The labor dispute on Broadway reveals again just how far we as a society have gone from in putting the needs of the moneyed ahead of all else. The wealthy piously speak of a need to get a good return on their investment at the expense of the society around them and demand that this outlook should form our own. We are told that our core as humans is about commerce rather than community.
What is art? Is it an experience or an investment? The actors in The Lord Chamberlain's Men had shares in the company. Did they create Shakespeare’s greatest plays for profit or the joy of storytelling? Did Pirandello take over the Teatro d'Arte di Roma because he was a Fascist or because Fascism and Mussolini allowed him his self-expression?
Bertolt Brecht believed that it was the duty of theatre to educate. "It is the noblest function that we have found for 'theatre'". He wrote "The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny" because he thought operas had become too full of ritual and bereft of substance. Yet could he have come to that conclusion if he had not lived in decadent Weimar Germany? Could he have survived in East Germany if he did not have the income from the Berliner Ensemble?
Who will inherit the mantle of O’Neill, Miller, Mamet or Shepard, the hard, American playwrights? What investor will step forward and say that the duty of theatre is to teach and create a collective experiment for both the artist and audience? We have our own wars, dispossessed populations, people making hard choices about family and life and death. Who is telling those stories? And why aren’t people watching? Or is that they simply cannot find an outlet?
I would be a lot more willing to make the sacrifices that I’m being told to make if the stories that were being told had meaning beyond a return on an investment. If audiences came out of the theatre with a different outlook on life instead of with a smile and some merchandise, then I could feel that I’m involved with something resembling art.
I’ll help sell your tickets and help promote your entertainment but your cause is not my cause. You may hire me as and consider me to be no more than menial labor but I spend far more time in a playhouse than you and consider its forms. This is my home and I have seen the power of the performance so ephemeral that it disappears with the first burst of applause. I've felt the audience respond with rapt attention and an explosion of joy.
The power of the art form is in the message not the profit. Speaking for myself, your cause is not my cause.