Time is an Illusion
Posted by Chris Coleman | 28 January 2013
I remember many years ago being asked to perform as part of the Alliance Theater Company's 25th anniversary celebration in Atlanta. I had played Marvin in their production of Falsettos, which had set a box office record at the time, so it was an honor to be asked. Especially as I'd grown up going to see productions at Atlanta's largest theater company, for as long as I could remember. And at the time, it seemed like 25 years was ancient. It seemed like a realllllly old theater company.
Perspective is everything.
When I heard a staff member share at the opening night of Sweeney Todd that I had served as Portland Center Stage's artistic director for nearly half of its life, I had a sort of out-of-body experience.
How could that be? I just got here yesterday, right?
It's so strange to look back and remember that when I first interviewed for the job, in October of 1999, Portland Center Stage was still performing in the Newmark Theater, had an annual operating budget of just over $3 million, and had only become an independent company five years earlier. We mounted six productions in one venue.
I remember being struck at the time by a goal in the company's strategic plan that it hoped to be considered "one of the city's major
arts organizations." As an outsider it seemed strange that the city's largest theater would even be thinking about this, but when you
realize how very young the company was, it makes some sense. We
were still a teenager.
In 1999, the dream of a new home for PCS was about a desire for performance spaces that suited the aesthetic hopes of its leadership.
But it was also about autonomy, and the opportunity to vigorously experiment with forging new and more dynamic relationships with
the people of this extraordinarily idiosyncratic city.
Today, sitting in my office nestled beneath the roof of the Armory,
it's kind of amazing to look back on the distance we've traveled.
Last season the company performed plays for more than 150,000 patrons, and saw another 39,000 citizens walk through the doors for something other than a play. The company's operating revenues will top $9 million this season, making us the third largest arts organization in the city and the fourth largest in the state. We produce ten productions each season (a total of 455 performances), in two venues, and oversee an additional 300 community events. More than 19,000 people participated in one of our education or outreach programs.
Ten years ago less than 2% of our audience was between the ages of 25 and 35, while today that number is closer to 18%.
We are no longer a teenager.
But in many ways, it feels like we are just getting started. We've made enormous progress in terms of putting more dynamic work onstage, and in terms of forging more varied relationships in the community. But oh my, how much farther we have to go! How many more communities we have to welcome into our doors, and how much more deeply and boldly we can explore the stories we're bringing to life.
You'd think we might get tired after awhile. But . . .
At lunch the other day, one of our patrons said to me, "When my wife and I had our kids, we started bringing them to the theater at about the age of four. We put them in the front row, and they sat, mouths open, deeply involved. Some people thought it was too early, but I believe that what you do in the theater is offer a window. A window into the broad tapestry of what it means to live a human life. We all get so wound up in the very narrow journey we are walking on, so it's never too early to begin seeing that our individual ourney is only one tiny, tiny slice of the whole. That's what you do: you open windows."
You never get tired of hearing things like that.