Post by Whit Hanna
With all the changes in the TATE awards, and all the promise that holds for the community, there are still some very big problems that need to be addressed, problems the TATEs and the Kaisers can't resolve alone. I will name some here, others can name more.
For me, number one is unity. So often we look upon each other with the eye of competition It would better serve us all to have a unified front. I know that's a lot to ask with everyone wanting to keep their own fiefdom, but the TATE umbrella gives us opportunity to market together. Instead of hiding our TATE nominated shows we should actively promote them, we should tell the audience at the curtain speech that the production they are viewing has the opportunity to win a $10,000 dollar grand prize, and that the performances and technicians have a shot at being rewarded as well. We should cultivate and encourage audience members to see all TATE nominations, and to attend the end of the year award ceremony. This kind of collective cross promotion can help put butts in the seats and money into the production companies, plus it creates a common thread for the community. Maybe in the future the TATE could release a brochure telling all of the nominated shows, dates, times, etc. Maybe the TATE could sell a season ticket for all nominated productions. The possibilities are boundless but only if our community start to act as fellow artists, not as adversaries.
Second, there has to be other benefactors. Oklahoma is not known for it's great love of the arts, but the theater community in particular suffers from a lack of generous donations. I can't say for sure, but I suspect that every company is in some way living in the red. Part of it has to do with the sheer number of different production companies; it's far easier to hand a nice check to Tulsa Ballet or Opera. Whatever the reason, we need more angel benefactors. The Kaisers are doing their part, they are on that stage under the lights, but more people need to get out there to help play the scene. So if you’re reading this and you got some money you'd like to dedicate toward theater, DO. Give it to an individual company, team up with the Kaisers and the TATEs. The only way that the level of productions and overall audience experience will improve is if more money flows into the community.
Third, we need tech! We need stage managers, set designers/builders, lighting designers, board operators, etc. We need to actively ask those wanting to be involved to learn the fine art of stagecraft. We need to cultivate designers, operators, managers. There is a serious lack of personnel to handle these jobs in our community.
Finally, there is a deep need for a viable and affordable performance venue. Let's face it, the PAC is not only unaffordable, it is, quite frankly, fiscally irresponsible. A big name musical with a giant cast can turn a profit in that space, but a small intimate show cannot. PAC, if you're listening, cut the rates for the local theater community. We are not the ballet, we are not the opera, we don't have the big dollar benefactors. Furthermore you are a tax payer funded facility so serve the people, don't screw them. I have a dream that some great benefactor will come to town and build a theater that is fully staffed with professional technicians, and is open for the local companies to produce their work. So please great theater gods in the sky send me this wish! Until then, if the status quo remains unchanged something is going to give. Those small arthouse companies that produce intimate work are going to lose out to an audience that thinks the PAC is the only legitimate venue, and their already insufficient operating funds will shrink even further.
Yet, again, I've been hearing my entire life that Theatre was on the verge of dying. And it hasn't yet. In Tulsa it's rising from the ashes.
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Post by Whitson Hanna
Back in May the best of Tulsa's theater community gathered at Cains Ballroom to celebrate and award the 2015/2016 season. They ate tacos and drank some adult beverages, then everyone gathered to watch Gary Busey set a dumpster on fire. Oh what a fire was set. Much was made about this event (a lot by yours truly) but I’m writing today to say the past is behind us now. A new future is being written. A Phoenix is rising out of the dumpster.
So what has changed you ask. For starters, the TATE committee was dissolved and the new committee is made up of representatives from the companies that are actively participating in the TATE competition. It's not a committee set in stone, and any company that meets the TATE application process and submits shows for consideration can have a seat at the table. (That application and submission process remains unchanged.)
Secondly, the judge pool has been diversified in age, race, and sex. The new judges were selected by the committee, and all have some varying background in theater. Their identities are not being kept secret, in fact, you can find them listed below. They were all at the TATE opening party on Saturday night., after going through a professional theater adjudication workshop, presented by the Kaiser Foundation, and instructed by one Ron Cameron Lewis, a professional theater adjudicator. They will be asked to see all of the shows up for nomination, and asked to read the plays before attending the performance. Lastly, they will meet at the end of the season to hash out who the winners will be. I'm picturing a gladiator style duel to the death, but I have an active imagination.
Third, the adjudication process has been changed from a point based system to a worksheet with a series of questions. These questions serve two purposes: they act as notes for the judges to help them make their decision at the end of the year (the above mentioned blood bath), and they supply the companies with constructive criticism of what worked and what didn't, giving them insight into how better to improve their product.
Last, the awards have changed. Gone is the "Distinguished Artist Award" (sorry, no more Busey dumpster fires) but the "Mary Kay Place" award remains. There will be a top prize of ten thousand dollars awarded to "Outstanding Production" and two five thousand dollar prizes awarded to the two runner-ups. The "Outstanding Youth Production" will remain the same. Additionally, there will be the following individual awards:
TROPHIES: Given to Individuals
These awards will better celebrate our very talented community. After all, TATE stands for Tulsa Awards for Theater Excellence. All that said, this is still a work in progress. The work done is just the beginning of a new chapter. Both the committee and the Kaiser Foundation are open to any changes that might better the process and help the overall community.
But... But, there are still some very big problems that need to be addressed, problems the TATEs and the Kaisers can't resolve alone. But those ideas will be in tomorrow’s post! For now, and to conclude, here’s the list of TATE judges for 2016-17.
