Theater Tokyo Freakout
posted by August 14 at 11:53 AMon
Here’s a story for the folks who are constantly bitching about the lack of arts funding and think the government should just, like, pay for our theaters:
The Japanese theater world is currently in crisis over the question of to whom public theaters belong, since the decision by the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) to appoint new artistic directors for each of its three divisions.
The Japanese government lavishly finances the NNTT and, as a result, treats it like a government bureaucracy. Which is causing major fuckups:
Tadaaki Otaka, the new artistic director of opera, who is slated to succeed Hiroshi Wakasugi, first learned of his appointment when he read about it in a newspaper. Otaka himself had never officially accepted the job.
More perplexing is the replacement of Hitoshi Uyama, the current artistic director of theater, who was appointed only last autumn. Uyama’s productions of “Yakiniku Dragon” and “A Japanese Named Otto” (which he also directed), were both well received by critics and the public.
Granted: It’d be peachy for American artists to have more no-strings access to government money.
But that just isn’t going to happen.
Even if the American government sponsored theaters, it would try to control them more tightly—and fuck them up more badly—than the Japanese government does.
Why? Because we’re a big, diverse country with a reactionary conservative streak 2,000 miles wide. And nobody, elected or appointed, wants to risk his or her cushy government job on a visionary artistic director. Or playwright. Or director. Or anything.
So we’re stuck with foundations and individual patrons, whose donations will dry up as the economy gets worse.
Which leaves us with old-fashioned capitalism, of the DIY rock ‘n’ roll variety, where you just cobble it together and make it work.
All this “actors deserve get a living wage” rhetoric thrown around by actors’ unions and regional theaters—and, famously, Mike Daisey, in this essay for The Stranger—is, I’m sorry to say, totally unrealistic.
Sure, actors deserve living wages (everybody deserves living wages) but they ain’t gonna get them any more than most rock ‘n’ rollers will get living wages. The analogy isn’t as specious as you might think: regional theaters (as we know them) are going down, just like record labels (as we know them) are going down.
And when the theaters crumble, they’re taking the unions (especially Actor’s Equity) with them.
Then the only people left will be the cockroaches—the people with true grit who want to make theater because they want to make theater.
Theater, again, will become a deep calling with no promise of financial reward. (Which, I’m sorry to say, might even improve the form as a whole.)
We’ll never be like Europe. We’ll never be like Japan.
So all you theater artists are going to have to do it for yourselves: Produce burlesque shows to subsidize your experimental dramas; live in warehouses (like these guys); learn a goddamned trade (like this guy); seek out your own private Medicis—I know, that’s a tall order the West Coast, where the nouveau riche haven’t figured out how to be art patrons yet. But somebody’s got to teach them. Might as well be you.
(And please do not rack up debt by going to a grad school that will only teach you to navigate Hollywood and the doomed regional theaters. Unless you’re planning on being an LA star, it’s a waste of precious time and money. Just get out there and make work.)
You can mewl about “living wages” and “not enough arts funding” while your theaters burn, but that won’t put out the fire.