The Generation Gap

  • Posted on: 13 April 2009
  • By: Tony


Dr. Schreiber of San Augustine giving a typhoid innoculation at a rural school, San Augustine County, Texas (LOC)A couple of weeks ago I went to a discussion with Michael Kaiser. It was a pretty interesting hour or so. There was a lot to take away from it. With the amount of challenges down the road, we need to challenge a lot of our assumptions.

While I agreed with a lot of what I heard for the immediate future, much of what I'm hearing and reading about what is needed for the road ahead sounds like an old doctor giving a kid a vaccine. I can't help but think that sometimes the vaccines are built around faulty assumptions.

At one point at the Kaiser panel, someone asked what specific challenges the next generation of leadership will need to be aware of. The answer gave me pause. Essentially a "lost generation" may be the biggest obstacle in the future of arts organizations.

I've read and heard talk about a supposed "lost generation" for the arts--a whole generation that did not get arts education in schools. The common thought is that if kids do not have exposure to the arts at a young age, they will never support the arts. Two things strike me about this. (Lest it be mistaken, I am not arguing against arts in the schools; however, there are several problematic points in this line of reasoning.)

The generation that I've heard mentioned that is lost to the arts are currently around 40-ish down to around 15-ish. Those were also the ages Kaiser threw out. When I looked around the room that didn't make sense. I'd estimate half the room for a talk on managing arts organizations during a time of crisis was from this lost generation. The majority of our audiences at Halcyon and many smaller companies I know are also from generation. Those most active in the theatrosphere are in this age range.

College arts enrollment (hell, even the number of available programs) have exploded during the last generation. Enrollment it is now considered so vast to be a great problem. The sheer number of students seeking degrees (let alone terminal ones) far outstrips the available number of jobs. The generation that was lost on the arts is actually migrating towards the arts in huge numbers.

Sometimes I can't quite reconcile the above with the dearth of younger audiences reported by most institutions. How can you get a student to spend four years and sometimes over a hundred grand (of their parents money or from future crippling loans) on an arts education, and not get them to shell out for a ticket to so many institutions? The longer I go, the less I believe a lack of arts education is the primary culprit.

I've also read staggering amounts of material about "where is the next generation of leaders."  Boomers who currently run most institutions are fretting about who will take up their mantels and continue their direction.

Lost in the search for the next generation of leaders is an entire generation of leaders. That day will come; however, I've spoken to some who are (sometimes more than) a little insulted when they hear there is no one to take up the mantle. "I'm here. I'm ready. I'm smart. I'm visionary. I'm a leader. I'm broke. I can do this better. I've got a family . . ."

The key difference is that many younger leaders have started their own companies instead of waiting. They've left the field instead of waiting. They see the world very differently than the generation that preceded them. (Not a big shock, every generation does.) They want a chance. They want to run institutions differently. They want them to be "better." Better being a relative term of course.

When the boomers step aside they are going to want the next generation to continue on the same trail they blazed. Most folks in the arts under 40 that I know don't want to go down that same path. When arts institutions begin to reflect younger generations, I think you'll start to see more young audiences. The trick will be to not lose those already attending.

Personally, I don't think finding new audiences will be as much of a challenge as common wisdom dictates. I think managing the generational gap in handing over the reigns will make for a far bumpier ride.

image courtesy of Library of Congress via.

Folks We Should Know

  • Posted on: 11 April 2009
  • By: Tony

Three years ago when we started Halcyon Theatre we had a simple idea. Create art that mattered, combining the arts with social engagement. Our mission is to explore how stories and the art of storytelling can cross cultures, heal old wounds, reconnect peoples, create communal experiences and forge new paths forward. A shorter version would go like: connecting our world though stories.

There are many ways we can work to accomplish this. The first is probably obvious from our name. Through theatre. We firmly believe that the simple act of sharing each other's stories can go a long way to help connect us to our neighbors and work to change our world. We know. It seems a silly, childlike notion.