Dr. Maria Beach
Billie Sue Thompson
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It’s a popular thing, money. And so useful! It can’t buy you love, but it can buy you the Presidency of the United States, and, on EBay, someone else’s soul. In fact to be honest, it can buy you love, or at least something that looks so much like it that Woody Allen and Donald Trump can’t tell the difference. So let’s talk about money!
The history of Tulsa theatre is written in red ink. In fact, if there was actually such a book, something you could buy at Barnes and Noble, it would resemble a perverse, dramaturgical Bible. The red letters wouldn’t be the words of Jesus, they’d list all the bad business decisions local theatre companies have made. Company “A” manages to slowly accumulate a legitimate bank account balance? Blow it all on one show and go into debt instead! New York actor waltzes into town and raises serious money from the big donors for a “professional” theatre? Sock most of it away and then quietly slip out of town. (Not to speak ill of the dead in either case, but at least the dead won’t leave angry comments or unfriend me on Facebook. I have some quibbles with more recent events as well, but I’m going to wink at those. For now.)
Is it any wonder that local businesses and foundations aren’t falling all over themselves to give us oodles of cash? The well’s been poisoned! It’s important to say though, that minor quibbles aside, this happened well before the current crop of artistic and business directors took over their respective theatres. But this history of bad behavior is the background behind Tulsa community theatre's current financial crisis, which is now coming to a head because of the price increases at the downtown PAC, increases that most local companies simply cannot afford.
Nevertheless, even through the bad years, through it all, Kaiser never abandoned us. (Food for thought: what would this town be without the continuing generosity of George Kaiser?) For some years, the George Kaiser Family Foundation appeared to struggle with how to allocate money to our confusing profusion of local theatres, without finding a satisfactory solution. The TATE’s turned out to be that long term answer.
Why “confusing”? Well, suppose you had a little money left over at the end of the month, and you wanted to help make Tulsa a better place to live. You decide you’d like to see more and better ballet in town. Who do you make the check out to? Kind of obvious, huh. Suppose you wanted to support opera? Hmmm. Or symphonic music? Let me think. So all of those are simple solutions, and the ballet and the opera and the symphony benefited from that simplicity.
But theatre? Who gets that money? That was Kaiser’s dilemma. How to divvy it up so that it wasn’t arbitrary, or going to an incompetent, or to a secret bank account in Switzerland or Catoosa? The TATE Awards were the solution.
However, that raised a related question. That question has been a spectral presence lurking in the background of the TATE’s all along, and a topic for chit-chat among theatre people for a long as I’ve been chit-chatting with them. Would we be better off if we were also ‘simpler?’ Would it be better if Tulsa had fewer theatres, or maybe even if there was just one dominant theatre, rather than this profusion confusion? Basically, are there too many theatres chasing too few dollars?
Would it shock you to learn that most people directly associated with any particular theatre think it would be a good idea if one or two of those other theatres shut down? and maybe could you send your patrons over in our direction when you do? There are even people who think that a single dominant, regional-instead-of-community theatre, a theatre that was large and established enough to pay better than next-to-nothing, that that would be the ideal situation. Because, in addition to the other good it would do, it would also make the Kaiser Foundation’s job much easier. The Ballet, the Opera, the Theatre.
Don’t scoff. That’s the way it used to be. Theatre Tulsa was one of the anchors of the Tulsa arts scene once, with 7,000 subscribers and a place at the table whenever the discussion turned to civic or foundational support of the arts. Sara’s been rebuilding the theatre (over 500 subscribers now, up from a low of basically zero) and would love to see that kind of prominence return, and why shouldn’t she? And Kitty and company over at ATC, who took over the alpha dog spot when TT went into a slide and are fresh off a gold and silver finish at this year’s TATE’s, no doubt feel like their theatre would be a better candidate for King Of Our Little Hill. And why shouldn’t they? Besides the natural desire to see one’s own organization prosper, there’s an argument to be made that Tulsa would have a healthier, more productive theatre scene, and that we’d all benefit from that focused concentration of money, with the additional benefit that the best, most talented among us could maybe get paid.
There’s a rumor around that the goal of the TATE’s all along was to ‘winnow the field’, to pick one or the other of the prominent theatres to be the new golden child, allowing a single, well-supported company to become that regional theatre, on a par with the Symphony and the Opera. I’m not in a position to know whether that was the original thinking or not, but it certainly didn’t turn out that way. Instead, Playhouse, Theatre Tulsa, Theatre Pops, ATC, Heller and Odeum/Nightingale all have multiple wins. And the fortunes of those various companies rose and fell mostly due to circumstances that had nothing to do with the TATE’s.
But what actually happened doesn’t address the question of what should happen now. Should we consolidate? Would it be better for us to have a single, well supported regional theatre that pulls in the greater part of civic and foundation support? Do I have an opinion on that? Is the Pope Argentinian?
Check back soon for the next installment of Money! where you’ll hear me say, “Here’s what I think.” But in the meantime, remember that Sept. 17 is the day of both the TATE Adjudication Workshop and the TATE Season Kick Off that night. This is a big deal folks, as the TATE Committee has responded to our criticism and comments with a major overhaul. They want the community to be a part of the process, so don't miss this opportunity. And, these are both free events! See you there.
Arts Alliance Tulsa
Green Room OK
Tulsa Little Theatre
Tulsa Weekly Roundup
Am. Theatre Co.
BA Community Playhouse
Clark Youth Theatre
G Rated Theatre
Midwestern Theater Co.
Muskogee Little Theatre
Owasso Comm. Theatre
Sand Springs Comm. Th.
Sapulpa Comm. Theatre
Tulsa Latino Theatre
Tulsa Project Theatre
Tulsa Rep. Musicals
Tulsa Spotlight Theatre