Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Summit talk

There is talk of organizing again. So, lets assume that there is a possibility of this one this time turning into something with longevity. If it is going to do achieve that, then how? why?

This is not talk to poopoo the possibilities. These are non-rhetorical (even if they are very general and vague) questions about the plan, the vision, the tactics that might turn the best of intentions into something tangible, something sustainable, something magnetic.

Why, how is it different this time?


RebeccaZ said...

Remind me real quick ... was there ever an actual meeting of minds that got together when folks were talking of joining and helping each other or did it just end up being talk and blogging?

What I like about what New Colony is proposing is the fact that people are actually going to congregate in the same room and start discussing and, hopefully, start acting instead of just discussing.


Devilvet said...

Well, there have been a number of times people got together in the room and had these sort of discussions. Some of them predate your and mine own involvement in the scene.

Others attempted to formulate out of theatre dish events, or back in the day when the league held annual retreats at the Northwestern Law Building.

So, the idea and the follow through towards a sit down dont strike new as novel (that isn't a put down... it just a quick non-scientific assessment).

I believe that there will be a summit. I plan on attending. I just am doing a little pre-summit online brain storming about things like...

What we can accomplish?
Who is "we"?
How does this summit/union germinate into symbiotic relationships other than the stereotypical previous paradigms... you know things like postcard exchange etc...

I am interested in new ideas.
I am interested in actionable goals.

And, I dont want any of us to start applauding or chiding until we get past the alpha site. Hell till we get past the beta as well.

I love hanging out with theatre folk. I'd love to see the next step. So, Rebecca what do you see coming out of these or desire aside from well wishes and good intentions?

I know some folks out there that might say... "See Bob...your skepticism is not needed and actually determental to the union"

I'd disagree. I think a health does of skepticism can help mold intent into action.

Don Hall said...

RZ -

There have been meetings like this for every year I've been producing theater in Chicago. A situation that suggests that there were these tyes of summits long before I got here as well.

I've been to quite a few of them. And if all we talk about is how other theater companies can help us get bigger audiences to see our shows, it'll be just another fucking circle jerk.

I'll be there, too and you can bitch about how mean I am. Ugh.

RebeccaZ said...

Bob - " ... what do you see coming out of these or desire aside from well wishes and good intentions?"

Personally, I think that I'd like to see it start as a typical brainstorming session and wouldn't like the first meeting to be full of skepticism. I'd like there to be suggestions and then a follow up of, "Yes, good, how can we get this to work?" instead of the immediate "You know? Nope. I don't think that's going to work. I've seen it done before. Uh uh."

Yes, it's a bit Pollyanna-ish of me, but starting out in the negative doesn't help on the idea front.

Now, after that first brainstorming meeting, we can start breaking off into "Let's Get 'Er Done" committees and start discussing the nitty gritty of the thing and talk about potential obstacles, but, in the initial meeting, I, personally, would like to stick with the possibilities of what can be done instead of how it won't work.

To start collaborating, we all have to come in with a healthy respect for each other and what can be accomplished.

Devilvet said...

Well, I'd like to see something with a foot in each camp. One camp being skepticism contextualized by previous attempts. The second being awareness that we have an ability to change tactics and thereby make this time difference that previous ones.

I just thing that it is essential to map where it has failed in the past or risk making the same decisions, the same failures.

To negate wariness in the equation seems actually counterproductive.

Again, this isnt about poopooing. This isnt about torpedoing it before it happens, but it is about asking what materials are we attempting to build the boat with. Becuase if we build the boat with the same halfass materials as used in the past, well...

What is the saying about insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?

RebeccaZ said...

I definitely see what you're saying. I'm not able to write more right now but I'll be back tomorrow.

Paul Rekk said...

One of the key aspects of the Chicago theatre scene is how intertwined it is, despite its size.

I'd love to see a situation that would capitalize on that -- where we don't need a 'summit' or a 'world theatre day' or an 'off-loop freedom charter' to prove that "Hey, we're really gonna do something this time, guys!" I'd love to see a Chicago where these are the conversations we have naturally: over drinks, over budgets, over a cigarette at intermission, because we are artists and because we are friends. Or friends of friends. Or friends of friends of friends (and let's face it, in Chicago, it's hard to get even that far removed).

The fact that this isn't happening (isn't happening as widely as we'd like, at least) is where my skepticism sinks in. Because I have no doubt the TNC gang have just as much fervor behind this as others have in the prior setups, but even within the blog posts, the focus still on us vs. the big boys. Comparisons to New York, comparisons to BiC, appeals to the Jeff Committee: it's the same old stuff.

The season programming post (which I'm a pretty big fan of) would seem to suggest that this is born of artistic and not commercial concerns; that is, freeing the perspective with which we approach producing rather than combining forces to eventually get each others' subscribers by doing more of the same. If that's the case, maybe there's something here. But if that's the case, I'd also think that there'd have been some solid and specific ideas already pouring forth, instead of this idea that the brilliance happens when we all end up in one place at one time.

