It has often been claimed that theatre has a great power over human beings by instilling values and affecting positive change. Some Bay-Area Theatres like Cutting Ball or Shotgun Players claim to pursue these goals by committing themselves to the local and the wider human communities. So that it is sustainable, the commitment should nonetheless go both ways. Let’s follow them !
The Bay, pride of home.
Theatre in the San Francisco Bay Area makes « think global, act local » its motto. As Rebecca Novick, a local theatre director and arts consultant, explains, « We are ambitious here […]. The gold rush may be over, but in the Bay Area we’re still busy digging far down for the rich veins of meaning that you can only discover when you invest in a place over many years. With less focus on ‘making it’ somewhere else, we invest in long term relationships with other artists who are passionate about the way art can change the places we call home.” In order to affect change and awaken consciousness one should thus consider priding home, or at least San Francisco Bay Are theatres see it that way.
Theater Community Proponents
Defining oneself in the eyes of others as defenders of the San Francisco Bay Area theater community is what the Shotgun Players and the Cutting Ball Theatre , two of the most recent and esteemed mid-sized theaters, actively do. Browsing their websites shows that both claim that their artistic and aesthetic choices embody a didactic vision of theatre, one that engages different individuals as a community. Both have struggled a lot – fighting to have their own place to host their companies. This speaks to the strength of their bonds and of their convictions. Their mission statements offer insights into how theater websites as communication tools represent cultural production. Indeed, theatres use them to define themselves, their identities, the meaning of their activities. Not only do they act on the way members see themselves and the way they are seen by external interested parties, but it also plays a strong part in connecting the latter to the theatre life.
Inside the Theatre, Commitment Starts
Shotgun Players’ and Cutting Ball Theatre’s commitment is about building strong connections between their artists and audiences. The two theatres both claim to challenge them alike. They however build an obvious separation between those two categories of people within the theatre: the people sitting in the dark and the ones on stage or who directly take part in the production. That separation is made clear in their discourse as they speak of “we” and “them” or “you”. The relationship between those two entities is nonetheless dynamic and interaction is key. The two theatres see it as something extremely positive and as a form of engagement to promote that relationship. That is most probably the goal of the “Pay-What-You-Can-Ticket”. It aims at making theatre more accessible, specially for people with lower incomes, workers and such, in a democratic spirit. Moreover in claiming “We encourage you to join us […]. We promise this is just the beginning, ”Shotgun Players pledges to the audience, so that the audience pledges to them.
Outside the Theatre, Commitment spreads
As these pledges and commitments emerge, bigger issues and ties are to be taken into account. The theatres are clearly aware of the fact that their actions take place within a specific context – the local community – which is itself tied to a wider “human community.” Shotgun Players has thus committed to ecologogical
sustainability and has been given the “Green Business” certificate for being the first “100% solar-powered” theatre in Northern America. The idea being to think global and … act local, Shotgun also displays local business products in their lobby and both theatres claim to put their neighbours stories on stag. Cutting Ball even provides a whole section of their websites to their neighbourhood: the Tenderloin. Del Seymour, an ex-addict who turned his life around thanks to the local community and who now oganises visits of the neighbourhood, is one of the neighbours that the Cutting Ball promotes. That’s the local long-term commitment Rebecca Novick was speaking about.
A Two-way Path
In committing themselves to a better world and claiming to take part in the community the theatres try to bind people to their actions and commitments: they should feel connected to those theatres because they see in them a mirror of their own struggles, of their own convictions – even more if the theatres tackles local issues. The goal is among others for the community to directly take part in the theatres’ activities, to sustain them. They of course do so by first and foremost buying tickets and attending shows, but they can also do it by donating, becoming a member or a suscriber to the theatre. The websites strongly enhance such actions. The names of the member-packs are very evoking and appealing: “The Fearless”, “Provocateurs” or “The Superstar ». Those underline the status of the members with a touch of humour and irony – knowing those packs give access to a certain number of perks … Some others underline the affective ties of the contributors to the theatres like: “Suzan-Lori Park’sTop Dogs”, “Eugene Ionesco’s Amis” and “Gertrude Stein’s Dining Companions”.
What those theatres actually do is create a bond between the theatre community and peripheral groups: the audience, the local community and the wider human community. The notion of community they build is not a closely sealed one but rather one where mediation and interconnections are paramount. Exchange and inter-community relations are their main focus, that is how they engage themselves, that is where their commitment grounds itself and simultaneously acts.