An Open Letter to the Small Theatre Community

Listen, we need to talk. I’ve been around the Houston small theatre community for a while, now, and I have to say, I’m getting a little bothered by what I’m starting to see. To be honest, I think that much of the problem comes from a simple misunderstanding: You are not professional theatres, so quit trying to pretend you are.

Now, the reason I said, “small” theatre instead of “community” or “amateur” theatre is simple. I’m not just talking to those theatres that claim “education” or “community arts” in their founding documents. I’m talking to every little theatre that pays its actors less than Equity scale and its crew members less than minimum wage. You know who you are. I don’t care if you call it a stipend or offer them points on net as “co-producers”, if the total payout divided by the time you expect them to be there is less than a minimal living wage, you’re not professional. At best, you’re a start-up.

Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with running an amateur or startup theatre. You ask half of Hollywood and all of Broadway how they got their start and they’ll trot out some long, tear-filled story of the community theatre that first sparked their love of the boards. More so, small theatre inspires an interest in the arts in general, in literature, history, and even science and the trades. Small theatre is an honorable genre, and don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.

It is not, however, professional theatre, so different rules have to apply.

You don’t get to prioritize yourself above your volunteers’ lives. The main difference between professional and small theatre is that, when all the numbers are crunched, professional theatres pay their employees something that comes close to what the government considers a living wage. If you’re not cutting checks for everyone in your shop, including for rehearsals, then you have no right to expect them to treat their hobby like a job. That means you have to make allowances for their real job, and sometimes for other issues that may come up in their lives. Parents have to put their children before their hobbies, and, these days, many adults are in the unenviable position of caring for an aged parent. These people can’t always maintain a grueling 30-hour-a-week rehearsal schedule. Or even a light 20.

I’m not saying anyone should tolerate bullshit. If an actor is skipping whole chunks of rehearsal or refuses to learn their lines or approximate their blocking, by all means boot them out like a hobo. No one wants a bad show, and tolerating bullshit is one of the quickest ways to get one. I’m just asking that you show some reasonable restraint. If an actor is otherwise tight, then letting him skip a Saturday to check on his aged mother is probably not going to kill you.

Really, I guess it all comes down to this: Never forget that your volunteers are volunteers. They don’t owe you a goddamn thing. Period. They do what they do for love of the craft and because you asked them to. Sets go up, props get built, and lights shine because someone— who isn’t even getting the thrill of having 50-100 people applaud their ability to spit out words —is making it happen. Ushers (and other lobby volunteers) get to see a show for free, but “free” often means they have to attend to the needs of 50-100 people, wrangle refreshments, ensure the balance of the box, and clean up the auditorium afterward. Don’t try to fob off unwanted chores on these people like they’re immigrant dishwashers.

They’re volunteers, and failing to show your appreciation of their effort is the easiest way to lose them. And without volunteers, you won’t have a theatre at all.

Casual Friday–Just Like Dubuque

Still a lot going on, here. Penny and Diana are arguing about Diana’s bad habits (the mythical Diana/Artemis did the same thing…a lot. Look it up). Steve is recognizing Phil (which comes up later), and other things.

There’s important information here that I couldn’t really place. Penny works as an administrator for her father’s private detective agency, which also has a sideline of solving problems related to the supernatural and, in particular, the loose group of immortals known as the Old Crowd. Every time Diana has one of her snits, she makes a phone call and Penny has a lot of work to do making irritations go away, especially since Diana’s snits usually result in someone dying ironically (Acteon was eaten by his own dogs).

The Dubuque incident went down like this: Diana was waiting to meet a client in a bar (she’s a sports agent) when a guy approached her seeking directions to the bathroom. She turned him into a sheep (he was wearing a wool suit), and refused to turn him back because, “He probably saw my cleavage.” (She was wearing a scoop-necked t-shirt, so pretty much everyone in Dubuque had seen her cleavage by then.)

Anyway, the upshot was that the guy was coincidentally emotionally and physically abusive, so his wife wasn’t too heart-broken over his “fatal traffic accident.” His kids got to go to college on the “insurance settlement,” and the guy himself got to enjoy an early retirement on a farm in Upstate New York, where he provided wool for the Brooks Brothers corporation until his death from more or less natural causes in 1974. He was committed to eternity with some baby potatoes and a nice mint jelly.

