As much as I respect and admire Zelda Fichandler, I find myself questioning a few assertions she makes in the newest HowlRound post, which consists of the text of a speech she gave to the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society. I know: how audacious! I may come to regret this, but… I have to share a couple of questions. (Go read her speech first, though, and then come back.)
First, I am curious about her idea that a theater institution is an artwork. I agree that it CAN be so, but *must* it be that way? Aren’t there many different governing metaphors one might apply to the analysis and understanding of an institution?
I worry that we might suffer from a narrowness of focus in only conceiving of institutions as artistic endeavors. They must be able to be other things as well, no? If not, how else do they survive the passing from one artistic director to another?
To me, the mission must always be more important than the person whose job it is, temporarily, to steward that mission. (Likewise, I believe the mission has to be more important than the institution itself. But perhaps that’s just me.) That, after all, is why we earn and deserve non-profit status, isn’t it?
Second, I find her defense of world classics a bit… perplexing. Her argument seems to rest on the idea that “deep truths about our misplaced love, our lust, our foolishness, cruelties, hunger for power, and dread of death” are only to be found in older works… but aren’t they living and breathing and daring us and making us reflect upon ourselves in new plays as well?
Furthermore, though funding may be momentarily available for productions of new plays, it doesn’t seem to me that classic plays have anything to be worried about in the long run. Do they? Or don’t they still constitute the lion’s share of work that appears on stage throughout the country? Aren’t the audiences for Shakespeare festivals, for example, growing, even as audiences for other genres (as Zelda notes) continue to dwindle?
It seems to me that funding the production of new plays is merely a way to address a great imbalance: not a genuine risk to the world theatrical canon. Or would anyone argue — I ask this sincerely — that we might somehow lose the great plays of the 20th century (and centuries before that) before new great plays are written to take their place?
On the other hand… I’m probably wrong about all of this. I mean, she *is* Zelda Fichandler, founder of Arena Stage, visionary of the regional theater. (And I did find my head nodding vigorously at many other moments during her speech.) But still: I had to ask.