We've had the amazing fortune in three short years to receive help and support from all over the globe. Turns out our simple idea is not so silly after all. In fact, a great deal of the massive changes we've undergone throughout history stem from a simple idea.

We have also been fortunate in the amount of great people and organizations we've been able to come into contact with; folks who are fighting the good fight and working to change our world for the better. The mission of Halcyon was never as simple as putting on plays, and another great way we can work towards our mission is an equally simple idea. Introducing our audiences and supporters to people and organizations we think you might like to know about.

But first, we'd like to ask you: who do you think we should know? What people and organizations do you know who are fighting the good fight? Drop us a line and let us know. You can either leave it in the comments here or shoot an email to

As a thank you, We'll offer buy one-get one tickets to our upcoming Alcyone Festival 2009, for anyone who introduces us to someone they think is making a difference. Let me know who you think is making a difference and you can bring a friend with you to a show for free. Simple as that.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Jenn and Tony 

No, Uh-uh, Oooh Noooo, NO, No Way

  • Posted on: 8 April 2009
  • By: Tony


"No, uh-uh, Oooh Noooo, NO, No Way." A random sampling of what I hear everyday as a parent. As anyone who's beenTony Jr. Says No. around a two year old can probably attest, "No" is the preferred response to just about any thing out there.

For Jenn and I, even under the daily barrage of no, sometimes the sheer dramatics involved in saying no are comical. The default mode for the terrible twos is no.

Now a lot of folks do everything they can to avoid children. Most parents parents love their kids. A lot of potential parents want nothing more out of life than to have their own children.  Dealing with other people's kids. Forget about it. No way.

There's a couple of easy reasons why we should pay far more attention to children than we often do. One, to make sure they don't rob us in ten years. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so you can't be too careful. Two, watching children can give us an amazing insight to how adults behave.

No is the default answer for almost everything we do. Don't believe me? For one day try to track the amount of times you say no to something you see or are told no to something. It is our main mode of operation. Can't do it. Not possible. Costs too much. That's inconceivable.

Now in baseball, hitters are taught from an early age not to do this. As the pitch comes in, there isn't time to think about whether to swing or not. You can't stand in the box, watch the pitch come in and think "should I swing at this" and then still hit it. The default mode is Yes. Yes, yes-yes-swing. Or yes-yes-yes don't-swing-ball. One decision is all there is time for.  If you try to go the other way, "no-no-no-yes-swing" it doesn't work. You'll miss most of the good pitches to hit.

Sometimes no means yes. We get so used to saying no that we miss out on things we actually want. Tony Jr. does this all the time. "Do you want an apple," Jenn or I will ask?

"No way mommy-daddy," he'll respond. A couple of minutes later, "Mommy-daddy, apple please." He realizes he actually wants the apple. He's just so used to saying no it's a reflex.

We do this all the time, but as we get older we don't have the ability to just change our minds and get what we want, or hit the pitch, or get that job.

What could happen if we were to change our default mode? 

Institutional White

  • Posted on: 7 April 2009
  • By: Tony


Question. How do you think the theatre industry as a whole fares against accusations of Racism?

Black and White RainbowThere is no need to kid ourselves, the American theatre is overwhelmingly white. Chicago's theatre, ensembles, critics, playwrights, directors, designers, administrators, audiences, funders--all are predominately white. (The irony of a white alpha male talking about diversity is not lost on me.) Our theatre is also predominately made up of charitable organizations that receive public funding to function.

This has come up repeatedly, and the usual reply is: I'M NOT RACIST, followed by: not enough people applied or auditioned, or we have to look after our ensemble, or insert caveat here.

Institutional Racism is a pesky problem.

Institutional racism is defined as the differential access to goods, services, and opportunities of society. When this differential access seeps into our institutions, it eventually becomes common practice, making it that much harder to rectify. Eventually, this racism dominates our public bodies, corporations and universities, and is reinforced by the actions of newcomers and conformists. Another difficulty with reducing institutionalized racism is that there is no true identifiable perpetrator. When racism is built into the institution, it appears to be an act of the collective population.