I'll be more enthusiastic when we stop looking like the UN, with everyone sitting behind their designated placard, speaking into their designated microphone and we start looking like a bunch of artists who've got something they've just gotta try out with some fellow artists.

What TNC is describing in the programming blog post is Fringe, or at least it would be Fringe for a good number of years before it got accepted. That's cool. Fringe is beyond cool. But in that case, let's bang shit out like it's Fringe. You don't hold summits to figure out how to be more unpredictable and dangerous.

Nick Keenan said...

One thing I think we've all found is that in-person discussions usually yield much, much, much more fruit and common ground than blogging does... blogging is its own kind of gasoline to be thrown on fires, but it tends to be a little bit more chaotic.

I don't think there's anything particularly new on the table here - except how quickly the intended scope has balooned past the normal 10-12 theater participation threshold. I think that's a factor of: We're doing these more often, and more vocally. Everyone wants them on paper.

To quell Don's legitimate doubts, from the discussions I've had with New Colony and the League and pretty much everyone else that I know who is interested in participating in this kind of theater mixer, no one is under the illusion that we can do something simple like "oh, let's just share lists!" and have that be an audience-building endeavor. We need new ideas, which means matching up The Experience with The Energy. So, Don, you need to go talk to Andy Hobgood and tell him about shit like how it was like to run the WNEP space, and why - what is still relevant? what isn't? what is always relevant?

I know for sure there are some interesting new things brewing below the surface here that bear a collective conversation. One is the concept of the radical price - Free and how it relates to the storefront theater model. I think this *is* a new idea popularized by Chris Anderson's recent book which you should all listen to for free - and there's interesting things to learn from our multifarious models and pricepoints and schedules and venue procedures that could use some more big-picture viewing.

I also think the League has a couple of nifty programs in the works along these lines that could use some coordination - such as the Free Month of Theater. This really needs to be a program that gets some buy-in - it was immensely successful when New Leaf tried it - but only through coordination can we make sure that it effectively targets new audience members (not Goodman's, not BIC'S - NEW audience members. Who will dig our shit, they just don't know about it.)

Ultimately, I think any conversation is opportunity for real self-education, some good-natured ribbing, and alignment.

Alignment in one's surroundings is the first step towards navigation, y'all.

RebeccaZ said...

I most certainly would like to hear and discuss the subjects that Nick brings up.

I also don't think it's necessarily a bad thing getting people together for alignment's sake. Give the ol' Chicago backbone a good crack, you know? (That was a truly lame joke.)

I've been thinking that I'd like to see alternatives to the Big Boys, as P. Rekk named them. There's a lot of baby commotion and loud conversation going on behind me right now so I'm not able to draw my thoughts together particularly well, but I'll try to shoot for a blog post soon.


Devilvet said...

I agree that face to face meeting usually makes for different results than blogging does. Coffee and wide smiles makes us feel a whole lot better than skepticism and keystrokes.

I think a more comprehesive vision needs to be communicated so that it does evolve from the newest gang or the newest blog to think a small theatre union is a great idea into something sustainable.

Like I said, I'll be there with equal amounts of hope and doubt.

Here's to tipping the scales towards something positive.

Nick Keenan said...

I'd like to get rid of the hope and doubt entirely, actually. I would like to see competing ideas that are all viable that we can choose from or combine to create common investment.

I think one reason we get derailed in meetups like this (I did try to broker them more actively in the past, as you guys have as well) is that it becomes about creating a dominant vision for Chicago theater which any given three artists will never agree about - even among storefronts.

What does get traction is practical initiatives that have a clear common benefit. I think we'll see the "Why" after we see the "What" and after we wean ourselves of the idea of "Who."

Andrew Hobgood said...

Hi all,

I just caught up on this discussion and thought that I should interject with the hope of getting feedback from you all as I begin programming this summit.

My background, outside of theater, is in consulting. In particular - systems redesigns involving various parties. And honestly, no matter how many individual meetings or communications you have with everyone involved - nothing moves as fast as it does when you sit down together for a workshop.

Which is ultimately how I view this summit.

The first action item on the agenda, as it should be for any agenda, is to agree on when we will hold the next one. Do we want to do them every other month? Quarterly? Semi-annually? My guess is that monthly is too frequent and annually is too infrequent.

But ultimately - nothing will be born out of a one-time meeting. This sort of collaborative communication and strengthening of our sector needs to be developed into a habit. It will take practice. But that is the first step in turning this into a fruitful endeavor rather than your typical "sit'n'bitch" sessions or brainstorming sessions without any action items.

Once we have agreed on the frequency of these meetings, we will have the necessary perspective to plan goals and action items in a reasonable manner that will lend itself to accomplishing these goals. This is a critical step - we can't overload ourselves. We do have to continue running our companies after all. I don't want anyone to walk into this expecting to cover a laundry list of 20 goals. Nor should anyone be disappointed by taking small, calculated strides. If the evening only yields excellent goals and a plan of when to discuss these goals at future meetings - that is a successful evening.

