By Daniel Berger-Jones
I envision achieving success like reaching the top of a giant mountain. Let’s call it Mt. Everest, since I’m prone to hyperbole anyway. The goal is the Top. But in this business, if you succeed wildly and fly to the Top, you lose your personal life and any hope of being normal again. Or possibly, you OD on a fistful of pills you needed just to sleep because you’ve driven yourself insane. That’s if you succeed. And if you fail, you feel like you’ve been rejected and you suck. So, I have to ask myself constantly “What the hell am I climbing towards, here?”
Some of us are in this business for recognition. Some of us even hope for fame. Whether we’d like to admit it or not, the need to be paid attention to is probably a driving factor behind almost every artist (you, dear reader, being the exception).
Some of us can’t figure out how else to express themselves. Some need an escape.Some of us are just geeks, in it for the stories, the possibility of being King Arthur one night, and Claudius the next. Some are hoping for the commercial that goes nationally viral and earns us the kind of financial security we’ve always dreamed of. But how does Boston fit in for anyone’s path to their personal Top?
There are certainly bigger markets, so in my mountain metaphor, Boston should be, what? Base Camp 3? The place where people who almost made it to the top of Everest look up at the peak longingly, setting back down the mountain to nurse their frost bite? This is certainly one way of looking at our city. I have a different way to look at it.
First, that we are not on the same mountain as the larger markets. We are K2. We are a different mountain, with different, sometimes harder obstacles. We are fewer. Which means every show must count. Our audience must be blown away, or they will leave, and so will our good artists. The only way to keep good artists here is to offer a higher quality of art than the markets with more to offer fiscally. That leaves it up to us as a community to push each other to make better art. Not just better–the best.
We’ve accepted mediocrity in our theatre for too long. Our standards are just now beginning to rise to the level required of a theatrically reputed city. It is our job as a theatre community to evaluate everything, our own work as well as that of others, with a constructively critical eye. If something is good, but not perfect, let’s try it again, and do it better. With one misstep on a mountain like K2, you tumble towards a pummeling death. Mediocrity, for me, is the pummeling death of theatre. Boston, marvelously, is beginning to aim for perfect, not just good.
Until we achieve perfection, though, and have Grade A product to offer, one possibly difficult truth to swallow is that we are not a financially profitable theatrical town. A company hoping to make money in this town should move to Mt. Everest. We cannot gamble with the ratio of price to good quality art. We cannot skimp on actor, designer, or producer salaries. We cannot skimp on rehearsal periods, or costumes, or props. We’re not a big enough town yet. We need to be a family.
Every company working together can make the intelligent, young, eager population of this town crescendo into a proud theatrical community, and not just another town with several spattered audiences for one theatre at a time. If the price of better theatre is fewer productions with longer rehearsals and more expensive tickets, we have to eat the losses in the name of a greater cause. Someone has to stop thinking about money and start pushing for emotional, gut-punching, change-my-life-in-a-second theatre. Once we do, the audiences will give money of their own accord, just to see more. Theatre funded purely by donation, free of admission charge, can be the future if the product is perfect every time.
I think that the acting community in Boston is already aware of all of this, and is slowly figuring out how to evolve into K2, Mt. Everest’s bad-ass counterpart. The really gut-wrenching tragedy and side-splitting laughter is poking its nose through the snow. I see at least one production a year these days that does it to me. We are close, and I will stay on this mountain until I can look down and see a brand new view of the world below.