Actors Locally

About a year ago I started thinking about doing a project that involved our organization’s immediate artistic community, artists throughout the county and as much of the public at large as we might be able to entice into becoming involved. Bringing different artists who don’t normally work together is one goal. Second, I was thinking that as much as I talk about how groups should offer audiences alternatives to sitting passively in a dark room, I should really put my money where my mouth is. I would also like to break down barriers members of the general public have about their artistic abilities.

When I originally began considering this I was thinking of bringing out an artist who was well-practiced at taking volunteers with little or no experience and producing a show in two days. My thought was to have a site specific show developed over the course of a week to ten days and then have a final performance. The assistant theatre manager suggested a local artist who could spearhead the same sort of effort. Suddenly the necessity of having someone who had experience putting a show together in a short time was less relevant.

It also has the benefit of being less expensive since I don’t have to house, transport and feed guest artists. Ultimately, I may end up spending the same amount of money, but it will be over a longer period of time which will hopefully allow a greater number of people to be involved.

I didn’t really plan it this way, but I think I may be presenting more local artists in the near future. I suspect when I attend my consortium meeting next week, I am going to find that my partners are really scaling back their activities. I will probably have fewer opportunities to partner with them due to scheduling conflicts and differences in our respective audiences’ interests. Buying local won’t be sustainable over the long term because there are few local artists I can present that people can’t see more frequently closer to the city core and drink alcohol while they are doing so. The strength I have is an ability, limited as it may be, to encourage and cultivate some new works.

None of the three artists I have spoken with over the last month about developing performances are new acquaintances. We have had relationships over the last couple years and we have reached a point where broaching the possibility of collaboration was logical. The tough economic times weren’t really a motivation. I haven’t suddenly decided to make due with the local talent because it has become tougher to bring people in from afar.

Anyway, I spoke with the artist today and she was just thrilled by the prospect. I could see the wheels beginning to turn inside her head. I presented the whole concept to her as pretty open ended. I know who I want to have involved, but until we have a core idea I can’t go convince them to sign on. As we spoke today, we realized we can really expand this project out a little bit. There is a possibility to have the produce of workshops, continuing ed courses and street fair craft projects created over the course of a year integrated into the final performance. Some possible workshops might even be designed to begin eroding anxiety and make people comfortable with expressing themselves with the aim of involving them in the final effort.

For example, we talked about mask making classes/workshops. Masks can be fun to make and wearing them allows people to be less self conscious. The artist related a story of how she brought a group of visual artists together to help her with a performance piece and they all protested they weren’t performers. Then they began to tentatively approach the masks and play with them. By the end of two hours the biggest problem was that people couldn’t decide which of the characters they had created for the masks to use in the performance.

Right now I am pretty optimistic about the future of the project even though I don’t know when it might start or finish. The woman with whom I spoke isn’t letting any moss grow on her and wants to get right to planning. We have a meeting on Thursday to look at possible locations around the grounds. I intend to post on the progress we make in the planning and implementation of our little scheme and share some of the challenges we face so that others might avoid them.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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