Friday, December 25, 2009

On Regional Theatre- Part 2 the perks of freelance

Let me start off by saying that I have only been freelance for about a year, and I know that things will continue to change as I work my way more into the freelance community, but here are the perks I see for now.

One of the biggest benefits to freelance work is the variety. As an artist I have been forced to learn more, quicker working freelance than I ever did when I was a resident at a company. One day I will be working on a big musical and the next day a period piece and then I will go do a modern comedy. In the past twelve months I have worked in 14 different spaces, from large auditoriums, to outdoor spaces to basement studio theatres, and each one presents a new set of opportunities, limitations and experiences. I've adapted, problem solved and become a better theatre artist for it.

The variety is a benefit, not only in the shows and the spaces, but in the people. In regional theatre, working with the same people each day can be wonderful. As I mentioned in the last regional theatre post, the sense of being a part of a team is something that can't be beat. The problem comes when nothing changes on the team for a long period of time. At some point the same six people doing one show together after another will start to get stale. You know how you have approached problems before and just go back to the same solutions to solve the problems when they come up again. As people develop a comfortable routine there is less and less reason to look outside the box. "Why fix it if it isn't broken" may work in many industries, but in theatre it leads to stale and uninspiring art.

In my freelance work, the theatre community is small, and I run into the same people over and over again as I move around the Chicagoland area. I have developed some fantastic working relationships with some of them. The difference is that every time I run into them, we've all been working on multiple projects in between. When a problem comes up more people can contribute fresh ideas because the collective body of work we are drawing from is so much larger. I tend to be working on three or four shows at a time at different stages of the process, but once that is mulitiplied by the entire production team, we may collectively be working on 20 or 30 shows and we have all of those experiences to inspire us.

Having said all of this about my contrasting theatre experiences I would like to point out that there is a difference between inherent dangers and inherent problems. Having the same group of people working together day in and day out will always put you in danger of creating stale art, but it doesn't mean you have to. If you are aware of the danger, make a conscious effort to mix things up, bring in fresh ideas from fresh designers and encourage continued learning, you can produce fantastic work with the benefits of a strong team atmosphere.

The same applies to freelance based theatres. the variety and fresh ideas are going to come much more naturally; the focus here needs to be on creating a strong team. Production meetings should happen early, often and never be rushed. Encourage production team members to meet outside of full production meetings to discuss and brainstorm issues, in person if possible (instead of relying entirely on email and phone communication). I have found that this type of attitude catches really quickly, and anyone can lead it. If you put the work in to stay in touch and communicate, the rest of the production team is likely to follow.

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