No one in the body needs to be a bigot for this to happen.  And yet it does. Our theatres and ensembles are institutionally white, and often it is not out of malice or maliciousness. Hiring actors is one thing, doing co-productions is one thing. Having a significant part of your ensemble or organization look like your city is a whole different ballgame.

When I first started working in theatre I didn't even notice it. The township I grew up in (I'm not a city boy) is 97% white. I don't expect that to change anytime soon as there are not many jobs and no reason for someone to move there. I went to a small liberal arts college that was predominately white. So when I started in theatre it just seemed normal at first.

I was part of a company for a long time that was all white men. About six years in they added a couple of women to the ensemble. (Ironically, they worked with many female directors over the years.) Scripts were chosen primarily for showcasing the ensembles talents. It is a very talented group; however, if a show didn't have roles for folks it was not considered. So you get into a repetitive pattern that is very hard to break.

As I moved farther into my adulthood, the trend became more and more noticeable. Finally, I left the old company that I had been a part of for years and Jenn and I started Halcyon. Here's the thing. The  old company is the very definition of institutional racism. The company members are all really good people. Those two things unfortunately are not mutually exclusive. br />
Not too long ago Adam over at Mission Paradox wrote about Diversity in the Arts. In the comments someone asked, "What are your suggestions for avoiding this situation when you're seeking to diversify your theater company?"

I took a moment to give my two cents:

I can only speak from my experience in Chicago; however, the only way to do so is to be aggressive about it. It needs to be part of everything you do.

If you sit back and wait for it to happen, it won't. Putting out an audition notice ad waiting for actors to come to you won't work.

Go out and find people; talk to other companies; ask for recommendations; go to shows of culturally specific orgs; see their work and scout their talent.

So many companies say they encourage minority actors and don't reflect that on their stages. So few actually show any diversity in their work, that most actors of color won't go to an audition and waste their time so they can be offered the "ethnic role".

Thirty seconds on a company's website will tell someone if it's worth their time or not. If the company is homogeneous, and all previous shows have been filled with artists who all look the same, you need to prove you're not just providing lip-service.

Once actors see that you are in fact following through with your words, not only casting inclusively, and casting actors of color in good roles, you will start to see a vast difference in who is coming to auditions.

Once everyone sees that the theatres across the country and in Chicago start following through with their words and diversifying themselves, you will start to hear fewer charges of institutional racism. How do you think the theatre industry as a whole fares?

image courtesy of Nicki Varkevisser

Happens to the Best of Them

  • Posted on: 2 April 2009
  • By: Tony

Over at the spiffy new Clyde Fitch Report, Leonard Jacobs posts the announcement of the 2009 ATCA Osborn New Play Award for and Emerging Playwright. This years winner is Yussef El-Gundi for Our Enemies: Lively Scenes of Love and Combat. While I wasn't a huge fan of the Silk Road production--it is a really good script. So congrats to Yussef El-Gundi!

Then something at the bottom of the ATCA's press release caught my eye.

"Prior Osborn Award Recipients
2008 Gee’s Bend, EM Lewis, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Montgomery, AL" 

EM Lewis won the ‘08 Primus award for Heads. Which, incidentally, we are producing as part of the Alcyone Festival 09.) Gees Bend was by Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder.

A mistake in their press release?  If the ATCA has mistakes in a press release, us little people probably shouldn't feel so bad if we have typos from time to time, right? (Do I get one credit for slack from our fine critics if need/a typo arises?)

Speaking of winners EM Lewis took home LA Weekly's award for production of the year this week for Song of Extinction.

El-Gundi (Our Enemies: Lively Scenes of Love and Combat)  and Lewis (Song of Extinction) are also both finalists for the 2009 Steinberg/ATCA Award for Best New Play--replete with a $25,000 prize--along with Lee Blessing (Great Falls), Steven Dietz (Becky’s New Car), Octavio Solis (Lydia) and Tracy Letts (for that "minor play" Superior Donuts.) Winners will be announced this Saturday April 4th.