Shiny Things

Now that the Epiphany has officially marked the end of the Christmas Season, I can freely discuss my own beliefs without crapping all over someone else’s holiday. So, in answer to those few people who ask what I celebrate in the middle of December, I celebrate Christmas, because, why not?

There was probably some big party that related in one way or another to the Winter Solstice; every northern culture has one, but the fragments that have survived don’t mention its name or significance. Yule, for you Wiccans out there, is a Germanic holiday.

There's Kittenalia, but I'm pretty sure that's just a dodge to get extra treats.

There’s Kittenalia, but I’m pretty sure that’s just a dodge to get extra treats.

The Gaelic calendar doesn’t border its seasons on the solar events, it centers them there, with the months measured out by full moons. So Samhain, the beginning of winter, falls around the beginning of November, two full moons after the autumnal equinox, and Imbolc, the beginning of spring, is celebrated around the beginning of February, on the second moon after the winter solstice. There was almost certainly some big do on the longest night of the year, probably relating to culling and to enjoying the people you have while you have them, but it hasn’t survived.

So I celebrate Christmas, because I live in a culture where the party during the winter solstice is called Christmas, even though the person who’s birth it celebrates was undoubtedly born in early spring. Do I worship Jesus at that time? No, but I don’t care who does. It’s none of my business if someone wants to say December 25 is his god’s birthday. To me, the important thing is a day to see my family and enjoy their presence.

To me, Yeshua bin Miriam was (if reports of him are accurate) an astoundingly advanced philosopher with some great ideas about how to treat each other, but he isn’t my god. He’s my family’s god, so, as long as he continues to allow me to celebrate the shortest days of the year with them, I’m cool with that.

I’m cool with any holiday that gives me an excuse to draw my family together and tell them how much I love them, because everything can change in an instant. Refusing the opportunity to be with our loved ones over personal details of faith is stupid.

Casual Monday–ZAF!

This comic is a disappointment to me on a variety of levels. For one thing, straight, parallel lines have always been my bane, so that cage looks like it was the ball in a pick-up game of soccer. Secondly, I’m not in love with the way I drew Penny, here. But, mostly, I tried to cram too many concepts into a three-panel comic.

You can see in the dialog that I’m juggling the end of Steve’s conversation with Diana, the fact that Penny and Steve are already acquainted, and Diana’s bad habit of transforming people into easily murdered other things.

New Year’s Clearing House

Purely as a public service, and not at all to get them out of my head, I am posting a series of one- or two-line ideas I’ve had, but haven’t been able to process into something workable. Hopefully, others will find a way to expand them.

Frozen isn’t a (liberally adapted) version of Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen.” It’s a (painfully blatant) retelling of Wicked, only bearing character changes and a happy ending for legal and Disney purposes (respectively).

I overheard a couple of guys in a bar talking about the sorry state of the SEC. I agreed, but pointed out that’s what happens when your corps of regulators are allowed to be too closely tied to the regulated class. They looked at me like I was insane. Turns out they were talking about football.

If the best (or worst) thing you have to say about your day is that you’re clean and awake, you’re still doing okay.

I often wonder if, 500 years from now, high school English students will be forced to plow through old Two and a Half Men scripts like modern students have to study Twelfth Night.

 The Porkpie, Seersucker, and Fedora are all really the same hat with a slight variation in the size of the brim.

I wonder if there’s any significance to the fact that Edward Hermann, Donna Dixon, and Mario Cuomo all died in the same week. I’m sure a brilliant conspiracy theory could be formed on it, possibly something involving manufactured connections and the Kentucky Mafia.

A surprising number of movies get bashed for being bad when they’re really just “not as good as we wanted them to be.” Except X-Men 3. It was awful, and its plot would have made more sense if Rattnor had just watched his kid play with action figures and transcribed that.

Sometimes I look angry or upset and people ask me what’s wrong. I really don’t know what to tell them. Because the only thing actually in my head is something along the lines of, “I really like pie.”

There you go guys. Eight brilliant ideas just begging for a better writer than me to flesh them out into something worth reading.