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Safety In Numbers

December 18, 2008

The City of San Francisco has thankfully decided to postpone its decision regarding Supervisor Aaron Peskin's proposed radical cuts to the arts budget until midway through next year. If Peskin's proposal had gone through earlier this week, key organizations like San Francisco Opera, SF Ballet and SF Symphony would have seen their civic contributions fall by as much as 50%.

In the meantime, as I talk to many local theatre companies about how the economic downturn is affecting their operations, it's been interesting to hear how small outfits -- those who don't get much if any city funding so don't have to worry so much about the aforementioned cuts -- are weathering the storm.

I don't want to go into too much detail here as my article on this subject will appear in SF Weekly on December 31. But one thing which small theatre makers are doing to keep going in tough times is banding together to share resources, audiences and staging concepts. The difficult economy is encouraging companies to look for co-productions and co-marketing opportunities with their peers. Examples include the SOMA Cultural Coalition (a group of arts organizations based in the South of Market area of town about which I devoted a blog post in October) and the Bay Area Professional Small Theatres group (BAPST), an organization run under the auspices of Theatre Bay Area which aims to create "an environment of professionalism for small theatre companies to thrive in." Meanwhile, some companies are entering into individual relationships with fellow arts makers. For example, The Climate Theatre is a member of the SOMA Cultural Coalition, but is simultaneously making separate coproduction plans with other companies such as Encore and The Clown Conservatory.

These small companies are being pretty smart by taking the old axiom of "safety in numbers" to heart. Won't it be ironic if the behemoths of the theatre world end up coming off worse as a result of the downturn than the minnows?

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