Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Money for nothing and your rehearsal space for free?

Over the last year Connor and I have been engaged in research with the Austin theater community with a focus on resource sharing. We divided our areas of research up into: stuff, space, and staff (or people, things, and places). With each area we did interviews and surveys and national research on other models of sharing that we may be able to borrow ideas from.

In our “space” research I talked to people around the nation, to find out what everyone else was up to, and Connor surveyed the Austin community to find out what peoples needs and wants were here in our home town.

Connor discovered that people primarily felt that the community needed more rehearsal space above all else, but it wasn’t just rehearsal space people wanted. They wanted free rehearsal space, with air conditioning, sprung floors, mirrors, space to leave your belongs, etc etc etc… the list of rehearsal space desires was quite long. As Connor shared the list with me I thought, “Yes, yes, yes, I want these things and need these things too! Rehearsal space is a nightmare to find in Austin! We need to do something about this.” Simultaneously, as an administrator who runs a venue, I found myself questioning why people think they should get this space for free?

There seems to be this sense of entitlement amongst artists in my community. I do believe, hence the Scenic Co-op, in sharing resource. I do believe, also the proof is in the pudding with the Co-op, in affordable resources. However, I may set myself apart from the larger community in that I don’t think free is a feasible option.

My admin brain wanders to questions like “who will pay to build or refurbish this rehearsal space? And who will then take care of it? And schedule it? And clean it? And shouldn’t we pay the person who helps to keep the place nice? How do we find that money? How do we pay to keep the lights on and the A.C. working?” I think that this money has to be found amongst the people who are using the space. This sort of entitlement goes beyond the rehearsal space conundrum, and when I was in my early twenties nurturing my own fledgling company I also thought “you want me to pay what for that?” about pretty much anything from performance venue to costumes and on and on and on… as I have grown up, my understanding of how expense producing theater is has grown up as well.

All that to say, there are a lot of young and inspiring artists in Austin and these artists are poor AND these artists are bringing some of the most exciting work to our city. Scratch that, these artists are bringing some of the most exciting theatrical work to our entire field, on a national level. So where is the balance? How much should these artists have to pay for a rehearsal space? Especially if that cost ends up being a deterrent to the creation of the work?

Currently Connor and I are launching a membership system for the Scenic Co-op. Participating companies will be expected to pay a low annual rate and in exchange they will have access to the full Co-op stock. So far, we have had a lot of companies interested in signing up but no one is jumping up and down about it. Primarily because up until this year the Co-op has been 100% free for a large amount of Austin area new works theater companies. In the long run though, we need a little give back from these companies if the Co-op is going to sustain. We need to pay staff. We need to keep the tools working and in top shape and to keep our stock up to date and in good condition.

I don’t write this because I have answers, I only have questions… how do you get your money for nothing and your rehearsal space for free?

Jenny Larson

Salvage Vanguard Theater

Scenic Co-op

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