The topics that I will be bringing to the table are:

1) Branding our independent theater scene the same way that Broadway and Broadway in [FILL IN CITY NAME HERE] have successfully branded theirs. Their model works. So let's not reinvent the wheel here. People go see Broadway shows. They don't care what it is. It's Broadway. We need to make that the logic for Chicago. When you go to Chicago - you have to go see Storefront. Or whatever we would call it. But we need to start creating a plan for branding. And we need to start now because it's going to take several small efforts over a period of time to make it happen. As will all of our goals.

2) Develop ideas to collaborate with each other. (No - postcard swapping is not an option here.) We need solid, action ideas that will create exciting cooperative ventures. Each company can then pick the handful of ideas that they think could really work for them, and take them back to their own companies to discuss putting them into action and with what companies they would like to work.

And that will be the crux of this event's success. More needs to happen AFTER the event than during it. We can talk and plan and list action items until the moon collides with Earth, but if we don't take this information back to our companies and have serious discussions about putting these ideas into action - then the event cannot succeed.

We can then agree to what we will all be bringing back to the following summit, and what we plan to accomplish at it.

My expectation is that past events like this have faltered because they lacked discipline, planning and organization. But that is what we need if we want to move forward.

Devilvet said...


Thanks for chiming in.

There is something I'd like to caution all of us on in regards to the tag of your post...

"My expectation is that past events like this have faltered because they lacked discipline, planning and organization. But that is what we need if we want to move forward."

I believe that is NOT the reason or at best only half the reason.

There are other obstacles that have to be overcome in order to sustain interest. The reason all these sorts of meetings have fizzled in the past is not because of a fault of each one's individual organizers failing to keep their eyes on the prize. It had more to do with failing to convince the parties involved that there was a destinate to migrate towards as a unit that benefited the whole rather than a few.

Creating resource rather than realocating pre-existing resource... if we could do that then we'd have lightning in a bottle.

I think another real reason has to do with the actual make up and goals of each individual theater.

I think it has to do with the fact that the mission statements, artistic goals, even the definitions of success and failure are no where near uniform for one company's perspective to anothers.

Two very divergent companies like say WNEP and New Leaf both considered small, have such variation that while we can sit back and appreciate the variation within the garden from a distance, once we get these two together, the models of production, publicity, retention, etc... are so various that it becomes cumbersome intimidating to envision and follow through on a hybrid.

That has less to do with 'planning' and it has more to do with not seeing the various trees in the forest for what they are.

There has to be a way in which to unite that has nothing to do with setting up ourselves as a collective brand. Why, becuase the tone, timbre, and shape of the majority of companies that are interested or in dire need of uniting, the actual work is so divergent... that there is very little commonality aside from the desire for 'more audience'.

But, if a collective brand is the direction and accomplished... I would hope that it does not set itself up or define itself in relation to Broaday In Chicago or for that matter any other organization.

Various successful galleries in town dont remind us through their brand who they aren't. They don't constantly remind us they aren't the Art Institute.

Anyway those are some of my thoughts... I hope they are helpful rather than not.

Don't let this post fool you...I look forward to this summit

Andrew Hobgood said...

I don't think that past events faltered because of the lack of one individual's ability to organize, plan etc. And ultimately - that is what this entire thing is about.

We aren't "one." Sure - we might be radically different in our approaches - but we are "Chicago Theater." And the momentum can be built - but as a group. One person cannot make this happen. Nor can the community expect a small group, or organization (e.g. LOCT) to build that momentum for them.

So when I say discipline, planning, etc - I mean CHICAGO THEATER and its members need to find ways to be disciplined and organized together if we are going to build momentum together. We all try to do it on our own. Sometimes with others. And with that - we burn up more time, resources, and energy than we need to.

And regarding branding - I think that we shouldn't limit ourselves to think of branding or uniting as "homogenization." Ultimately - a brand answers the one question in everybody's mind: "Who are you?"

In NYC, they say, "We're opening a show on Broadway." And audiences say, "Oh! Broadway! I know what that means," and then purchase their tickets accordingly. (Now - I keep coming back to Broadway as an example because it is the easiest and most obvious to our industry.)

That instant recognition is what we lack. Tourists to NYC know to go see Broadway theater. It should be standard for Chicago tourists to go see Storefront (or whatever word refers to our collective body). But - the answer to our question doesn't have to be something limiting. In fact - it should CELEBRATE the limitless nature of our scene.

And that is also the purpose of this summit. Just because we all do things differently doesn't mean we can't do them "together."

What does "together" mean? Well - that's why we're having this summit. Because a lot of people want the answer to that question.

But no matter what - I think that this summit is going to require everyone to come in prepared to throw away preconceived notions, to think creatively as a team, and to be innovative.

Devilvet said...


I don't want to brew animosity before we even meet, Andrew, but you did knock at my door...

How familiar are you with say 2 to 3 of the previous attempts to do this? I only ask that becuase while your passionate views are sincere and hardfelt, they are a tune that has been sung many times over.

I hope you dont take this post as a straight out negative rebuttal to your aspirations.

I think they are lofty respectable goals. But, you are going to have to convince some folks out there who are just as twice bitten and thrice shy as myself.

