Selling Cutout Buttholes on Expensive Rods

"I'm not saying that I don't think about business, but a good businessperson probably doesn't try to sell cutout buttholes hanging on expensive rods." - Artist/Sculptor Matthew Ronay

Creating art to make money is exactly like gambling for a living. It's a question of the odds - will this particular show/horse/hand deliver? Will I make more money playing this hand than I put into the pot? How do I ensure that my investment will not only pay off but profit me?

In reading a lot of the articles on the Internet, the emphasis seems to be about this business of maximizing our ability to gain on our initial investment - to make more money on the butthole sculptures than it took to create them.

A great gambler will tell you that luck is what you make for yourself - doing the research, learning to calculate the odds instantaneously, betting smart. The fact remains, however, that the most successful gamblers are the ones with enough capital to "buy the hand" - have enough stake to bluff his way through the bad cards with a substantial enough risk to scare off his competitors.

In theater, there are very few "sure things" - shows that have a long track record of success and the financial risk involved in putting them up is nearly guaranteed to show a profit. These "sure things" are generally the kind of show that can appeal, on the surface level, to the largest percentage of the public. A revival of a known success ("Sweeney Todd," "Measure for Measure," "The Odd Couple," "Wicked") have a certain built-in marketability, kind of a NEW AND IMPROVED quality. Those who bank on shows like these often have enough stake to "buy the house" (ie. spend so much money on venue, production value, marquee talent, and advertising that the bluff pays off).

Truth is often a happy accident in our blitzed out, overly marketed world. Connection with an idea is the gravy, not the meat. For most audiences, the meat is the advertising campaign, the recognizable names on the marquee, the cultural importance of being at an event that draws a big crowd. I submit that Peter Brooks' DEADLY THEATRE is still winning the game.

For those still in the game to create new theater, unheard of plays, self-indulgently putting their opinions and ideas out there on the chopping block, this is not good news. It has become self-evident that theater comprised of challenging ideas has been steamrolled over by "the industry" of commercial theater. The job of the artist has begun to shift - in order to make his name in the world, he must work to become a great artist AND a great businessman; he must be able to create a brilliant play AND a brilliant marketing campaign. Most often one of the two sides of the coin suffers.

Why do administrators get paid more than actors? Because the focus of American Theater is to make money. The primary discussions of almost any theater company inevitably becomes dominated by talk of securing the venue (money), raising funds to pay for the show (money), ways to put asses in seats (money). Those few individuals who attempt to eliminate these aspects from their work altogether burn out very quickly, feeling their art is under-appreciated. Those who spend the majority of their time on these aspects create awesome marketing campaigns for weak, sub-par art.

It is in the balance between the two that the modern American artist must stumble through to have both artistic and commercial success.