Monday, January 11, 2010

Let's Be Honest

Last Friday KPRC reported that Stages Repertory Theatre owes the city more than $350,000 in back rent. In an amazing display of evasion, both the city and the reporter ignored the facts of the situation.

The report calls Stages the home of the avant-garde, which is just a nice way of saying disgusting bullshit that nobody wants to pay money to see. Why else is the theatre several years behind in rent? The fact is, the theatre cannot attract enough paying customers to pay its rent.

The report blames the recession for a decrease in donations to the theatre. But the recession started in December 2007, approximately 2 years after Stages stopped paying rent. What was their excuse then? Could it be that they were producing plays that nobody wanted to pay money to see?

Consider one of the items on their current bill: Southern Rapture. Their web site describes this as:
[A] wickedly funny look at the intersection between artists and audiences, and the delicate contract theatres have with their communities.
I suppose it might be kind of humorous, but the joke is on the community. The community has been subsidizing Stages for years, in the form of free rent. Apparently, the "delicate contract" is one that can be unilaterally breached by theatres. A contract that is not honored or enforced is worthless. It is not a contract, but merely a pretense. For anyone--Stages, the city, or KPRC--to pretend otherwise is to place their desires above the facts.

The city spokesman in the KPRC report says that the city would not have worked with Stages if it did not think that the theatre "would work". So? The city thought, driven by its politically correct agenda, that a theatre presenting bullshit avant-garde productions would work, and when year after year went by and it didn't pay its rent, it clung to this delusion. The inability to pay one's rent is a pretty clear sign that things are not working.

The interesting thing about this is that it occurred under the watch of Bill White, the businessman turned mayor. If White had operated a business on this principle, he would not have been a businessman for long. If he had owned rental property, and permitted a tenant to avoid paying rent for 4 years without being evicted, his cash flow from that property would have been in the toilet. Which ironically, is apparently where Stages threw its rental agreement. And that is appropriate, given what they produce.

When contacted by the station, the former mayor issued this response:
My administration never indicated that it would be acceptable for Stages to avoid payment of rent.... I was told that the Board was working on a financing plan to either get current on the rent or buy the building. The City of Houston has and does support some of the arts and cultural activities important to the city...
This captures the essence of the city's position. Stages was deemed important and its delinquency was tolerated. But important to whom? It certainly hasn't been important to the citizens of Houston--that is evident by the fact that they have not voluntarily paid to attend performances at the theatre. City officials deemed Stages important despite the actions of Houstonians.

Apparently, city officials think that they know better than the citizens (it certainly wouldn't be the first time). Apparently, city officials think that it is important to have an avant-garde theatre, even if nobody attends. It makes us look cosmopolitan, just like light rail. And to city officials appearance to others is far more important than protecting our rights.

City officials have previously used appearance as an excuse to attempt to legislate billboards out of existence. As one anti-billboard advocate put it when the city was considering tougher restrictions on signs, "This will help make us look a lot more like the other great cities in the nation and in the world." The fact that such laws violate our property rights and destroys jobs is irrelevant.

Houston's economy has been one of the most vibrant in the nation for decades. A primary reason for this has been the city's relative respect for property rights. The city has become the envy of "the other great cities in the nation and in the world." But apparently, this is not an image that city officials deem important or worthy of protection.


Anonymous said...

Dear Brian Philips,

Even though your point comes across and you are technically right, the way you express yourself cancels your argument out. Yes, Stages Repertory Theatre is not paying its rent and should be, but the problem isn't that, "the theatre cannot attract enough paying customers to pay its rent." The problem is people like you who refuse to be a little more open minded about avant-garde theatre. Without any sort of experience that makes you remotely qualified to be making these judgements you reach obscure conclusions like, "Stages, the home of the avant-garde, which is just a nice way of saying disgusting bullshit that nobody wants to pay money to see," which simply make you come off as arrogant.

I would love to know if you've ever seen a piece of theatre other than a Broadway Musical which even a fly could follow? As someone who has experienced a fair amount of experimental pieces and enjoys their stimulating nature I was terribly offended by the way you worded your argument. Growing up in Europe I was exposed to plenty avant-garde performances. Even though I cannot call myself a professional, I do consider myself an active theatre member. I'm training for a career in theatre, I have watched theatre from all over the world and I always try to stay respectful and open-minded towards various different styles. If everyone shared your parochialism, theatre and art would have stopped at realism. Art is such a gift to society in how influential it can be that if we remained static on Stanislavsky and Ibsen that could have quite possibly stunted our modern days growth.

I can understand how avant-garde theatre is not for everyone (mostly because they simply have a preconceived notion of what it is and have difficulty allowing themselves to understand it) but by disrespecting it, and in this case disregarding the people that appreciate it, you come off as a narrow-minded, rude man. But I guess the positive side is that at least I'm the only one to have read this blog entry!

Brian Phillips said...

Dear Anonymous,
You say that I am right but the way I express myself cancels out my argument. That is just another way of saying the style is more important than substance. In other words, the truth doesn't matter if I deliver it in a manner that you find arrogant.

I find it interesting that you want to blame people like me for the failure of Stages. Since we don't find value in avant-garde theatre it's our fault that Stages can't pay its rent.

You aren't content to let "my type" voluntarily support our own values. Instead, you want to force us to support your values. And you have the audacity to call me arrogant.