Again, I hope I'm still invited... and when I'm there my mouth will be kept shut becuase I am a guest at your house,

but... this blog is my house. Here I can say that even though I am rooting you on, this is not a brand new ball game... whether you know it or not you are actually coming in as a pitch hitter in the bottom of the ninth with 2 men out.

Lets drink a coffee and beer and get to know each other better though. I hope that in person you can help me see the light.

Devilvet said...

Bottom of the ninth, two men out... you can still get a hit despite what the numbers say...

Nick Keenan said...

Having seen what audience members do when looking at theater listings, having been a person that wants to take my awesome visiting friends and I *still* usually can't figure out where to bring them on any given night, even when I'm as connected as I am to the theater industry here... It's clear to me that we have a problem of miscommunication with our audience.

I feel Andy is right on. We don't need homogeny - indeed, that would kill the thing that feeds our work. But we do need clarity of identity - one that encourages our diversity, but also one that allows us to communicate clearly about what we're doing. We're mushmouthed about ourselves, seriously, and it's a disservice to the work we do.

One thing I've never been able to deal with when using the rules of your house, Bob, is how dirty or mistrusted the word "brand" is here - and how mistrusted anyone is who uses it. I'm having trouble not using it in this conversation, because it's a term that means the articulation of core identity. Yes, it's a violent term. If you are one thing, you are not another. But that's true with play titles, company names as well as the images we use to represent ourselves.

For instance, how allied do you want your theater company to be with the Misfits? http://www.misfits.com/ The Mammals brand is a clear parody of their font / logo / color choices. When I first heard of your company and saw your site - I got a clear sense of "horror" and a clear sense of "parody." I was also worried that I'd walk into Clay Continent and hear a thrash metal sound design, which I didn't really need in my day. The first response may be working for you, given your body of work... but the second? And the implication of the hard rock aesthetic - I mean, to a layperson who doesn't see the word "theater" couldn't you be a cover band? Could a slight rebranding and testing and clarification of your message reduce that confusion? Or do you like and want that confusion? Do you want to amplify that confusion so that the theatrical experience is MORE jarring and uncomfortable? What is the ideal framework by which an observer stumbles into your theater so that they are willing to be engage with and be changed by your work?

Logos are a graphic designer's approach to identity, but I think we're also talking about something more. A simple change like calling ourselves "independent theater" instead of "storefront theater" could have profound consequences. "Storefronts" are owned and operated by Mom and Pops - homegrown, but they also become the family business. "Independent theater" is unique, free to explore, and not beholden to rules except the value of freedom itself. The question of where we're going and who we are is encapsulated in the question of naming, and naming a thing is branding it. But branding something on that city-wide scale doesn't prevent one person from exerting a unique identity from within that umbrella. What I'd like to see is a survey of the landscape and a survey of our respective roadmaps - where we're going and what's holding us back. Those questions tell us the name of the road to take.

I think making that kind of conversation happen - where we ask the question of each other "who do we each want to be?" hasn't worked hasn't worked historically because not everyone feels like they get to be at the table. And so they reject the table, and form another table, and then a group of like minded folks join THAT table and then you have LORT vs. Storefront or TIC vs. LOCT or BIC vs. LORT or Saints vs. Jeffs or Board vs. Artistic Director or Ensemble vs. Director.

I'd argue that's more about what an individual feels than the shape of the table.

So, riddle me this: Beyond feelings, let's talk resources - your time, your company's money, your audience development strategy. How were you burned by previous attempts at dialogue and cooperation? What do you fear is legitimately at risk here?

RebeccaZ said...

Here's the thing ... what's wrong with just going to the meeting, truly listening to what Andrew and others have to say without getting ready to start listing your rebuttals, and just responding to what is given in the moment?

I, for one, plan on going there and doing just that. I'm not coming in with all the callouses and biases of past experiences that may or may not have worked to my liking.

We all need to bring our expertise and our know how. Let's just see what happens. Maybe you'll like it. Maybe you won't. Maybe you'll just go to the first meeting because it's not your bag. But, preparing to disagree before the damn thing has even happened, I think, is one of the major problems with the online theatre atmosphere that has been created and does nothing but stifle creativity.

devilvet said...

WOW. Tall order here. I'll have to eat it in parts...

First regarding the Mammals logo. I understand that for many folks they think of misfits. The misfits actually stole it from the the same source I did which was FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND. A magazine, if you havent read it, that is aimed at lovers of classic horror. When I first picked the logo back in 1999, it seems to fit the horror thing we were doing. But, I also was aware of the misfits connection too. I decided to risk the association. Our stuff is typical dark and ironic. Like them. Horror fans will know what I speak. It was an insider thing back in the day, an attempt to emulate something cultwise that I loved... that has just sort of become the way we roll now.

I cant tell if your comment about 'more uncomfortable' is a dig at me... so I'll just shrug it off, unless you'd like to clarify the intent of the statement.

I have often thought though about changing the brand. But it has stuck. It is what it is, and I believe truly it doesnt confuse anyone unless they are trying to split hairs with me to establish a different point. When you see the letters and meld it with the work we do... I'd agrue it fits and serves us well. But, if you have ideas about how to alter it...I'd gladly listen.

