Sunday, April 4, 2010

What We Eat? Building the Successful Theater Company

Welcome to What We Eat where we take a look at the books, movies, and plays that have influenced the direction of Playlab NYC.

Building the Successful Theater Company

by Lisa Mulcahy

I don’t think I am the intended audience for this book. Fifteen years ago when I was just coming out of a small Ohio college, I might have found a lot in Building the Successful Theater Company to inspire me. Today though, I found little in the book that was useful.

Lisa Mulcahy has complied her book from interviews with the heads of fourteen different theaters from around the country. The companies offering practical advice and from the trenches stories include Steppenwolf Theater Company, The Pasadena Playhouse, La Jolla Playhouse, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Mixed Blood Theatre Company, Jean Cocteau Repertory, Bailiwick Repertory, New Repertory Theatre.

The whole book follows a structure that Mulcahy sets out on on page two.

“So, what makes a theater company successful? Primarily, the formula for success is a combination of a sharp artistic focus, a smart objective business viewpoint, a fully operational venue, and a big-picture plan.”

I don’t think she spends nearly enough time exploring the development of a theater’s mission statement. A successful mission statement is difficult to create, and is important for finding board members, programming shows, and raising money. She talks only in very broad terms about fundraising, suggesting that companies hold fundraisers. What she does spend a a great deal of time talking about securing a permanent home. This is a fine goal I suppose, but we’re independent theater producers in New York and it is not likely that Playlab NYC will ever be in a permanent home. It honestly isn’t even a long range goal, although my managing director might disagree.

The seven and a half years since the publication of the book have been very hard on some of Mulcahy’s “successful” companies. The Jean Cocteau Repertory dissolved in 2007. Bailiwick Repertory Theater closed in September 2009. The Pasadena Playhouse closed in February 2010 and is looking into filing bankruptcy.

The book seems to be written for a young people who have no experience in the day-to-day realities of regional theater, young people who dream of establishing a theater in their small town. I would like to see a volume that was focused on building successful independent theater companies, with interviews from successful companies like The Civilians, Les Freres Corbusier, Keen Company, or Vampire Cowboys. That would be a practical from the trenches book that I could recommend.

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