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Sense of Self-Affirmation

October 9, 2007

It's amazing how excited arts groups around the country get about the opportunity to show their work in New York. There's no greater sense of self-affirmation, it seems, than being asked to bring a production or exhibition "into town." The same sense of pride occurs for groups in the U.K. taking art to London. But because the U.S. is such a massive country, the chance to travel to New York seems like a much bigger deal.

Every time a performing arts group in the Bay Area goes to New York with a show, I get a press release. Sometimes I'll get several from the same company keeping me updated blow by blow on their preparations to head east. It doesn't matter whether it's Les Waters' production of Sarah Ruhl's Eurydice heading to Second Stages or Dan Hoyle's one-man show Tings Dey Happen moving from The Marsh to The Culture Project -- we're supposed to feel like proud parents watching their children graduate high school over here.

One of the bolder statements of pride for a show from the wretched provinces heading to the metropolis comes from Chicago. Steppenwolf Theatre's production of Tracy Lett's August:Osage County closed a few weeks ago and will shortly open on Broadway at The Imperial Theatre. Last week I was sent this entertaining YouTube clip created by a couple of young Chicago actors who call themselves the Southern Mothers in honor of Letts' triumph. It's a battle cry. The clip has been spreading around the Internet like a Killer Joe killing spree. What a way to cheer for the home team.

I'm always extremely happy when I hear about a show from "out of town" doing well in the nation's theatre capital or beyond. But sometimes I think it would be best to ignore these transfers to New York, or at least make less of a big deal of them. New York is self-important enough as it is without all of us in the rest of the country falling over ourselves for a chance to be produced there. We shouldn't need to seek self-worth from a New York transfer. Yet we do. It's kind of sad in a way.

I think we should be doing what we can do promote decentralization. We need to find ways to put artworks on the map without having to take them to New York. It shouldn't take the world premiere of a Philip Glass opera directed by Robert Woodruff at SF Opera House to make the international world sit up and pay attention. Perhaps the best thing is just to get on with our work and make it good. At some point, even those snobs in New York might catch on. Build it, as they say, and they will come.

But one of the best ways to build it -- or at least market what has been built to people who live elsewhere -- is to be a traveling salesman for a bit. Show the work in New York, wow the critics, and then come home. Instead of deciding that they need to live in New York in order to gain the recognition they need to take their careers to the next level, artists should think about simply making a few trips there instead.

Perhaps, ultimately, we should make the most of homegrown art that takes journeys to New York. It's a way to get the establishment to engage with it and love it before the artists head back in triumph to the Bay. Bringing a work into New York isn't the same after all as moving there altogether.


  • It's not New York that will pull the artists from their hometown theatre , but the "career" choices presented by the showcase. I saw the original 1981 Balm in Gilead production in Chicago,an amasing ensemble piece of theatre. But after Steppenwolf’s production of Balm in Gilead found acclaim in New York a couple years later, the ensemble members never really returned to Chicago. John Malkovic, Gary Cole, Joan Allen, Laurie Metcalf, Gary Sinise, and Glenne Headly were all off and running to their film and television careers.

    By Blogger Nick , At October 10, 2007 at 3:24 AM  

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