Now... onto branding as a concept. I have never attacked the notion of branding itself. I think that every theatre company should have a well thought out brand. I think New Leaf has a great brand. I think the Mammals have one too.

Where I get off the boat is the notion that there is an umbrella brand out there that ends up serving both new leaf and the mammals since what we do is radically different and whereas there is a segment of the audience that will cross over... the folks who want MEXICAN WRESTLING MACBETH or CLAY CONTINENT aren't looking for a marketing notion that attaches it to TOUCH or SIX YEARS.

I think we each potentially jepordize our individual brands with this notion of an engineered brand (rather than say a brand that establishes itself though the venacular of Chicago's pre-existing theatre audience) that umbrellas us all. So yay branding theatre companies, but doubtful of branding the scene any further than it has already branded itself.

regarding 'independent theater' as a brand, you can ask the folks in NYC if it worked. I had lots of debates with NY bloggers about that very term, wether it was too akin too 'independent cinema' or 'independent radio' whether it really served as brand to bring in an audience that likes independent stuff rather than 'off broadway' or 'offoffbroadway' but that was...3 or 4 years ago? Now, can we put that same magnifying glass you so expertly aimed at the Mammals logo to the notion of branding ourselves with the same terminology used by a group in NY that tried the same thing a couple years ago? or...or "Or do you like and want that confusion?"...

devilvet said...

"How were you burned by previous attempts at dialogue and cooperation?"

ohhhh you'd like me to air out my dirty laundry wouldnt you? (wink)...

In order to not upset too many locals and slit my own throat... I'll reach all the way back to the very first time I and many others were burned by this sort of thing back when I was a New Yorker. It was a little well intentioned thing called RAT started by one of my playwright heroes Erik Ehn.

Long story short since it getting past my bedtime... lot of trust worked up with alot of small downtown artists in late 1990's in NY, but a certain member of the group did things and wrote things anonymously under the banner of RAT that other folks just didnt want to be associated with.

Everyone had to jump ship fast or risk their brand being associated with a second brand that they couldnt control, that they couldnt contain. Now, this example when compared to say the upcoming summit seems so outrageous I wouldn't be surprised if folks dismissed it as hyperbole, but it is a macro example from another place.

There are more recent examples but on the forum here I wont speak ill of the dead or kick around alot of talk for gossip.

I have a question, Nick, why is it that I cant be allow to doubt? I get maybe 40 hits a day on this little site. Nothing to bring down the pillars of anyone out there, but it didnt take long for someone to come here and silence my doubt.

Not discuss it, but it feels a little more like... "Bob...be quiet"... am I being too sensitive? Am I reading something that isnt there? I know that seems to be making the whole thing about me... which I dont want.

"Beyond feelings, let's talk resources - your time, your company's money, your audience development strategy." That sounds like a cool conversation... I think I've been having it off an on this blog and others for the past five years...

Look... I like the dream... I just dont want it too fall into the repeated pattern. But everytime I mention that, I feel like people just want to me to shut up and play along or step outside.

My post isnt about mapping the way I think this will fail. It is about discussing how it has failed in the past, so as to not repeat those mistakes... Is it really that hard too see my intent in this?

Bob Fisher

Devilvet said...


Why is it that when I honesty voice hesitancy in the slightest, I have to answer to anyone as to why?

Why do I have to manage not so veiled accusations that I must has malice towards it when I attempt to offer any perspective aside from applauding the intent?

Honesty, this question, this inquiry on my part is fairly minor. But, the reverberation has blown up till I've got Nick attacking my brand and possibly my intent, and you suggesting I just keep it to myself.

Maybe Nick was right when he said this stuff can only lead to chaos when it hits the blogosphere. My intent was to offer my concerns in the hope that it would help gear this thing towards success, but instead I feel like everytime I say well what about this back the first time... I'm told 'please stop harshing our buzz'

Would it have been better for me to just show up, shut up, and walked away non plussed... or to rather offer my perspective of where these things have gone in the past, hoping to avoid that sort of stagnation or stalement this time out.

Why are you trying to make me out to be an agressor here?

Devilvet said...

There you all see?!!! This is why most people I know DONT blog. You throw around a couple of ideas to see what sticks and what doesnt... and the next thing you know... somebody compares somebody else to Dick Cheney and wonders what he can do to fix his Brand.

Look, I'll be there. I'll be ready to look to the future (again if I'm still invited after this post).

At worst I'll get to see all you wonderful people and talk shop.

At best, we'll be able to successfully navigate past any troublling depths where previous ships sunk.

Nuff already?

Nick Keenan said...

Sorry, Bob, didn't meant to throw chum in the water. Again, this is why I want to get in a room together to have this conversation. Means we can have it once and resist the urge to yell at each other when we interrogate our assumptions.

Nope, not a dig. If anything, it may be an honest misunderstanding of your aesthetic. If it's a misarticulation, my bad. Thanks for shrugging!

My point, which I'll summarize, is that whether we like it or not, Mammals and New Leaf already do share an unarticulated brand - "storefront theatre." The question is, is that working for either of us?

