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Matt Martinelli: What do you find most confounding about the space crunch, and how do you think it might be fixed 10 years from now?
Phaedra Scott (playwright/director): So with the space, and in particular with rehearsal space and in some cases performance space, there has been some effort by the Boston government in order to have spaces open in nontraditional areas. But the issue with that is that it’s always during work hours and when you think about smaller theater companies and when they can rehearse, it’s usually post-6 pm. So it’s like, yes, the space is available, but nobody can actually use it. And it’s really a matter of having space available during those hours where smaller companies can actually rehearse. Honestly, smaller companies are where a lot of our really great playwrights and great actors start, and when they don’t have that opportunity to rehearse because they have to feed themselves at their day job, then they move to New York. And so in terms of fixing the problem with space, I think looking at alternative venues is really essential. Like office spaces or people who know people who have contracts with any space. You can rehearse anywhere really, you just need the location.
Latrell, you have your recording studio in your basement. Is there a convenience there or would you rather have somewhere that was more accessible?
Latrell James (musician): In the last two years, I can recall T.T. Bear’s and I can remember Church Boston being places that I performed at—and those two venues are gone. We’re starting to get to the point where there’s not even places for us to rehearse. A place where you can actually make noise anytime is way more important [than a recording studio] because you’ve got to perfect your craft before you perform it, and I think that the city is disconnected with that at times.
Phaedra Scott (left), Latrell James (right)
Gil Rose (artistic director of Odyssey Opera and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project): In the same way that people are fighting for space, they’re fighting for a piece of the funding pie that seems to be limited. That scramble for that pie has also made it more difficult for mid-sized and small organizations, where all the innovation happens and all the new creation happens, because in this town there’s some very large institutions that really dominate the philanthropic field: Boston Symphony Orchestra, the MFA, hospitals, Harvard. For small companies to try to get a piece of the pie, that’s like a Jedi Knight in the Death Star. You know, if Boston is going to realize all this creative energy, if people aren’t going to go to New York or LA or wherever, they’re going to have to solve that relationship between innovation and promoting smaller, mid-sized groups’ efforts with the tradition of these huge institutions that represent a commodity to those people.
Do you think there’ll be more money from performances or licensing deals?
Latrell: Performances always pay as long as there’s people to come watch. People come and people pay, they’re not going to just pay for tickets. They buy merchandise, they want to invest into your brand. Albums are worth nothing at the end of the day. You can download it illegally if you want online or you can go stream it on Spotify for less than a penny. You don’t really make anything unless you’re tracking millions of streams. So I think aligning yourself with corporate brands is important. But I also think since we’re in Boston, specifically aligning yourself with tech companies and just building your alliances there.… Brands need somebody to be the face of their brands. Hopefully local tech companies do that and see that there’s money in there for both sides.
Gil: There’s no long history with the concept of charitable donations [in tech]. So when you meet them, they’re very interested in what you do and they think your product’s interesting, or your mission is interesting, but they want to teach you how to organize your loading dock, not participate in philanthropy in the old sense of philanthropy.
Where do you see the arts scene 10 years from now in terms of its importance in bringing issues to light?
Phaedra: I think in Boston, in particular, you just have to have more people of color. We have to have more women in these theaters. So many theater companies here are run by white men, and that really limits the programming options. And right now, in the national landscape of theater, there are more artistic director positions open since the 1960s, which is the start of the regional theater movement. And so far, two of those 47 positions have already been filled by white men. We’re at the point of change, where we either get to be like, “Hey, we actually want theater to be inclusive, literally inclusive.” Or, “We’re going to stick with our white supremacist, patriarchal theater and be OK with that.” And so I’m really anxious about the future in terms of theater because two positions have already been filled by white guys. And I’m just really nervous when you think about ticket sales. Sixty percent of ticket buyers are women, yet there’s like 20 artistic directors in the whole country that are women and none that are women of color. And so when you look at the statistics, really, a lot of change has to happen in a medium that prides itself on being forward and diverse and inclusive.
Gil: I do worry that sometimes in this city in particular, there’s a wedge between the old and the new. We were talking before that in a city that really sees tradition as a commodity, and the money that follows it sees it as a commodity, that it takes bravery to advocate for the future. I hope that the support or mechanisms—whether they be facilities or philanthropic money or corporate money or whatever—get behind a change about innovation and advancement of our art forms as opposed to preservation. And that will determine a lot with what kind of city we become, because although we call ourselves the Athens of America, in many ways Boston artistically is getting its clocked cleaned by places in California and New York and even places like Charlotte, North Carolina. There are places that are thinking forward, and I think it has a lot to do with this mindset of Boston being a pristine, museum-type environment.
Ten years from now, is there something that you’re most excited to possibly have seen occur or that you think might occur within your industry?
Phaedra: The Boston project by SpeakEasy Stage, which I’m a part of that, they’re commissioning plays about the city of Boston. I think for the longest time, playwrights in particular, even if they lived in Boston, always set their plays in New York. And so it’s great that we actually get to talk about this city.
Latrell: That there’s actually an underground hip-hop community that really supports each other and is propelling each other to get to the next platform. For example, it’s how Cousin Stizz got his way up. There is actually a community here, but there’s not a lot of support for those communities. A lot of his upcoming came from basement parties, illegal basement apartments because people wanted to be there. I was in one of those basements, and it’s 300 people wall-to-wall, sweaty, no ventilation, because there’s actually something there. But we don’t have the places that support it. Hopefully, we do get those things in 10 years. Smaller venues would be the best thing that we can ever get. Two hundred capacity or 150, because that’s how you grow your core audience and that’s how you groom the artists of the future. And that’s how you groom a Lollapalooza here.
Gil: When I think about 10 years from now, I think it could change with the right kind of leadership that centralizes thinking about how we coordinate all this wonderful stuff so that it’s not eating each other. At the same time, I don’t actually care about that because I feel like the responsibility of all of these organizations is to keep producing art with integrity and interest.
Boston 2028: FASHION | FOOD | FITNESS | PERFORMING ARTS
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