Had an interesting discussion with friends last night about whether Knoxville already has too many theatres for its size. Paul made some strong arguments that this was so. Should we be discouraged? I certainly wasn't - for one simple reason. And here I must walk a tightrope between honesty and tact, but imo, Knoxville has too few theatres that aim to astonish and emotionally engage their audience every single night.
Theatrically, we're stuck in a long-time cycle of low expectations, low self-esteem and low quality. "The audience is too stupid to get it. " and "It's good enough for Knoxville." are two phrases I've actually heard spoken in local theatres - one professional, one community. It's an epidemic of mediocrity. No wonder so very many people here pay big money to fly to New York twice a year for their theatre fix.
There are two ideas central to our still-being-developed mission statement. High quality and maximum impact. High quality doesn't necessarily equate to spending oodly-gobs of money on sets and costumes, although the same high standards should apply there as well. I've seen a number of productions locally that mistook slickness for quality. For us, high quality is very personal - it's demanding the best of yourself and everyone you work with. Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago was founded on the principle of aiming for a better performance every single night of every show. A lofty goal, but one that excites and motivates me.
Can the Flying Anvil Theatre be the Steppenwolf of Knoxville? Can I fulfill my secret fantasy of becoming the Pat Summit of Knoxville theatre? Why the hell not? All it takes is an uncompromising commitment to choosing exciting, emotionally engaging plays performed by professionals who are passionate about pushing themselves and their craft past their limits. It's about understanding that the reason for our existence is the audience. Our job is to open a dialogue that challenges, entertains and ultimately, changes us all. We'll earn our paychecks like anyone else - by putting out a competitive product that people want.
Are you rolling your eyes yet? That's okay. We have a lot to prove. But I am motivated by memories of evenings in the theatre that left me emotionally drained, exultant, speechless, awed and altered. The six hour Dragon's Trilogy by Theatre Repere - performed on the stage at Clarence Brown. Steppenwolf's Grapes of Wrath. My first Broadway musical - Pippin. And I am bouyed by memories of theatres I've worked at that actually made money by putting the focus on the people in the seats - not to pander to them, but to invite them to share in an emotional adventure.
So even if there is too much theatre in Knoxville, I am certain that what Staci and I intend to offer is different and needed. And worth every penny we'll charge for it. If it isn't, well, then we don't deserve an audience.