I know we have crossover, because we have evidence of crossover. People who see your shows see my shows. They do already, because they love parts of both companies.

I definitely see your point about over-engineering a brand that doesn't feel right. In any conversation, I'd definitely be backing out of the room or arguing a point if I didn't feel an articulated brand had sufficient creative and organic merit.

I also think you're right that "independent theater" is too broad to be meaningful, as "fringe" is likely to be as well. Plus, those terms don't get at the heart of the location - Why do we do what we do in Chicago rather than elsewhere? It's the low cost and collaborative-minded community, isn't it? A name should address that. Broadway is a destination, and Chicago is a destination. Going to Broadway means you're going to the theater. Going to Chicago means: Cubs, White Sox, Pizza, Art Institute, Neighborhoods... a billion other things.

I'd like to throw around 45 of these ideas. it's just not efficient to do that on blogs, because each idea gets threaded. Each idea has a context that needs to be stretched and played with by a large group of people.

Blog comments encourage the shootdown by their very format.

You are allowed to doubt, Bob, but I often encourage you not to. I change my tune when you express doubt that feels substantial. Doubt, to me, isn't automatically substantial. If I listened to all the vague doubts that cross my path I wouldn't get out of bed in the morning. My perception is that frequent expressions of doubt weigh down the possibility in a conversation, and kill ideas before they are fully explored and allowed to germinate. It's the old game of Yes... and. "Yes and" shapes conversations, "I don't know about that..." ends conversation for many people. Not you, and I respect that.

But expressing doubt rather than possibility will tend to encourage others to remove you from conversations that discuss possibility. And I think you have valuable insight. And I think other people think that as well. You may get 40 hits a day, but people quote you at me. So that means your ideas matter, perhaps more than you think they do.

I hope you're not hearing "you're harshing our buzz" in my words here, Bob. From my perspective, your defense of doubt and devil's advocacy often makes it hard for me to hear your insight. That RAT story is VERY illuminating, and I'm thankful for knowing about it. I'd say - lead with that experience, and I'll listen and draw attention to that experience. "Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it" is so very true in Chicago Theater. Leading with doubt that feels vague doesn't give Andy, Rebecca or I impetus to give the necessary weight to your doubt, but leading with doubt AND the tangible context of your doubt does. If you want to add to the conversation, give us theory, hypothesis, data, and if you got it, proof.

The RAT story is that hard experience, and one that I can empathize with. I have to deal with it now, and our ideas, aspirations, and methodology for cooperation will either be sharpened by it or shown to be squishy and worthless. It is a "Yes, and."

Is the repetition of RAT exhausting to you? Is exhaustion and burnout the enemy here?

Nick Keenan said...

I looooove you. Here's a hug, buddy.

It's either this or learn how to deploy a ruby on rails application using a git repository and the capistrano gem.


Tony Adams said...

Hey Dick Cheney, fix your brand and stop whining!

Just kidding :)

I think a couple of problems I've seen with these types of meetings is they are primarily about recreating the wheel.

I know Deb at the league reached out to Andrew over at his site. Has Andrew reached back?

Every year I've been in Chicago I've been approached about the same summit/group/rebranding ideas.

Arrogance, ignorance of what else is going one, and lack of knowledge of what other infrastructure is already in place (even if not yet well used) is what has hobbled a lot of these types of things in the time I've been here.

And to be honest, I'm not really hearing anything that seems much different now.

Devilvet said...

To be fair I think that it takes time to figure out what already has happened and what already worked or didn't. There is also caution in how these things are begun, who to let in, etc. etc.

I am sure from this post and now Don's there are a few folks that already view some of us as wolves at the door.

I wont say it is the biggest obstacle, I'll just say it is the first or many obstacles this sort of thing faces which is... when someone says "but didn't we try this last year and year before that and year before that"... the response they get is akin to "well with that kind of attitude you arent helping" when the answer should be something more like "yeah, but last time they did action a,b, and c... this time we are skipping action b and adding d,e, and f"

If you dont, then you lose the confidence of alot of folks with experience to share.

Did you hear that? "to share"

Andrew Hobgood said...

Wow! I'm going to respond in a super-efficient manner. Or else, this would be a novella. And none of you deserve that torture.

1) I love everything Nick said. But I assume you all guessed that.

2) Yes - I actually met with Deb and Ben at LOCT for over an hour and a half - they (and even some of their Board members) love this idea - are in full support of this meeting - and are now involved in getting people to it, getting space, and helping to raise awareness. They agree that this needs to happen, that it hasn't worked in the past, that there are many reasons for that, and now it's time to try again. This is not a solo effort - this is a joint effort to help develop LOCT into the advocacy organization we need, and to get our companies working actively with the LOCT. This summit was never meant to reinvent the wheel. It was to get a conversation started so that we could figure out the best way to make our scene successful.

