The artist’s eternal struggle
by Maren Fischer
When I say “eternal struggle,” what do you think of?
Good versus evil? Shower versus sleep? Humans versus pickle jars?
All are worthy battles. But there is one that seems to be especially prevalent in my life – and I’m sure anyone who also resides in the entertainment industry can relate – art versus money.
Art and money seem to be the bitter, clashing colleagues who are forced to constantly work together, but then break down in mutual celebratory tears over a job well done and a piece of office cake. In both the theatre world and in Hollywood, it is a never ending struggle to strike a balance between maintaining artistic integrity and appealing to the masses in order to turn a profit.
Art that is truly bold, adventurous and challenging rarely embraces a large majority of the audience pie; in fact it usually creates dissent, passionate debate, and garners perhaps only a small band of devoted supporters – not the ideal equation for churning out dough. Your art may be mind-blowingly brilliant, but if you’re not selling tickets, how will you keep making it? How do we as part of the entertainment industry – both artists and producers of the art – create a product that satisfies both entities?
A good friend of mine just recently finished a fantastic production with a newly minted theatre company. Both the show and the company are fervidly asking the question: is there a balance between art and money?
The theatre company is called Battalion Theatre, originally formulated by a couple of whip-smart Brown grads in New York City. Their inaugural show was Theresa Rebeck’s The Understudy. Reminiscent of a seven-layer cake, The Understudy is a show within a show, about actors rehearsing for a play on Broadway. Tensions are high as the characters discuss whether either art or money equates meaning and integrity (as those perceived “meanings” dig a little close to the skin), and though the word “sellout” is never said, it sort of ends up reverberating in your ears from a metaphorically rung bell. None of the characters want to be a sellout, but they all wind up drowned in the unfortunate and inescapable mudslide of commercialism when (spoilers) the plug gets pulled on the Broadway play due to monetary reasons.
The show is so prevalent to today’s industry, it’s crazy. And that’s exactly why Battalion wanted to do it. Their creed, according to the director, is “art at all costs.” Kind of a wonderful, well-played oxymoron; made powerful especially because their company name conjures images of artists going to war for their art. But perhaps that’s what we need to do. Go to war for our art. Though I believe, and I think Battalion would agree, that love, especially love through theatre, is the way to win that war. However, the company also seems to be aware of the fact that they must find a way to exist in the current climate.
Perhaps “art at all costs” also means compromising when necessary and/or being aware of the realities and possible limitations of creating art in today’s society… and knowing that compromising doesn’t necessarily mean settling.
They say they don’t want to divorce the audience’s happiness from the creative team’s happiness, i.e. producing art that everyone can be satisfied with.
I was really impressed with this company’s intelligent, passionate pursuit of beautiful meaning in an egoless, compassionate way. In a world full of sloppy sequels and commercially driven products, it’s refreshing to know that there is a company out there dedicated towards creating purposeful art at a price that doesn’t “sellout.” How can we as artists do the same in our own way? That’s the never ending question that we must never stop striving to answer.
But for now, I’m going to go work on that pickle jar… brb.Tags: Art at all costs, Art versus money, Battalion Theatre, Hollywood, Maren Fischer, Passion versus commercialism, The Understudy by Theresa Rebeck, Theatre