"I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage...whilst someone else is watching."
But what sort of space is that watcher inhabiting? It all starts with an empty space, but then you usually have to get someone a chair.
Imagine you have an empty space, small, cozy, intimate... that can hold an audience of 40 comfortably. You are now preparing to turn this empty space into a bare stage where you will tell stories. But, the are no chairs.
Theatre X has a little money in the bank. They decide to go to Lowe's and buy 40 folding chairs. The chairs are functional, simple, and it cost just over a thousand dollars to purchase and have them delivered. They are basic black, sturdy, not particularly pleasing to the eye, but they get the job done.
Theatre Y has a little money too. They talk to their board, form a committee meant to raise funds to get chairs. They set a fundraising goal of nearly 5 figures, not quite. They use that same little bit of money they already have to organize a campaign. They get small yet significant contributions from dozens of philanthropists. They shop for the most comfort chairs they can get. They want the folks who contributed the money to feel like part of the process. They set up a online survey to query those folks what color the seats should be, and announce the color at a small party in honor of those who were generous. They get the names of people engraved onto the back of the chairs.
How these two theatre companies acquired their chairs will have a huge impact upon what sort of shows either company thinks it can successfully do.
The kind of chair you are sitting in and how it got there has an expectation. That expectation impacts who is willing to sit in those chairs because the type of chair speaks to what you think is appropriate or necessary when it comes to telling stories.
Theatre X will have much more freedom of choice about what sort of show they will do. The DIY approach enables them. It makes them more autonomous. There is no one too worry about whether or not these chairs were a good investment. They haven't established as wide a network of philanthropists as the other theatre company. But, if they live within their means, if they are committed to thrift and spend only when they have to and spent wisely, they are beholden to no one but themselves. The audiences they get are probably going to be like minded DIY folks. It may take a longer period of time for them to capture the attention of donors. But, if they have a dream project, what is to stop them from trying it and sometimes succeeding sometimes failing at the art.
Theatre Y has established a relationship with some moneyed folks now. Nothing wrong with that. But there is an expectation that the work should reflect the worldview of those sitting in the chairs. Challenging those expectations especially for a new company is now a risky enterprise. They can say expectations be damned, but probably would rather not. They enjoy the relationship that has thus far been created, they appreciate the community they have. But, there are certain boundaries to what that community finds acceptable to inhabit that empty space. When picking a season, theatre Y has to concern themselves with the desire of who bought those chairs.
It isn't that the choice of one path or the other is preferable. There are trade offs either way. But, the personalty, temperament, the focus, the priority of a company manifests in even the simplest decisions, like how to obtain chairs.
There are success stories that follow either path. But there is something about the actual art, the actual message, the ability each company has that has now been determined even if they both perform to the same number of patrons. Even if they perform to the same exact people.
Before you pick your path, know thyself. Then act with purpose, and damn any naysayer.