3) I believe that all failures are tied to miscommunication and poor organization skills. (Hence start-up theater companies that die within a year). But - I'd love to hear all of the previous moves that were or were not made during other attempts that led to their atrophied (and eventually extinct) momentum. And I'm not being snarky. It would be really helpful in planning this event for those with experience of past events to share specifics. Just saying, "It didn't work," doesn't help with planning. The more specific you can be - the better. And seriously - I would LOVE to hear from you. You can even email me direct notes to andrew.hobgood@thenewcolony.org

4) I'm amazed that people are already arguing about a summit that has not even happened. Regardless of the jarring nature of our blog posts - the summit is not meant to infuriate. We certainly have no interest in this becoming a rabid town hall meeting where everyone starts off being on opposing sides. Honestly - we're not trying to build a Big Brother government structure that dictates what all of the theaters do. And even more honestly - no one has to participate. If you want your theater company to go it alone, I will not block the entrance to your theater, shackle you to the back of my Jeep, and then drag you kicking and screaming to the event. If 50 of us decide to work with LOCT to develop a more cohesive scene - that's wonderful for those 50. If the other 150 don't want to. That's wonderful for the 150.

This summit is not about telling you what to do. It's about finding out what we can all do to help you and each other. And how LOCT can be leveraged to give strength to that cause.

A hand has been extended. You don't have to take it. No skin off my back. I still love what you're doing anyhow.

But I still believe that this summit is important, I fully intend to hold it, and I've already started gathering people together to help plan, organize and moderate this event.

Everyone is still welcome. Especially the outspoken ones. The ones who speak the loudest care too much to keep quiet. Just please direct that energy towards making this better than telling me that it's probably not going to work.

Devilvet said...


Thanks for the info.

Here are some more specifics to help. I think it would help alot of us if we could know more about you. Specifically. I don't need merely your resume or your program bio. I need to know about how you in your 28 years on this earth have come to this point where you are trying to organize this possibility.

I need to know more about your successes and failures in the scene. I need to know that you have been in the scene for more than five years as a producer. I need to know that you know of that of which you speak rather than not.

I know Nick, Rebecca, Paul, Don, and Tony. I've either artistically collaborated or had many a beer with all of them. If they got kids, I could pick those kids out of a kiddie line up. I know them.

I've been to your site, read your blog... but none of it speaks as to who you are (not to me) other than another new guy/team on the block with alot of enthusiasm. That is not an insult. I dont know you well enough to mean it as such. It is honestly what anyone in their late 30's early 40's who has been producing theatre for nearly 20 years would think.

I will endeavor to be specific (actually I have been very specific and even encouraging in this post and comments). Now, I need some specificity as well.

I can lay my cards on the table with Nick (I know him, I often disagree with him, but I trust him).

I'll need more than your blog before I can trust you.

Maybe that is it in the end. Maybe the key is trust. Help me trust.

The one thing I will rebute again and again is that my post or these comments kill conversation or are determental to your goals. In fact, it has generated quite a bit of conversation and even gotten you to start talking a little more specifically about what steps have thus far been taken.

So, answer me this... give a narrative (not a novella, but a narrative... that doesn't look like a manifesto, but rather a mini (500 word) report of what has happened thus far and what specifically will happening at this meeting. Give me a notion of how many companies, individuals, have expressed interest.

Also stop trying to convince me that we can do more together than individually (You already got my buy in on that concept) and tell me specifically what we will do with said combined strength. Again use language that is specific rather than vague self help boiler plate.

Also, without giving me names also give a notion of how experienced/storied these folks are?

Have they just said "I am in"? Have they (without names) expressed doubts, concerns, kudos, vision?

You don't have to respond here. I actually think it would be better to put it on the New Colony Blog. That is your home (You'll notice I haven't papered your site with rebuttal after rebuttal... that is how I view the unspoken rules of the blogosphere.)

If I do have a rebuttal, I'd do as I have been doing since the beginning I'd post it here and invite you to respond.

This post these comments are a good thing (at least for me) even if they dont feel unconditionally supportive.

You want to know one difference I see this time already?

More active conversation pre-summit about what is at stake!

Am I the only one who sees that as a positive?

Nick Keenan said...

Quick follow up, 'cuz shit is happening fast...

Andy has a few updates about pre-summit cooperation and ideas that's happening over here.

Matthew said...

This conversation leaves me to scratch my head a bit. I am slightly distressed about (and suddenly less interested in) a summit that hasn't even moved past the theoretical stage but which has already inspired such skepticism and heated argument within the very community we are trying to elevate.

Sorry, guys, you can call me naiive and idealistic until the cows come home, but I am simply not interested in the myriad of reasons why this hasn't worked in the past. I think Andrew and Nick and the rest of the crew have their heads and their hearts on straight, and I'm all for doing what I can to make this thing happen.

It either works, or it doesn't. I am certainly willing to give it an organized, sustained shot.

My hope for this summit is simple: to help create a vibrant, visible and relevant culture of storefront theatre.

And truth be told I'm a bit tired of the label "fringe" as that always seems to say "other" to me and that simply isn't enough. I am just not interested in being anyone's "alternative" theatre. I believe we have just as much to say and as much right to say it as the regional theatres and the Broadway in Chicago houses. We just need to work a little harder to get our voices out there and I don't believe we can do it alone.

