WARNING: The opinions expressed below are DEFINITELY those of The CoLab Theatre Company! Learn more at www.colabtheatre.org!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Theatre People or Theatre Artists?

There is a classic adage that declares: "Dress for the job you want, not for the job you have."

This phrase is often used to address career ladder climbing in the corporate or business world. However, I feel that there are lessons we as artists could extrapolate and adapt from this saying. Particularly, the Boston theatre scene has come a long way in crafting it's image, but has much further to go.

Recently, I attend a performance by a Boston area based theatre company during which the hosts spoke directly to the audience regarding the format of the evening. During this section of the evening, full of flamboyance and bombast, it came to the audience's attention that there had been a factual error in their presentation. Honest mistake, it happens. No big deal, right? However, the response has something of a self-defeating connotation. I'm totally paraphrasing here:

"What do you want from us? We're theatre people!"

Ugh. Really? I hate that term. I've used it before, I have to admit. Mostly during my high school and University days. In my experience, "Theatre People" was a PC version of the high school moniker "Theatre Queer", among others. It's often used pejoratively by individuals without direct connection to the theatre industry/community.

Ask yourself this: How many times in our life has the social construct of "Theatre People" contributed to the further isolation of an increasingly insular american theatre? Either at large or in your individual circle of work/community?

Now, I'm not advocating that we tell people not to use the term. Especially non-theatre artists. God lord, can you imagine how much worse it would be if all of a sudden we were perceived as annoyingly flamboyant AND super sensitive and PC? This isn't about language control, it's about a cultural shift. I think we ourselves, as individuals should stop thinking ourselves as "Theatre People" and as "Theatre Artists". Or, "People". People who happen to make theatre.

Think about this: How often, on facebook profiles and such, do you see people listing their favorite music, movies, artists... but no plays? Why is it that music isn't considered a niche art form that only certain people like, but theatre is?

Two years ago, The Boston Theatre Conference tackled this and related questions:

Is there a culture shift needed in Boston? The way we think about theatre here and the way we talk about theatre here? Can we shift our thinking and the way we talk about ourselves? Can we bring about a Culture Shift?

The exact context of this question is in relation to our reputation in the context of the national theatre scene, but the same questions can be applied to our place in society at large.

So think about it. How are we presenting ourselves to the world around us? Are we selling ourselves short by buying into the myth that theatre is only for certain types of people? Isn't this supposed to be a universal art form, as valid as all others? How can we make active and proactive choices to shatter this divide and become the frontier of american culture?

And for the lord's sake... can we stop the whole "airhead, in your face, theatre people" minstrel show? I'm not saying don't be flamboyant if you really are that way. Or an airhead.

People can recognize when you're being truthful and when you're just "acting". And no one likes hanging out with "actors".

Act with the respect you deserve. Not the attention you want.




  1. While I agree that it's up to us to promote theatre as a vital and real part of American life, I don't think that there's anything wrong with identifying oneself as a "theatre person". I was raised by what I called "theatre people". Rather than staying home with a babysitter, my mother would take me to her community theatre rehearsals of big book musicals when I was very young, and then as her career progressed and she opened her own props/set dressings business, to professional gigs as well. As I began doing youth theatre in 4th grade, I cemented my own identity as a "theatre person" and began the long process of learning and earning my stripes in this community of brave, smart individuals. We're family because we trust each other to create art, social change and push boundaries. I'm proud to identify with those people.

    So, I don't really want to be a "person who happens to make theatre". I think that is asking us to hide behind some veneer of "normalcy" and apologize for being Different which I, for one, am GLAD we are. Why don't we try being proud of our club and enticing the world rather than worrying about alienating it? That's how they got me ... after all, confidence is sexy.

  2. There are some interesting points in here. I also agree that I'd like to see more of a communal shift to thinking of theater as an inclusive art for more people.
    But I also agree that I like to identify myself, as an actor, and as a theater artist, for several reasons. To me theater artist as a title feels as legitimate a title as I feel my work is.

  3. Oooooooo I know the show you're talking about! Hahahahaha, cuz I was in it! Yeah, that self-berating remark was a lot "off" but so was the whole format of the show! Kitsch to the nth power!

    You know what, I don't care what they call us and I have long given up on defining what I/we do. What's the point? There's no money and very little recognition. And too much rejection. In the end, the most rewarding thing that happens is you are cast in play (!) and you perform on stage (!) and some ONE (or two or more) audience member comes up to you after the show and tells you that you've moved them in some way. THAT is the ultimate reward--to know that you have touched a human soul.

    What do you call that?

    I don't want to know what it's called, but I know how it feels. Do you know what I'm talking about?