland Civic Theatre, despite the production’s across-the-board critical RAVES†, fantastic word-of-mouth, and repeat audience members, they consistently had 1/4 houses.

Why?

BECAUSE THERE IS TOO MUCH THEATER IN CLEVELAND.

Daily, it seems, there are local calls for musical directors, choreographers, designers, stage managers*.  There are truly desperate calls for actors – or anyone – to fill roles in shows that are already in rehearsal.

Sometimes, yes, an actor drops out, maybe because they got a better job (tho much of the theater hereabouts is unpaid, so “better” is a relative term), maybe because their girl/boy/partner-friend threw a hissy-fit at their being away every single night and weekend AGAIN, maybe because they got a hangnail.

Much more often in recent weeks, theaters including the local “flagship” are sending out more and more audition notices, theaters that do pay, theaters many actors would kill to have on their resumes.

So what’s up?

Let’s examine the fourth-largest theater-producing area in the country.

In the lush years during and after the Clinton administration – politics aside, the man presided over the longest peacetime boom in 20′ century America – every little hamlet built or appropriated their own community theater.  Community theater, as we all know, has long been derided as a hotbed of petty ambition and intramural jealousies lain over fairly complete incompetence.  That has not been my personal experience, but I digress.  As usual.

The Cleveland area is particularly rich in these weentsy theaters, many of which are run by folks who did some acting in college and have a bit of time on their hands.

CLEVELANDERS!  If you don’t think the above statement applies to you, if you feel that you run your theater with experience and grace, then don’t take offense at it!

Even in the semi-professional theaters, some of which have worked their way up from community status, directors and producers go begging for actors.

Never mind that they’re all fighting over funding and audience-share as well.

But here’s the deal: in this day and age, if you don’t already have at least one actor in mind for every role, and don’t already know that they’re available for at least some of your rehearsals – and trust me, a future rant is coming on ‘professionalism’ in life and work, even applied to community theaters (hey, that’s where I learned it) – DO NOT PRODUCE THE PLAY.  If you have made a subscriber base and owe them a production in that slot, maybe look at that subscriber base and see just how much of your season and operating costs they actually fund, and consider whether you ought to have subscribers at all.

Them’s fightin’ words, you say, and yes, they are.

The theaters that appear to be surviving and thriving at every level – creative folks wanting to be involved, patrons supporting, funders funding – are doing collaborative work, incorporating as many artists of every ilk and at every level as they are able.  And even they can’t always hold onto their actors.

Ergo, here’s an idea for our straitened times.

Community theaters, small theaters, semi-professional theaters: MERGE.

Combine your creative and audience bases, get rid of one of your sets of overhead costs, get over your egos, and collaborate on a business level.  No, your artistic directors won’t get to direct quite as often.  No, you won’t be able to do every single show you didn’t get cast in at college.  But you might get to put on plays that are well enough rehearsed, that actors don’t bail on hither thither and yon, to be serving your public more efficiently.

And if you’re not in theater to be generous in and with your creativity, what on earth are you doing it for?

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†To find the PROOF reviews, you must either search or scroll down the Cleveland Critics Circle (linked) page.

*These positions are often paid, but nowhere near a living wage

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