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The announcement came last Monday morning:
The bad news: Without a $2 million miracle, the Arizona Theatre Company could be shutting its doors- “winding down operations and cancelling the 50th Anniversary season.”
The good news: Those of us on this year’s Summer On Stage staff will not be affected. The program is fully funded and will proceed as planned.
I’ve been trying to write this ever since then and I still don’t quite know what to think or where to start. How do I describe the tangled relationship I’ve had with this company without just laying out my whole life-story? How do I speak to the heartbreak of this moment without recalling a hundred other hurts and heartbreaks that have come with working for ATC over the last twelve years? How do I speak of all that heartbreak without also speaking of the joys, the beauty, the sense of home this company has brought into my life?
The announcement did not surprise me. Anyone who’s kept up with ATC’s financial woes, (or the state of regional theatre in general), might have seen this coming. The news was shocking only in that, after all the strained insistence that “it’s fine, we’re fine, everything will be fine,” the company finally admitted what we in the family have felt in our guts for a while now… That is – We have come to the dying time.
As with the dying of a beloved elder, no amount of premonition makes the reality easier to bear. What makes it harder, though, is that this elder has not been handling these waning days with much grace; the memo that went out to donors on Monday read a bit more like an austere ransom note than a rally to action. As one editorial from the AZ Republic put it, “Arizona Theatre Company put the gun to its own head and said: ‘Stop me or I’ll shoot.’”
If this was a cry for help, perhaps it’s time for a little heart to heart…
I see you. And you know me. And I know you’re struggling. I know change is rolling in on every side and you’re terrified of what comes next ’cause you’ve been doing it This Way for oh so long and what if this means you’re obsolete? What if it means your time has come?
You’ve been so scared of opening up, of reaching out, of taking risks, of failing.
So the good news is: You’ve failed now.
And the better news is: Your time has come.
Brene Brown calls Midlife the time “when the Universe grabs your shoulders and tells you ‘I’m not f-ing around, use the gifts you were given.’” So, here you are, just hitting fifty, and your time has come.
It’s time to stop f-ing around, stop holding yourself and the Art you love hostage. It’s time to look up from your bottom line and see the true wealth at your disposal. Your friend Debi* made some good points in her letter on Friday. Money can only do so much. Money is only a tool and its lack is only ever a symptom of deeper issues. I’d say, if you can’t make due with millions, maybe the shortage isn’t monetary. In Debi’s note she said that “success requires more than a lesson in alchemy” but, there I would have to disagree: Alchemy is no simple equation.
I’d say – maybe a lesson in Alchemy is precisely what you need.
Like Theatre, Alchemy began as a sacred art. Alchemy teaches that the only way to ever-lasting life is through continual transformation. It’s not about simplistic recipes, but about recognizing the value and divine potential in all matter, about synthesizing a diverse array of elements and energies into something potent and universal. Theatre is a kind of Alchemy; both can turn Shit to Gold.
The good news: You’ve got a whole lot of shit to work with.
The better news: You’ve also got a shit-load of gold.
Until now, you may have overlooked this treasure in pursuit of “fiscal responsibility.” Until this time you may have dismissed the ingenuity, creativity, and passion of those within your ranks. Until now you may have catered to wealthy donors while ignoring the richness of language, culture, and story that grows wild in your own home town.
But your time has come.
We need you now.
And you need us.
We who are your community, your family, your lifeblood, we who can make 2 million miracles with our bare hands.
We need you now.
And you need us.
We are the elixir of life that you have been seeking. We do not need you to feed us culture. We need you to see that it exists here already. We need you to listen. We need your ear, your voice, your vision. We need your heart. We need you to recognize the divine that dwells in this desert place and in the art of Theatre. We need you to honor our stories and share them with the world.
Die only as much as you have to, ATC.
Rest just as much as you must.
This dying time calls forth new life.
Your time has come.
* Debi Chess Mabie, Executive Director of Tucson Pima Arts Council (in the newsletter)