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April 13, 2009



What I wonder is, if your company is badly begun, is it possible to change, and how does one go about doing that? Or should you just recognize "oops. this is actually a vanity project!" and throw in the towel?

I think it's possible for a company to transform from initial vanity to truly serving its stated mission- or can evolve beyond its initial mission to a different, better mission that truly serves its community. I'll go further and say that *most* ensemble-based arts organizations begin with that initial vanity- if artists are getting the creative fulfillment and opportunities for expression they seek under the current status quo, they don't have much moviation to start their own arts org, do they? When Steppenwolf started and were doing shows with their ensemble members in a basement, what mission did they claim they were serving...and what mission were they *actually* serving? The key is to recognize that the artistic expression of your members is an important goal, but not the *most* important goal.


We agree Ed. I think almost every arts organization that achieves longevity (assuming that is what they want) has gone through this process of being more internally centered to more externally centered.

You mention Steppenwolf and if my history on Da Wolf is accurate they are constantly going through this process of evaluating their relationship to their ensemble and the audience.

This process of constant re-evaluation of where an arts organization is what's important because that's the only way you can realize that you are heading a bit "off track" and then correct it.


Adam, thanks for this post. I've passed the link to every member of my company (The Plagiarists-- www.theplagiarists.org). I like to think that we have actually pretty expertly avoided your "fatal flaw" by having a mission based on a set of aesthetic principals (all our work is in active dialogue with its influences and shamelessly makes use of prior texts) that, yes, "ultimately enlarge the world." (Why does our day job have the clearest, most succinct and powerful mission statement I have ever come across? Why can't anyone else manage to do that?) and by rigorously defining ourselves as NOT an acting ensemble, and supporting company members' work outside the company, so that we don't become anyone's sole artistic outlet. It's worked so far...

Now we just have to build up our Board...



We know that succinct is hard and powerful is even harder. Plus our day job has had 50 years to work things out. But I like where you guys at Plagiarists are headed.

Brian Golden

One of your best, Adam. This is so relevant. The debacle at ATC has created a lot of great grist for the mill - lessons, and provocations.

Chris Casquilho

Although organization, strategy and structure appeal to me generally, I'm still unconvinced that the sloppy "us showcase" model is unnecessary or utterly dysfunctional. It's perfectly OK for companies to come and go this way - probably producing as much worthwhile and interesting work in aggregate as any other model. The expectation that a company run that way will last very long is the problem. Ditch the expectation, and you have a decent chance of producing some great work and having a good time.


I don't necessarily have a problem with companies forming to showcase their work.

I just wish a lot of them would be far more honest about it.



We agree that expectation of longevity is really the problem with the "showcase" model. If a group of artists came together and said . . . "we are going to do this for a few years and then get out" then they would probably have a lot more fun.

The question is, whether this showcase organization is (or should be) a nonprofit org.

That leads me to Tony


I don't have a problem with a showcase either. I have an issue with people forming 501(c)3 and claiming they serve the "public". Of course if they were honest about it, then I don't know if the nonprofit model would be right for them.



I enjoy your blog, but found the tone, content and implications of this post troubling. Your AD has directed 30 productions at the Court - I would not consider the company a mere 'showcase' for him, anymore than I would a smaller, younger company. I've put some other thoughts in a post here: http://fluxtheatreensemble.blogspot.com/2009/04/on-missions-and-paradoxes.html

Scott Walters

I think most university Drama Depts are built on the same shaky premise, and the productions are the vanity shows of the faculty. It is pretty pathetic.

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