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Company One was founded as an artistic collective, meaning that decisions about the organization are made democratically by the company members as a group. C1 has grown a lot over the past seasons, and Boston has had its own share of changes in recent years, so this week we are chatting about what it means to be a collective right now in this city, what it means to our company’s identity, and how we can be a better collective as we continue to grow.
Last year, American Theatre Magazine ran this article by Eliza Bent examining collectives, especially focused on Kansas City Actors Theatre. The article opened with some historical context about this particular type of model, and a great (if somewhat bleak) question to frame some of our conversation:
Collectives have a considerable and varied history in American theatre. From the legendary Group Theatre to Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company, a mission of shared responsibility has been guiding like-minded U.S. companies for nearly 100 years. While each of these collectives can be distinguished according to membership, mission and moment in time, they have faced similar challenges—the promotion of an artistic identity, establishing a presence in a community and the necessity for fiscal solvency. Often it’s been the fiscal challenge that has obliged collectives to dissolve. This occurred with the Group, when in the late 1930s its celebrated actors left the organization for more lucrative hiring opportunities in Hollywood and the commercial theatre. A more recent and broadly emblematic example can be seen in the termination during the 1970s of permanent acting ensembles at America’s regional theatres—the era’s fiscal realities forced theatres to job-in casts on a show-by-show basis.
On this front, not much has changed. In fact, operating a theatre collective today is harder than ever. This stark reality begs the following question: Can a collective achieve artistic and economic success in the contemporary American theatre—and, if so, what is a potential model for accomplishing those goals?
As we think about that question, here are a few others to consider:
- — What aspects of C1 feel most like a collective?
- — What aspects of C1 feel least like a collective?
- — Why is is important that we have a collective ethos?
- — How is our collective ethos communicated to our audience and artists?
- — If you could improve one thing about how we function collectively, what would it be?