One theater director's take on art and commerce in tough times
For a clear-eyed and forthright assessment of the problems that major nonprofit theaters face nowadays, check out this Q&A from the L.A. Stage Blog, with Andrew Barnicle, artistic director of the Laguna Playhouse, providing the A's while Rick Bernstein, marketing manager of the Colony Theatre in Burbank, serves up the Qs.
Barnicle, who's in his 20th year as the Laguna artistic director, recently moonlighted at the Colony, staging its current production, "Celadine," by Charles Evered.
Some of his observations on the juggling act of serving both art and the bottom line in a straitened economy:
"Nothing cuts to the quick deeper than when one my former university students calls and says, “You’re doing that?”
"It’s a little like living inside of a pin cushion -- the moment you move away from a sharp object you get poked from the other direction. If I put up a slender, lightweight entertainment and it makes a million dollars, a lot of the snobbier critics will call us irrelevant. If there’s an artistically highly regarded production that sells 14 tickets, my board will raise a collective eyebrow. You can hear it. They are, after all, the fiduciaries of the organization."
"One of the biggest changes...is the decline of the enlightened subscribers who recognized the season would be eclectic and there might be some challenging material or plays they might not have attended on their own. They were adventurous, though, and willing to try something a little unusual. Those people have slowly peeled away....
"As a result a lot of theaters are left with a fewer number of like-minded subscribers who get irritated if they get something a little too challenging. Naturally the programming tends to lean in their direction....With a tanked economy, the situation becomes even more pronounced....The upside is you’re still paying people a living wage to work in the theater - no small accomplishment, and to a degree you can fall back on that as a source of pride, even if you’re not completely fulfilling your personal aesthetic ambitions."
-- Mike Boehm
Photo: Laguna Playhouse artistic director Andrew Barnicle (with skull) showed his musical comedy acting chops on stage, taking the lead in the Playhouse's 2000 production of "Enter the Guardsman." Credit: Alexander Gallardo / Los Angeles Times.