Simple as that. Our storefront scene is one the most unique in the country. I want to be a part of whatever helps bring that scene out of the fringe, and into the visible culture of this rich city.

Poo-poo away. I'm gonna keep hoping.

Devilvet said...


I must say that you should be more interested in the history of these ideas and how and why they didnt manifest in the past.

What you call poopoo, I'd refer to a call for contextuality. It isnt about proclaiming failure at all. It is about arming against failure using lessons from the past.

Until we are willing to examine that, we risk repeating patterns that dont work.

I never criticized risking something new. I criticize repeating some old, and merely rebranding it as new.

But, if it feels good to say I poopoo ideas (even though for anyone who carefully read this post and comments to come to that conclusion seems specious) if feels better to call any sort of criticism to be mere cynicism... Then beware taking every squinted brow and making a strawman out of it.

No one is calling you naive (at least not myself). I am calling for you to better arm yourself and our community to action and follow thru by studying the missteps of the past. I am requesting hope armored with contextuality.

Matthew said...

No doubt. There is absolutely no use diving blindly into something with out examining prior efforts. There is, however, always the possibility of killing an idea with its history.

I do think that old ideas, even broken ones, put into new hands with new energy and new hopes can have new results. I view Andrew's youth and positivism to be very quality this old idea needs to bring it back to life. Us bickery, tired old dudes don't stand a chance.

My initial point was that this particular conversation has already dropped potential allies into defensive stance before any meaningful action has been taken. I hope we can continue to use the contex of the idea to fuel it, rather than to cool it down.

That's all.

Devilvet said...

"I do think that old ideas, even broken ones, put into new hands with new energy and new hopes can have new results. I view Andrew's youth and positivism to be very quality this old idea needs to bring it back to life."

Youth and positivism are essential but if used to build upon broken ideas or a counter arguement to real... real contextuality...

Well then I respectfully disagree wholehearty with your statement.

I'll be there at the meeting ready to work, but I sure hope nobody leads with a statement like the one I just quoted.

"My initial point was that this particular conversation has already dropped potential allies into defensive stance before any meaningful action has been taken. I hope we can continue to use the contex of the idea to fuel it, rather than to cool it down."

I would agrue that what is needed is fewer rebuttals of my concerns in these comments and more specifics at the blogs and websites or the organizers about what can be accomplished contextualized with an apparent knowledge of the metaphorical terrain. Too be blunt... if my mild skepticism (and really my criticisms are about as mild as they get)... destabilze the conversation or cool it down... then there was nothing there to heat up in the first place.

Every great idea needs to be able to withstand a little scrutiny. Period. Perhaps ther would have been significantly less so at this point if there were more details, more vision, more of something other that a belief in the redemption of youth.

Matthew said...

Hang, on, hang on.

I'm just trying to help set the appropriate tone for the outset of what could be, to lot of enthusiastic folks, a valuable process. I mean, isn't it about (like so many things) the process?

I think a lot will be learned from that very first meeting, positive and negative, and I am hoping that we can come to the table armed with some hope, some ideas and yes, the appropriate amount of context and ask ourselves what we can do, not what we can't do. The time for that is a little further down the line. It's just a process, and for some of us, a new one.

Historically, some pretty great things have happened when smart, organized, enthusiastic people sit around a table and brainstorm about something that they believe in. I think that there is real value in that, but it is only the first step to an invigorating, sustainable process. And you are right: it is a useless, empty step that will inevitably break down without historical contextualization, scrutiny and, yes, even some healthy doubt.

See? We are agreed!

"Look... I like the dream... I just dont want it too fall into the repeated pattern."

I just think "the dream" needs some room to breathe first, to get exciting enough to protect it from those broken repeated patterns. To implement meaningful strategies, we first have to get excited about the dream. It's just the first step. And as valuable as having the RAT perspective is, so is a little dose of of unspoiled idealism. That's a good balance for a diverse group that ultimately wants the same thing, don't you think?

Devilvet said...

Fair enough.

However (you knew there had to be a however)... I dont think we have to worry about that 'little does' of unspoiled idealism... It seems there is more that a little dose of it. In fact if there was one thing this appears to not be short on it is that 'unspoiled idealism'... and there are forums for it. It would be the New Colony Blog for one. Various others like Nick's and RZ's.

But here you find more healthy doubt. As I said earlier when I'm in the room, I be listening and supportive and I'll save my criticisms until sufficent steam manifests... but here at this blog you will not see contrition for introducing healthy doubt especially when there are more than a half dozen other blogs were upnspoiled idealism is the way they roll.

The only thing I might say critically when in the room would be akin to my original question

"So, lets assume that there is a possibility of this one this time turning into something with longevity. If it is going to do achieve that, then how? why?
...These are non-rhetorical (even if they are very general and vague) questions about the plan, the vision, the tactics that might turn the best of intentions into something tangible, something sustainable, something magnetic.

Why, how is it different this time?"

So you bring the idealism...
I'll bring the healthy doubt...

And we'll have a summit.

Devilvet said...

as always apologies for the fat fingered typos