Making Art

February 11, 2010

By Matt Ocks, Manager of Institutional Giving

This past weekend may have been Super Bowl Sunday, treat but the week started with PTI Monday for all of us in the Philadelphia theatre community.

PTI is short for Philadelphia Theatre Initiative, a grant program made possible by the Pew Charitable Trusts and the University of the Arts. Every year the Arden and other companies in town submit in depth proposals for funding of projects of the highest artistic caliber.

The Arden’s past PTI projects include some of our finest work (in my opinion): Assassins, Candide and my personal favorite Arden show, Caroline, or Change. This year PTI is helping us to make Sunday in the Park with George a reality. That show has a pretty famous number called “Putting it Together” in which George remarks, “art isn’t easy.”

Having worked in professional theatre for 4 years, I can honestly say George is right.

And he’s also wrong.

At the end of a reading we held last week, I went up to talk to an actor who happens to be a pal of mine. I asked about what shows he was working on these days. I remarked that he must be tired, as he has a lot on his plate. “Eh,” he said to me. “Beats working for a living.”

Actors, designers, grant writers. We do all work very hard, often for meager pay, on projects we have a deep personal connection to, the success or failure of which hinges upon the opinion of a select group of others who probably don’t feel as connected to what we’re working on as we do. (We rehearse each play 52 hours a week for a month after all. Audiences are with it a few hours, tops).

But in spite of the blood, sweat and egos, theatre people are pretty lucky. We get to work on things we are passionate about. We get to use our imaginations every day. And if we’re in rehearsal or production, we don’t have to show up on Monday.

When Stephen Sondheim wrote that lyric – “art isn’t easy” – back in the early 1980s, he couldn’t have known how prophetic it was. Funding for the arts was getting scarce then, but nation-wide it’s even worse now. We lost a generation of audiences because of cutbacks on arts programs in schools. The budget for the NEA was nearly cut in half in 1996. This year, due to the state of the economy…well, that’s beating a dead horse, isn’t it?

Besides, in Philadelphia, we theatre people are – dare I repeat myself – lucky. Thanks to grant programs like PTI, we can still take risks and advance our company.

The process is, of course, highly competitive. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the first deadline this year fell between the Super Bowl and the start of the Olympics.

In the art of making art, PTI pushes theatre folk to truly go for the gold.

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