Okay, I’m outta here. Thirty-one years is enough.
I get the general idea. It’s time to make way or a new generation, but I would be shirking my responsibility if I didn’t pass on the Twenty-Five Sacred Laws that each retiring artistic director is supposed to leave, handwritten, in the center drawer of the office desk—only sometimes we forget. Nobody knows where they came from; a lot of people think they began with Bill Ball and Adrian Hall, whoever they were.
Before I cut to the chase, a word of encouragement: Don’t worry, young people, anybody can do this job. Only a genius could screw this up. Personally, I have only two regrets: Robert Brustein never gave me the secret handshake, and I’m still not sure how to pronounce Peer Gynt.
All right, here’s the good stuff; don’t tell it to anybody—I’m trying to give you a leg up.
1. The hard thing is to find enough rewarding and creative tasks to make everyone feel fully used but not murderously overworked.
2. Remember you’re building the institution and not simply your own career.
3. Psychological realism may be dead, but the audience forgot to read the obituary.
4. Don’t do a Boston season in Boise, or vice versa.
5. The profession loves novelty, and the audience loves the familiar. Now what?
6. What principle is at work when the carpenters make more than the stitchers? See, you already knew.
7. When everyone is underpaid and you buy a state-of-the-art lighting board, or renovate the executive offices, it’s a political act.
8. Get as much mind as possible into the building.
9. Have passions and pay attention to what they cost.
10. You only get fired for losing money, but the board will say it’s because “your work wasn’t really exciting.”
11. Only a few plays are guaranteed to make money: The Wizard of Oz, A Christmas Carol and Dracula.
12. If you produce any of those plays, it will be bruited about that you are not an artist.
13. If you don’t produce them, you will be fired because your work “isn’t really exciting.”
14. A small-cast play is three. A large-cast play is eight. Once a year, you can have 12. If you do three two-character plays in a season, you can do Shakespeare. But you mustn’t do plays anyone else does. Now plan a season that amazes everyone.
15. Since no theatre of any size ever played to more than two percent of its potential audience, you can stop worrying about being elitist.
16. To do new plays. To do classics. To do American plays. To do nonrealistic work. To do Shakespeare. To do seasons thematically. To have politics. To do musical theatre. To be an actors’, directors’ or playwrights’ theatre. To do theatre that’s sort of like dance. To be text-based. To do community-based work. To have puppets. To be a culturally exclusive theatre. To be a culturally inclusive theatre. Combine any two to have a fundable artistic policy. Combine any three to be profiled in American Theatre.
17. Process is the only reward. Concentrating is the only happiness. And hire people more talented than you are.
18. If you have a great success with a play in a rural setting, don’t send it to New York. They can’t follow the psychology of any character who wouldn’t eat a bagel.
19. Don’t forget to mention that you want to be “world class,” and then—three years later—say you are.
20. It is important to remember that no artistic director notices when they are funded by corporations they ought to abhor. I mean, we’ve got casting to think about!
21. Directors who bar playwrights from rehearsal go to hell. Forever. Barefoot.
22. Have a life outside the theatre.
23. If the play isn’t blocked after two-and-a-half weeks and the director tells you, “That’s just the way I work,” fire his ass.
24. After the third audition when you’re sure she’s the right actor, the agent will tell you she’s unavailable, but she really wanted to meet you.
25. You’ll know it’s time to leave when there are more people in middle management than you ever have on stage, and you would rather kill someone than write another program note.
So, that’s about it. I have to get going. I’ve had a really good time doing this stuff, and you will, too. Work from the heart, try to make sure everybody has a good time, respect your audience, take learning your craft seriously, trust your coworkers, and whenever they start talking about art, run like the devil was chasing you.
After this season, Jon Jory will teach acting and directing at the University of Washington in Seattle.
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