#BTC11 Closing Address by Michael Maso

We asked Michael Maso to provide us with the text of the speech he gave to close out the conference. Here it is:

MICHAEL MASO PRESENTATION
BOSTON THEATRE CONFERENCE
FEBRUARY 28, 2011

IN THE CONFERENCE DESCRIPTION IT SAYS THAT MY JOB IS TO REFLECT ON THE CHANGES I HAVE WITNESSED IN THE BOSTON THEATRE SCENE DURING THE LAST 100 OR SO YEARS.   I WILL ONLY WARN THAT THIS IS A HIGHLY SELECTIVE AND PERSONAL HISTORY.

MY STORY IN BOSTON STARTS IN 1982 WHEN THE HUNTINGTON WAS FOUNDED.  THE ART WAS TWO YEARS OLD, BOB BRUSTEIN HAVING LED HIS TRIBE OUT OF BONDAGE IN YALE ACROSS THE DESERT OF CONNECTICUT TO ARRIVE AT THE SAFE HARBOR OF THE PROMISED LAND IN CAMBRIDGE.  THE LYRIC STAGE WAS IN A SECOND FLOOR WALK-UP ON BEACON HILL AND NEW REP WAS IN A CHURCH IN NEWTON.

THE COMMERCIAL TOURING INDUSTRY WAS IN VERY BAD SHAPE AND VERY LITTLE WAS COMING INTO WHAT I STILL REFER TO AS THE “SO-CALLED” THEATRE DISTRICT.

THERE WERE OTHER SMALL THEATRES, LIKE THE NEXT MOVE AND THE NEW EHRLICH AT THE BCA, BUT BOSTON HAD PROVEN VERY INHOSPITABLE TO NEW TALENT.  ALL OVER THE COUNTRY BRILLIANT YOUNG DIRECTORS WERE STARTING THEATRES IN STOREFRONTS OR BASEMENTS, FINDING CHAMPIONS IN THE PRESS AND ON THEIR BOARDS THAT ENABLED THEM TO THRIVE AND GROW TO THEIR FULLEST ARTISTIC POTENTIAL.  BUT HERE THE THEATRE COMPANY OF BOSTON, RUN BY DAVID WHEELER — WITH ACTORS LIKE PAUL BENEDICT, JOHN CAZALE, STOCKARD CHANNING, BLYTHE DANNER, ROBERT DE NIRO, ROBERT DUVALL, HECTOR ELIZONDO, SPALDING GRAY, DUSTIN HOFFMAN, AL PACINO, JON VOIGHT, RALPH WAITE AND JAMES WOODS —  COULD NOT SURVIVE.

I BELIEVE THAT WITHOUT THE RESOUIRCES AND THE IMPRIMATEURS OF HARVARD AND BU NEITHER THE A.R.T. NOR THE HUNTINGTON WOULD HAVE FARED ANY BETTER.  BUT LESS THAN TEN YEARS AFTER THEATRE COMPANY OF BOSTON WENT OUT OF BUSINESS THE HUNTINGTON WAS STARTED WITH THREE GREAT ADVANTAGES: THE BEAUTIFUL BU THEATRE – A BROADWAY HOUSE; THE FINANCIAL SUPPORT OF BU THAT ALLOWED US TO BEGIN FULLY FORMED, WITH SHOWS THAT RIVALED THE BDWY SHOWS THAT DID COME TO TOWN; AND PETER ALTMAN’S CANNY AND SOPHISTICATED PROGRAMMING.

THE HUNTINGTON’S GREAT COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE WAS THAT WE WERE BOTH LARGE-SCALE AND MAINSTREAM, AND AUDIENCES RESPONDED.  BETWEEN US, THE HUNTNGTON AND THE A.R.T. CERTAINLY HAD THE LION’S SHARE OF THE LOCAL AUDIENCE.

