For a while now I have been pondering what Boston's niche is as a theatre town. What is our "thing" that we as a community can continue to cultivate to grow to make our mark? I've had a few different discussions on it and changed my mind about what I thought it could be, but I've never been able to come to a solid conclusion about it. But it has come to me in the last few weeks that the most unique thing about Boston theatre is our ability and willingness to cross-promote and collaborate. The support we got for play. only solidified that for me.
Now, some may argue this will only serve to make us even smaller and more insular as a community, and that eventually each company has to strike out on their own to be a viable organization and to promote healthy competition and a greater talent pool. And it's a legitimate argument.
But I think this culture of cross-promotion can only make our organizations stronger and more stable. So far it has encouraged new work and new companies and strengthened the independent missions of our varied organizations. To see two or three companies work together on a night of one-acts or a short festival or even in the creation of S.T.A.B (Small Theatre Alliance of Boston) , you can tell which organizations bring what to the table. You see side-by-side the different aesthetics, approaches, and philosophies that our companies are creating and acting upon. Aided by organizations like StageSource, ARTSBoston, and now also by S.T.A.B, as well as growing initiatives by our larger and more established companies to collaborate (see this article in Sunday's Boston Globe about the Shirley VT plays happening this fall) the community here is flourishing by working together to grow audiences and artists. It seems that the model that started in fringe theater of, "I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine." is creeping up the ranks as a shrewd business practice as well as an rewarding artistic avenue.
So why is this Boston's niche? Because our community is still on the edge of forming it's identity as a theatre town. Although we do have a supportive community, there is a long way to go in growing an solid audience base for most of the theatre that is produced locally. And we also have a long way to go before artists are able to make a sustainable living. Nationally, our identity is still blurry and new, no one is quite sure how to categorize us except by saying we're "a smaller market than New York". This is our opportunity to use each other to create the identity of a supportive and integrated community with a completely different ethos than New York (or anywhere else for that matter). One that's based on dedication and collaboration instead of the bigger picture every man for himself idea. We still need to improve on our methods of collaboration and cross-promotion. Until it's truly embraced as our strongest asset it will be hard to get it to make as big a difference as possible. We need to continue to work on crossing the lines of "big vs small" appealing to our bigger and better funded companies to sponsor and promote the smaller companies. Showing audiences that quality theatre can be found in the Boston University Theatre and around the corner at The Factory and that patronizing both is the best way to keep Boston theatre growing is key to the success of cross-promotion. But I know we can get there. The Shirley VT plays are just the beginning of that.
By embracing this growing desire to support each-other's work on not just a personal level, but also on an organizational level, we have the opportunity to help each other grow. To help our city grow. And to help the identity and importance of professional theatre grow on a national level. Publicizing shows on the backs of programs, co-producing a one night 10-minute play event, sharing fund-raising ideas and production materials and costs, and promoting artist cultivation through co-sponsored trainings and workshops is a way in which we can show both audience members and artists that we are dedicated to producing good theatre to satisfy our missions, our supporters, and the actor's, director's and designer's who work in this city. Giving up just a little of our own ego to build a stronger environment seems well worth the sacrifice.
~ Always, Mary-Liz