Theatre practitioners give business advice
Six experienced practitioners recently cracked open the curtains to the business of theatre at the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech).
They offered their student audience a glimpse of the multifaceted underside of a career most people perceive as sheer glamour.
Discussing 'What is needed for the business of theatre?', the practitioners were gathered on the stage of The Centre for the Arts - Carolyn Allen, educator, actress and director; Dr Jean Small, playwright, educator, actress and director; Sabrina McDonald Radcliffe, playwright, actress, director and producer; Philip Clarke, educator, actor, director and choreographer; and Conroy B. Wilson, executive director of the Ashe Company.
From the floor, Michael Holgate, Ashe's artistic director and an educator, actor, director and choreographer, also made contributions.
Allen launched the discussion with the generally accepted statement that "producers whose primary objective is making a profit feel themselves constrained" to mount productions that "are attractive to an audience".
About non-commercial theatre, she argued "if we're going to have the kind of theatre suitable for development, for education, for the social enterprise, then we need to have resources to fund that kind of creation".
She pointed out that paying-audiences-only cannot sustain that kind of theatre.
the promotion of theatre
McDonald Radcliffe, who works in the corporate world as a marketing manager, spoke about the promotion of theatre. She said "we need to document more, and not just by writing. You can take a picture and put it on YouTube, you can pick up your phone and (do) interviews."
She advocated the use of modern technology for "incubation" of new theatre groups and the "baton passing" of information from one group to another.
She also said the corporate world tends to support theatre that has "proven itself" and audiences will support good productions.
"If it is quality theatre, they will come, (though) it may not come today, tomorrow or for five years," McDonald Radcliffe said.
She referenced Chronixx who "decided he was going to sing his song his way, his style, old-school." Although he was initially "batter-battering", Chronixx persevered and became popular.
"Let's follow that model," McDonald Radcliffe advised.
Small seemed to agree. "Knowing why you want to do theatre is an important question for me," she said, explaining that, for her, theatre is educational.
"I have always been an educator all my professional life, and I can't do anything without teaching. I'm always teaching and I teach through my theatre as well. So far, all the things I want to do in a play are all real-life issues."
Small gave an example her fact-based one-woman show, The Awful Truth, which she produced and performed in March. She said it was called "bleak", admitting "you don't see a lot of humour in my plays because I'm doing non-commercial work".
Whereas Small hopes her plays will be entertaining, she added: "It may seem serious, but life is a serious thing. And I want to talk about life."
formal teaching needed
Small said she has been working with students doing French at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, for the last 15 years, using the drama-in-education technique of staging texts.
She said "doing is one of the best ways of knowing and understanding (the text). Your whole body is engaged when you take on a character in a text."
Also in the education vein, Clarke called for theatre to be formally taught in all educational institutions.
"We need to study the elements of theatre," he said. "I believe in education and I believe that in all schools, in all universities and colleges you should have courses that teach all the elements of theatre, including the business aspect."
That is what was done at the University College of the Caribbean (UCC), he said. "They taught theatre to business-administration students, taught them to actually produce a play, write a play, market it, direct it. Everybody in the class had to be involved in all the elements of a production," Clarke said.
Audiences also need educating, he continued. "Education is the way to go to get people to come to the theatre. You have to prepare an audience's mind, teach them," Clarke said.
In addition, he said, educated audiences are good for investors in theatre. "They (audiences) can come to realise that theatre can become a business too. We need to understand, in Jamaica, we can't invest in something if people don't know the value of it," Clarke said.
He revealed that in Montego Bay he has been able to offer the hotels training programmes for their entertainment coordinators, so they can present to their international audiences in a professional way. Clarke said he teaches his college students the rudiments of every aspect of theatre as a business, and advised other educators to do the same
Stressing the management of all aspects of theatre, Clarke said, "for theatre to be a successful business, it has to be managed. You have to sit down and look at all the elements. If you intend to live from it, you ask questions like how do I develop a play for my target audience? How am I going to market it to them. What is it going to cost me to produce it? How can I commercialise it?"
Holgate spoke about the necessity of building audiences. "We can't just expect people will just become audiences. The roots-theatre people have built their audiences, they scooped their audiences out of the dancehall. We, as theatre practitioners, who are not doing roots theatre, have to create our own audiences, and I think we can get audiences from people who enter Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) competitions every year," he said.
Addressing the UTech students directly, Wilson advised them to focus on education. "There is a belief that performing artistes are not smart people, are not thinkers," he said. "But a smarter actor is a better actor, a smarter dancer is a better dancer. Develop yourself, get yourself some education so you can strengthen yourself as a performer."
Moderator of the discussion was Amina Blackwood-Meeks, cultural director in the Ministry of Education.