Artist as Producer Part 1

The first in a series of posts I’ve wanted to do for quite awhile - a post-internet, probably more mangled with logistical concerns, response to Walter Benjamin’s Author as ProducerSheila Heti’s Back to the World post on artists talking art is worth a read (click here), but a useful sample to start us off is:

I think it’s the wholesale infiltration of concerns about money and commerce into art that leads to art’s withering on the vine, not direct and serious conversation about how to make art now. Stop talking about Amazon, for godssakes! For one minute! […] Artists should think about art, and should talk about it together, the same way people agitating for social change should talk about social change together. Would Occupy Wall Street have happened if people didn’t finally decide to put their collective grievances into a public space and talk about them? Art is not frivolous. Art is not a luxury. It moves the world forward… It creates models of possible worlds in opposition to the worlds we live in, which we cannot imagine our way out of without art.

I found it quite convincing, or at least influencing. I can be cranky about art about artists, more because I enjoy the distance provided by metaphor and difference and a hope that the shared distance will create room for others to slip in.[1] Though a dose of narcissism-fear and privilege-guilt shouldn’t be entirely discounted.

Reposting on Facebook caused a little comment thread about the need for theatre directors to get together to talk art and practice without slipping into conversations about money / state of the industry / gossip. This is very important and something I need more of in my life. I’m often the person who takes the conversaton to lack of resources and frustrations, a trate that frustrates me (it’s a fun cycle, can’t you tell?)

So: yes and...

What changes if we embrace that we are in

an era of “artist as producer”? The time in which there was a clear distinction between the creator, producer and distributor is waning in film, comedy, music, publishing.

Theatre in Canada has been slow, artistically reluctant and imaginatively bureaucratic to adopt this, let alone leading or clearing new paths.

If I want to Direct a play - to make an experience I want to share - I need to consider and have real power over a bunch of things historically outside the work of the director. Part of how I direct Antigone Dead People is by choosing to produce it in the Tranzac, by shaping the social frame around the event, deciding how people could buy tickets and for how much. I need to think and be involved in those decisions as well as maintaining the more traditional relationships with performers, playwrights, designers and other collaborators (though those need adjusting as well.)

We’re in a time where a lot of the logistical barriers to the producing work have been lowered. With a Paypal, Brown Paper Tickets and iPhone credit card readers I can deal with ticketing better than most regional and established theatre ticketing services at less cost. I can tell people about the work with honesty and accuracy using Mailchimp and with Wordpress and iBooks Author I can find, curate and distribute writers and sites to curcumnavigate the declining influence of old press formats and rear-guard critics.

All of this, in an age of artist as producer, is part of what I need to think about as a director – because it impacts the reception of the art.

This shouldn’t mean that one person has to do all of this. Artist Producers can (and should) still assemble teams of excited and capable people to work with. People who have different skills, frameworks and passions, but share the values of the work and of the time.

I want to stop seeing scarcity everywhere. I need to stop whining about which regional theatre isn’t doing what I wish they would, I need to stop complaining that by-design-slow government agencies and professional associations can’t keep up with the needs and realities of being an artist now. And I want to talk to other artists about art without talking about Amazon or envious gossip.

But I also want us to recognize that what we talk about when we talk about art is different now than it used to be.

As we go into the next cycle of the Mayan calendar, I want to find the political, personal and artistic potential of being an Artist Producer. Talking about it with others will help.

In future posts in the series I want to talk more about how Artist as Producer might look like and to respond more closely to Benjamin’s article. I would happily take suggestions, comments or questions on any part of this.

  1. Often I’ve used science, science fiction and scientists as my metaphors (Dedicated to the Revolutions, Perhaps in a Hundred Years, Life of Galileo.)