SO WHAT HAS CHANGED SINCE THEN?  THE GREATEST CHANGE IS REFLECTED BY SO MANY OF YOU IN THIS ROOM – THE ENORMOUS GROWTH IN THE NUMBER OF THEATRE COMPANIES WITH HIGH AMBITIONS AND THE TALENT TO MEET THOSE AMBITIONS ON A REGULAR BASIS.  HOW DID THAT CHANGE COME ABOUT?

IN THE 80’S IT WASN’T JUST THE AUDIENCE THAT WAS LIMITED IN THEIR VISION OF WHAT THEARE COULD BE, IT WAS THE PRESS AS WELL, WHICH WAS NOT COVERING THE WORK AT MOST OF THE BURGEONING SMALL COMPANIES.   WHEN STAGESOURCE WAS FOUNDED TO BRING BOSTON’S THEATRE CONMMUNITY TOGETHER, IT BEGAN TO ADVOCATE FOR GREATER COVERAGE IN THE PRESS.  WHEN ED SIEGEL SUCCEEDED KEVIN KELLY AS THE CHIEF CRITIC FOR THE GLOBE HE TOOK THOSE CALLS SERIOUSLY, AND FOR THE FIRST TIME OUR MAJOR NEWSPAPER EXTENDED ITS COVERAGE TO THE ENTIRE THEATER SCENE.

JUST AS IMPORTANTLY, THE ELIOT NORTON AWARDS CHANGED FROM AN HONOR FOR ONE PERSON IN ITS EARLY YEARS – TO A WIDE RANGE OF AWARDS THAT WAS INTENTIONALY DESIGNED TO HIGHLIGHT THE BEST WORK OF LARGE AND SMALL, MAINSTREAM AND FRINGE.

READY TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS CHANGE WERE OUR MID-TIER COMPANIES: WITH PAUL DAIGNEAULT’S STEADY HAND AT SPEAKEASY, SPIRO VELOUDES’ TRANFORMATION OF LYRIC, NEW REP’S GROWTH UNDER RICK LOMBARDO AND THEIR MOVE TO THE ARSENAL MALL AMONG MANY OTHERS.  THE WORK OF WHEELOCK FAMILY THEATRE AND THE RESIDENT COMPANIES PROGRAM AT THE BCA PLAYED A CRITICAL ROLE IN THIS GROWTH AS WELL.

WE ALSO HAD THE BENEFIT OF THE 90’S – A PERIOD OF GREAT ECONOMIC GROWTH FOR THE COUNTRY AND FOR BOSTON, WHICH HELPED EACH OF THESE COMPANIES FIND ITS NITCH.  THE RESULT IS A MUCH HEALTHIER THEATRE CULTURE, WITH A WIDE RANGE OF WORK AND AN ATMOSPHERE WHCH ENCOURAGES YOUNG PEOPLE TO STAY IN BOSTON AND CREATE THEIR OWN WORK.  THIS IS A COMMUNTIY THAT CARES ABOUT EACH OTHER.

NOW COMPANY ONE CAN THRIVE AT THE BCA AND ORFEO AND ACTORS SHAKESPEARE’S PROJECT CAN MAKE THEIR MARK IN MUCH FASTER FASHION THAN WOULD HAVE BEEN POSSIBLE THIRTY YEARS AGO.

ONE OF THE KEY DIFFERENCES AT THE HUNTINGTON HAS BEEN THE CREATION OF THE CALDERWOOD PAVILION IN 2004, WHICH THE HUNTINGTON BUILT AND RUNS, AND THE PARTNERSHIP BETWEEN THE BCA AND THE HUNTINGTON THAT HAS EXPANDED ACCESS TO THEATRE FACILITIES AND SERVICES AND CREATED AN IMPORTANT HUB FOR BOSTON’S PRODUCING COMMUNITY.  AND AT THE SAME TIME THE TOURING MARKET HAS BOUNCED BACK CONSIDERABLY AND THE THEATRE DISTRICT IS ENLIVENED BY THE NEW OPERA HOUSE AND THE PARAMOUNT AMONG OTHERS.

