Video: Oskar Eustis on the American theater: ‘The worst of both worlds is happening’

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Video by John Moore for CultureWest.Org.

 

By John Moore
April 3, 2013

Public Theatre artistic director Oskar Eustis does not mince words when speaking about the state of the American theater. While in some ways it is healthier than it has ever been, especially in the areas of diversity and decentralization, he also says its health and vitality are endangered:

Nobody is paying living wages to actors, directors, writers, composers or designers. So you have this regional, non-profit theater movement that is simultaneously becoming more commercial and also less financially feasible for its artists. It’s actually the worst of both worlds that is happening. I envision it is going to be a very tough next generation for the American theater.”

Eustis and Michael Friedman — producer and composer of the Broadway musical “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” — took in a student production at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs on March 16, and the next day fielded a wide variety of questions in a 90-minute public forum.

While it’s not all bleak — Friedman believes one thing that is not crumbling is the desire of people to go out and see things that are live — the trend toward making non-profit theaters more entrepreneurial and less dependent on foundation and government subsidies is bringing dangerous, tangible consequences.

The Guthrie Theatre of Minneapolis, once the flagship of the American regional theater movement but now regarded by some as not much more than a live theater equivalent of a cineplex, is now producing “Charlie’s Aunt,” “The Sunshine Boys” and “Arsenic and Old Lace” — all in the same season, Eustis said.

“The shift toward needing to make earned revenue has produced an incredibly powerful commercial pull on theaters,” he said, resulting in an increasing homogenization of the American theater.

Watch my video at the top for elaboration. Overall, it’s not nearly as depressing as it sounds. And it’s worth it to watch what they have to say about the student production in Colorado Springs — which, both men pointed out, was the first “Bloody Bloody” staging either of them have seen since their own Broadway creation closed in 2010.

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Bonus coverage: Watch our video documentary on the making of “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson”
Veteran arts journalist John Moore followed the making of Ben Dicke’s self-produced staging of “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” in Denver over nine months in 2012, from inception to fundraising to rehearsals to an opening night postponed by a serious backstage accident that hospitalized Dicke, also the director and starring actor. Watch the remarkable story unfold here in five brief installments.

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