On a Benedictine Theatre Company
by Cole Matson
A while back, I mentioned on Twitter that I was interested in exploring the idea of a theatre company based on the Rule of St. Benedict. It would take its management practices from one of the fathers of Western monasticism, who believed in the virtues of hospitality, gentleness, and compassion – as well as loving obedience. What would a Benedictine theatre company look like?
1. It would be welcoming. Patrons would never go away feeling like they were just another $20 butt to fill a seat. They would be able to identify the head of the theatre and call him by name. (Let’s call him the theatrical “Abbot” to keep with the Benedictine theme. The title is a placeholder for the artistic director, executive director, board president, or any other significant leader of the company, but is especially appropriate for whomever you can identify as “the guy who runs the joint.”) The Abbot would make himself available to patrons, staff, artists, and anyone else who interacts with the theatre. He would definitely always be there to greet the patrons at a show (and if, for some necessary reason, he can’t be at a show, he’ll have a deputy who’s also well-known and shares his philosophy of hospitality). He would also work to make sure that the theatre is welcoming for artists, both company members and visiting artists. Whether it’s providing snacks in the dressing room, a killer cast party, or simply making sure everyone gets paid something for their work, a Benedictine theatre company will be known for the home it provides for its artists.
2. It would be firm but gentle. Policies of the theatre in terms of member responsibilities, box office and rehearsal procedures, the cleanliness of the prop room, etc. would be spelled out clearly to avoid confusion, but would also be flexible if needed for the welfare of the group. People will be assumed to be trustworthy and responsible, and treated with the according respect, unless and until they break that trust – innocent until proven guilty. Even if people make mistakes and break rules, they will be treated with gentleness and the assumption of goodwill. Only if it becomes a pattern of immature or incompetent behavior, with no effort made to improve, will a person be asked to leave the community. Even in this case, they will still be treated with the respect due to a fellow human being and colleague. A Benedictine theatre company will be known for treating its artists, staff, and volunteers with dignity.
3. It would treat the audience as members of its community, and do shows that build up that community. This doesn’t mean doing fluffy feel-good after-school special fare, but it does mean asking yourself when considering a production, “Does this help my community in some way? If I were to see this show, would I feel like the theatre had invited me to participate in an important experience with them, or would I feel like they couldn’t care less what I thought or felt about the show and its effect on me?” Does the company engage its community off-stage as well? What about offering classes, or reduced rate tickets for students AND teachers AND volunteer firefighters, etc., or a free ticket give-away to low-income neighbors (as Single Carrot Theatre did in their Baltimore neighborhood a while back)? Or even allowing members of the community to use theatre space for free or cheap on a dark night? (See Prof. Scott Walters’ vision for such a community-based ensemble theatre company.) A Benedictine theatre company will by its neighbors as a member of their community.
I’m thinking of doing a series exploring how each daily reading from the Benedictine Rule can be applied to the running of a theatre company. I may be painting an idealistic picture, but I figure the higher you aim, the higher you hit. Questions:
1. Would you be interested in such a series? I’d definitely love feedback so we can hash this out together.
2. What would you expect to see in a theatre company that called itself Benedictine, either as a patron or as an artist/staffer?
3. Any additions to the above brainstorming?
And finally: When you think about your dream theatre company, what’s the number one thing you want?