“Why Should We Support Grassroots Theater”

As Mark J. Stern and Susan C. Seifert write in Culture and Urban Revitalization: A Harvest Document the changing culture and economy are restructuring how we think of the arts. The impact of technology on the public sphere changes the relationship between audience and performer, amateur and professional, pushing the transformation of the arts field in new directions. Art can be practiced virtually anywhere and by anyone. The pendulum of duality between low and high art has burst into thematically specific theater companies that serve niche audiences. With the changing demographics, larger arts organizations have to pay greater attention to appeal to a more diverse spectrum of theater goers. The inclusion of minorities into the production of art has become an imperative task for all cultural organizations. Moreover, restricted funding resources have impacted medium sized theater companies that keep fighting with chronic financial instability and still, regional theaters are not able to escape their association with white upper-middle class representation of dominant social values.

How can we ensure greater arts participation? (…)

The antithesis to art’s top-down approach seems to be grassroots projects. By their anti-institutional design they have a greater potential to draw new audiences and advance audience engagement. Using this approach the definition of the artist changes with it too. The artist is now interpreted in relation to social and cultural conditions, while art reflects them. Art is not above social structures, but is an expression of these very structures, thus art finds an inseparable link to communal identity. Grassroots companies are important, for they provide empowerment through the sense of place, representing the community’s social and cultural values. Projects like the San Francisco DIVAfest, which showcases new works by women, San Francisco Fringe Festival, which brings independent grassroots theater companies on stage, Bindlestiff Studio, which presents Filipino-American works, or San Francisco Theater Pub, which welcomes new audience in non-traditional spaces such as a local cafés or bars, are all examples of grassroots projects that have the power to supply the missing link in the instrumental top-down approach.

Why Should We Support Grassroots Theater, Lenka Belkova at the Theatre Communications Group

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