THIS IS NOT A STORY OF COMPLETE SUCCESS.  WE HAVE LOST A NUMBER OF TERRIFIC COMPANIES OVER THIS TIME, FROM THEATREWORKS IN THE 80’S TO THE SUGAN, WHICH CEASED OPERATIONS JUST A FEW YEARS AGO.  OTHER COMPANIES HAVE HAD TO PULL BACK IN THE FACE OF THE ECONOMIC CHALLENGES OF THE PAST FEW YEARS, INCLUDING THE HUNTINGTON, WHICH HAS REDUCED OUR OPERATING BUDGET AND STAFF BY 15% SINCE 2008.

SO LET US TAKE A MOMENT TO RECOGNIZE OUR SUCCESSES AND OUR GROWING CAPACITIES.  AND LET US MOVE FROM THAT RECOGNITION TO FIGURE OUT WHAT WE NEED TO FOCUS ON FOR THE FUTURE.

IN THAT LIGHT I LEAVE YOU WITH THREE THOUGHTS:

NUMBER ONE IS ABOUT FUNDING — RECENTLY NEA CHAIRMAN ROCCO LANDESMAN CAUSED A STIR BY MUSING ABOUT AN “OVER-SUPPLY” OF NON-PROFIT ARTS ORGANIZATIONS.  I HAVE GREAT ADMIRATION FOR ROCCO, AND I DON’T THINK WE COULD HAVE A BETTER LEADER OF THE NEA AT THIS TIME.  WE MUST RECOGNIZE THAT HIS MUSINGS ARE NOT UNPRECEDENTED, EITHER OR THE NATIONAL OR LOCAL SCENE.  NOT TOO LONG AGO THE BOSTON FOUNDATION WROTE A REPORT ABOUT THE POTENTIAL VALUE IN MERGING CULTURAL ORGANIZATIONS.

THE PROBLEM FUNDERS ARE RESPONDING TO IS SIMPLE  — THEY CANNOT SUPPORT US ALL.  BUT THIS SOLUTION MISSES THE POINT.  NO ONE CAN ASSURE THAT ANY ARTS ORGANIZATION WILL SURVIVE.  WHAT IS CRITICAL IS THAT THERE ARE MECHANISMS PUT INTO PLACE THAT ENCOURAGE YOUNG PEOPLE TO START NEW COMPANIES, THAT NURTURE INNOVATION AND SEEK OUT THE BEST NEW IDEAS AND THE MOST EXCITING NEW ARTISTS.  WE DON’T HAVE TO LEGISLATE THE CLOSING OF COMPANIES – COMPANIES WILL CLOSE AS MATTER OF COURSE.

DECIDING WHICH COMPANIES TO SUPPORT IS HARD WORK, BUT THAT’S THE FUNDER’S JOB.  IN MY MIND IT IS CRITICAL THAT THEY BALANCE THEIR OBLIGATIONS TO LARGE INSTITUTIONS LIKE THE HUNTINGTON AND A.R.T. – NOT TO MENTION THE MFA AND THE BSO — WITH THE CRTICIAL NEED TO SEEK OUT AND NURTURE YOUNG TALENT.

NUMBER TWO IS ABOUT AUDIENCE.  DESPITE ENORMOUS CHANGES IN AUDIENCE BEHAVIOR OUR AUDIENCE MAKEUP HAS CHANGED FAR TOO LITTLE.

THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS FOR A FEW COMPANIES AND A FEW PLAYS, BUT OUR AUDIENCES ARE STILL OVERWHELMINGLY WHITE, ECONOMICALLY WELL-OFF AND AGING.  I HAVE COME TO BELIEVE THAT OUR FAILURE TO EXPAND THE AUDIENCE TO ALL OF OUR NIGHBORS AND EVERY COMMUNITY IN OUR REGION – REGARDLESS OF RACE OR CLASS OR ABILITY TO PAY – IS A FAILURE THAT THREATENS OUR EXISTENCE AS A FIELD.  I HOPE THAT WHEN A SPEAKER STANDS HERE IN TEN YEARS TO REVIEW THE PAST DECADE THE SINGLE GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT SHE OR HE POINTS TO IS THE EXPANSION OF THE AUDIENCE IN A WAY THAT TRULY REPRESENTS THE DIVERSITY OF THE CITY OF BOSTON.

AT THE HUNTINGTON WE ARE WORKING HARD AT THAT TASK, AND I URGE YOU DEDICATE YOUR MOST CREATIVE MINDS TO DOING THE SAME FOR YOUR ORGANIZATIONS.  AND AS BARBARA LYNCH SAID YESTERDAY, WE MUST FOCUS MORE ON THE TOTAL THEATREGOING EXPERIENCE FROM THE AUDIENCE’S POINT OF VIEW.

NUMBER THREE IS ABOUT LOCAL ARTISTS.  EVERYONE IN THIS ROOM IS AWARE OF THE TENSIONS BETWEEN ARTS ORGANIZATIONS AND ARTISTS IN A COMMUNITY WHEN THAT ORGANIZATION HAS THE RESOURCES TO BRING ARTISTS FROM ANYWHERE IN THE COUNTRY – OR THE WORLD.  AND WHILE THE HUNTINGTON WILL ALWAYS STRIVE TO WORK WITH THE VERY BEST NO MATTER WHERE THEY LIVE, IT HAS NOT ESCAPED OUR ATTENTION THAT THE TWO ARTICLES ABOUT THE HUNTINGTON IN THE NEW YORK TIMES OVER THE PAST TWELVE MONTHS HAVE BEEN ABOUT OUR WORK WITH LOCAL ARTISTS – A SPRING ARTICLE ABOUT OUR EXPANDING COMMITMENT TO THE HUNTINGTON PLAYWRITING FELLOWS IN GENERAL AND TO LYDIA DIAMOND IN PARTICULAR, AND THIS FALL’S ARTICLE ABOUT OUR PARTNERSHIP WITH SPEAKEASY AND COMPANY ONE IN THE SHIRLEY VERMONT FESTIVAL.

IRONICALLY, OUR FOCUS ON THE LOCAL BROUGHT US THE HUNTINGTON’S GREATEST EXPOSURE ON THE NATIONAL STAGE IN YEARS.

AS MELIA BENSUSSEN SAID YESTERDAY, WE NEED TO WORK TOGETHER TO MAKE OUR GARDEN GROW.  AT THE HUNTINGTON WE WILL DO SO THROUGH THE CALDERWOOD PAVILION, WHICH WE BUILT TO SERVE THE BROADER THEATRE COMMUNITY, THROUGH OUR PLAYWRIGHTING PROGRAMS AND THROUGH OUR EDUCATION PROGRAMS AND PARTNERSHIPS WITH LOCAL COMPANIES AND ARTISTS.

BUT WE ARE ONLY A SMALL PIECE OF THIS GARDEN.  I AM NOT SAYING THAT WE ALL NEED TO DO THE SAME THING – OR THAT WE ALL NEED TO SERVE EVERYONE.  THAT IS THE SUREST ROAD TO FAILURE, TO MEDIOCITY AND SAMENESS.  ON THE CONTRARY — I BELIEVE THAT EACH OF YOU MUST LOOK AT YOUR OWN CORE VALUES AND GREATEST STREGTHS AND BUILD A LEGACY THAT IS UNIQUE.

IT IS WHEN WE PUT THOSE STRENGTHS TOGETHER THAT WE CREATE THAT GARDEN.  FOSTERING GROWTH, LOOKING FOR THOSE FABULOUS NEW SPROUTS, ALWAYS EXPANDING THE RANGE OF WHAT WE CULTIVATE AND THOSE WHOM WE SERVE, AND RECOGNIZING THAT A GREAT PART OF OUR JOB AS A COMMUNITY IS TO FIND A WAY TO NURTURE THOSE ARTISTS RIPENING IN OUR OWN BACKYARD.

JUST THINKING ABOUT IT MAKES ME HUNGRY.
THANK YOU.

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About jhennrikus

Julie Hennrikus is the Executive Director of StageSource
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