Monday, December 20, 2010

De-Kline and Fall

Those of you active in the St. Louis theatre scene are probably aware of a recent dustup with the Professional Theatre Award Council (PTAC), a local non-profit formed in 2004 “to promote and celebrate excellence in St. Louis professional theatre”. It has done this primarily by mounting a local theatre awards show, The Kevin Kline Awards, a fact reflected in the domain name of the PTAC web site,

The dustup is the result of new changes in PTAC membership requirements. You can find the details in what strikes me as a very fair-minded article on the subject at the St. Louis Post Dispatch web site, but the essence of the new requirements is that companies are expected to pay more - in some cases quite a bit more - to actors, designers, and (especially) directors if they wish to remain members.

The dollar amounts aren't large on an absolute scale, but for many small groups operating on shoestring budgets and without well-heeled board members and/or the institutional connections that bring large corps of volunteers and interns, they're prohibitive.

To me, the biggest problem with PTAC is that there appears to be a disconnect between its mission statement (as quoted above) and the actual administration of the organization. Over the years, the awards ceremony and the associated infrastructure of judging and voting have become the nearly exclusive focus of the group. Direct promotion of local theatre has rather fallen by the wayside.

This isn't unique to them, of course. Many non-profits, in my experience, tend to experience a kind of reverse mission creep (call it "mission drift", if you will) in which the organization slowly loses touch with its original goals.

That's not necessarily bad as long as the mission statement and the actual behavior are brought into congruence. Maybe PTAC just needs to rewrite that statement to redefine itself as an organization for the advancement of professional theatre as defined by pay scales and/or Equity membership.  Should they continue to exist the KK awards might then, with some tinkering, become a way to acknowledge the work of local union actors and designers.

None of that would raise awareness of theatre in St. Louis or attract audiences who aren't already regulars at local theatres, but maybe another organization could be formed (or an existing one expanded) to accomplish that. That organization could concentrate on ways to expand the audience for live theatre (Equity or otherwise) with media buys, community outreach programs, and the like. Companies could pool their expertise and look for ways to help each other and theatre in general.

It's worth a try, I would think.  Pretty much every live theatre company in town wants to put more butts in seats, and I think we stand a better chance of accomplishing that if we all work together.  This is one of those cases where a rising tide really would lift all boats.

No comments: