We’ve all heard the argument that political campaigns (particularly for President) ought to be publicly financed, so that politicians won’t be beholden to special interests with lots of money in their messaging and their governing. Just imagine the things we might hear out of politicians’ mouths if they didn’t have to worry about offending the wrong rich person!
Likewise, I wonder what theater might look like if we took money entirely out of the equation. If we could wave a magic wand (what a wand!) and pay every theater practitioner in the country a fair salary immediately and for the foreseeable future, regardless of what they make or do, and fund every single necessary expense, from props to publicity.
Here’s what I think: I think that for a while, people would start experimenting and doing crazy things: taking risks. The dream projects people put on their shelves. More abstract and inaccessible plays, plays with challenging subject matter, plays of interest to small niche audiences, plays that say dangerous things, plays by unheard-of (or less heard of) playwrights.
And then I think people would REALLY stop coming to the theater. And we’d realize that it wasn’t “risk” we were missing all along, but connection to our audiences. And we’d start re-thinking things.
We’d start asking — since we would have the time and the luxury to do so, at long last, and we’d be OVER ourselves — how we could serve people: everyone, not just the subscribers we currently try to please and placate, but every single human being everywhere. We’d think about what stories they need or crave, and we’d wonder what sort of experiences they’re looking for, and we’d begin trying to outdo one another to create those experiences.
And eventually, once people caught on, they would start coming back, and we’d be so beloved, and so necessary, we’d have to build more and more theaters to keep up with demand. And we’d get better and better at knowing what people wanted, what they needed for an engaged, soulful encounter with storytelling. And we would assume a proud and vital place near the center of American life. And it would be beautiful.
So why don’t we start acting like we’ve got all the money in the world right now and just cut to the end of the story?