The Digital Shift Theatre Must Make
As organizations continue to seriously investigate budgets and fiscal priorities during an unprecedented sectoral shutdown, I think it's imperative artistic leaders seriously reevaluate their resources and artistic distribution methodologies and modalities.
Theatre has been obliterated by this pandemic - there is no question about that but we have to stop staring at that reality. We have to start applying our artistic innovations to sectoral transformation and capacity building. Some organizations and areas are pivoting by diversifying artistic modalities and I think anyone not seriously exploring what digital media and streaming artistic creation and dissemination can be within their mandate and mission, should be held accountable for their responsibility in the organizations inevitable fiscal collapse.
Whether theatre wants to reckon with it or not, audiences are turning to their electronics for digital media content from the comforts and safety of their homes. If we don't also make this turn we will be responsible for a sectoral stasis, becoming a permanent shutdown. We will lose artists, administrators and producers completely because our leaders failed to have their backs when we needed them the most.
We also must give theatrical organizations the freedom and agency to evolve their work into digital shorts, animations, audio books, episodic digital series, short and feature films, I hope any body managing multi-year capacity funding is urgently working to dismantle barriers to theatrical centric organizations. Otherwise we will be the thespian dinosaurs that got annihilated by the covid comet.
CBC's playwright pilot stream and Crow's theatre partnership with Mongrel media are some very smart and exciting intersections of leaders making decisions to pool expertise, knowledge and resources to create multi-sector collaborative work. Traversing between artistic realms is going to take a lot of knowledge and our industry cannot wait for theatrical leaders to try and gain the required experience in t.v and film and digital media to make and effective and nimble pivot. We do not have the fortune to bumble our way through a process that positions us to try and say "curtain" when we now we must be creating targeted opportunities to say "action."
Partnerships, collecting and intersecting organizational knowledge is what innovative and brave artistic leaders are setting the foundation for now. Adapt the play that made you money, sell it to a production company or get in a partnership and have a healthy equity stake and let all that retroactive artistic work stimulate your organization. Commission digital media with designers in that field who can share knowledge with theatrical practitioners. Stop looking at the health orders, vaccination timelines and your budgets falling into the red thinking that is going to shift the reality.
If you are not meeting with local production companies, media moguls, independent digital producers and building these relations, you will be responsible for the continued collapse of the sector. If you're not parlaying your story telling expertise into digital opportunities by working with well versed producers and content creators, than I think your double direct deposit a month theatre salary is making you all too comfortable.
Cause theatre artists are not doing well. The independents, the one whose contracts bring in the audiences and your revenue and we'd like to know what you're doing to create opportunities now. "Covid" is no longer an excuse but rather an ignorant rationale freeze spending to "secure" your organization ms future believing the industry is going to bounce back in the next 6-36 months. This archaic and scarcity mindset will secure one thing - our collapse.
Artistic leaders should be having rigorous conversations with their BOD's about hiring strategic business managers to create innovative budgets and structure systemic evolutions that will allow once allocated theatre dollars to be leveraged and assigned into storytelling budget lines explicitly for digital media. Artistic leaders should already be having conversations with regional funding councils to advocate and secure this ability to meet the moment and respond to a fucking industrial theatrical collapse to which we can no longer afford shock and dropped jaws responses.
The "there is no money" excuse - which leaders continue to ingest, time and time again is no longer being accepted. FT jobs will have to be lost, salaries might have to be cut, liquidation of assets might have to occur because our budgets need to drastically transform to ensure the theatrical industry doesn't.
I want to hear about leaders stewarding their designers and stage managers into tv and film contracts, I want to hear about leaders creating film location packages for their venues, I want to hear about Artistic Leaders taking pay cuts to get equity stakes in the organizations to invest in a digital platform diversification strategies. Sell your office spaces, cancel your leases and work from home, do the brave and difficult work to launch yourself into the next phase of storytelling.
Anyone remember when Netflix use to send out DVD's? Like you'd "order" movies and they'd literally send you DVD's. It helped put Blockbuster under (they did NOT pivot well) and it almost put them under. But Netflix pivoted, they knew they were in the right field but the dissemination strategy was shit - so they transformed the model, hiccups along the way but they fucking took risks and it paid off.
Another company I respect purely for the business acumen was Chapters transformation into Indigo. Incited by e-books, the retail giant recognised they needed to diversify their SKU's because they were rightfully terrified of a digital takeover. You can now buy fucking pillows at a books store, "reading socks" umm what? You can buy so much book paraphernalia it's ridiculous but you know what - they made the pivot. Someone in that company said I'm not gonna be taken for dust and they invested and took losses in that transformation but they made it.
Theatrical leaders, I offer you take a moment (even though you've had almost a year now) while independent artists have been waiting for real transformation action, to think deeply about what is required of yourself to steward in a new era of creation. Whether it be leadership training, business courses, working with specialists who have a history of transforming organizations, embodying humility to honour what you don't know- but do whatever it takes and do it now. For digital media has been coming for us, they are taking theatrical talent and your urgent bold leadership is required to avoid a complete annihilation.
Stop making excuses, stop waiting for the government to save you and make the fiscal shifts, investments and plans to get the artistic and financial returns to invigorate our industry.
With waning patience,