The CoLab was out in force this past weekend at The Boston Theatre Conference. There was much on the table, and the report will spell out the summary for all of us to read in the coming months. But I wanted to check in and talk about my expectations and what I got out of this event.
I've read the previous BTC reports in detail and must admit that I wasn't entirely sure what this particular conference would address. Past events focused on our identity as a theatrical center, and this year I've noticed that we are at a turning point in that journey. We are a theatrical center. There is no longer any doubt about that. The question is, how will we define ourselves? These are critical years that we won't get back. The time to act is now.
I said I would discuss the topic of actor pay this week, but I'm going to have to put that topic on the burner until my next post. Instead, let's talk about the economics of growth and sustainability. I met many different artists and producers, and one of the common themes was that of cooperation. Some might think it strange that in a time when people are hurting economically, that we'd try work with each other instead of against each other. But let's take an economists look at this.
Remember Mercantilism? It's okay, I graduated with a history degree and even I had to look it up. Mercantilism is the term used to describe the economic theories that dominated the western world before the rise of classical liberalism and modern economics. It was believed that the acquisition and spending of capital was a zero sum game. IE, when you spend, you lose. When you sell, you win. Therefore, you have to export more than you import. If someone else is better at something than you, you're screwed.
Classical Liberalism determined economics is not a zero sum game and that the gains by another do not necessarily turn into one's loss. Without getting into complicated terminology, exchange and cooperation can generate capital that would otherwise never exist. We can increase the size of the pie, rather than eat the whole thing.
I spoil the ending for you, but technology and culture sped the hell up as liberalism and liberty spread throughout the world. To this day, we still celebrate these ideals, whether liberal, moderate or conservative (or Libertarian Socialist...)
So why the history lesson? Because while I'm no cheerleader, I do believe that artists must be economists. We must be historians. We must be entrepreneurs. We have to stop being perpetual freelancers, and work in tandem with each other and create networks and INVEST capital of all kinds into our own future. Especially at a time when our opportunities for funding (government and private charities are in trouble these days) are shrinking, it's about damned time we start thinking about creating new business ventures and partnerships.
The Boston Theatre Conference gave me a great deal of hope that we're not the only ones who think this way.