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‘A Level of Abuse’: Laying Bare Theater’s Dirty Secrets


O’HARA There’s a comfort level where people can laugh, and then you can get behind them and show them some truths. Sometimes funny is painful; sometimes pain is funny. Sometimes the way I can deal with the institutionalized racism and homophobia and sexism and assault and harassment is to simply laugh. Because if I don’t, I will go out and harm something, or harm an individual, or say things that are harmful.

Why focus on a small Off Broadway company?

O’HARA When you think of the shows that address the theater, they’re usually about Broadway. But on Broadway you have to create your whole team every time, whereas Off Broadway and regional theater are set inside institutions. And what an institution does with creativity is never really examined.

TOWNSEND It was important to me to weave the language about money into this play. The corporate world is more a part of the nonprofit theater world than we’re really aware of. There is a connection between this corporatization of American theater and the underlying abuse that ensues because we are conducting business as if we’re inside Trump Tower. I don’t think there’s a difference between the way Michael Cohen and Donald Trump are doing business and the way people are doing business inside an administrative office. It’s the dirty secret of the American theater: These theaters are run by bank managers, by accountants, and their donors are rich people working on Wall Street.

O’HARA I have been head-hunted to see if I was interested in running an institution, and one of the most important skills they are looking for is an ability to fund-raise. For an institution to work, you have to know the lay of the land. And the lay of the land is that, although it says nonprofit, we are not trying to lose any more money — we’re trying to get as much money as possible.

What is the solution: more public funding, more division of labor between artistic and fund-raising duties?

O’HARA One of the things I think is necessary is diversity. Diversity will breed different people with different skill sets to show you different ways to run this institution. You need to disrupt the person in charge, you need to disrupt what power means and how power is distributed. That in itself will generate a new relationship to fund-raising. I don’t know very many happy artistic directors. There’s also a level of division that needs to be had: Am I going to be the artistic head and can that actually allow other people to deal with the educational and the finances and all this other stuff?

The show points out how the system has long reproduced itself.

O’HARA You have people who feel it’s OK to run an institution for 30 [expletive] years. “I’m against white supremacy but I want to run this [expletive] for 30 [expletive] years.” And I’m like, “No, get out! Go run something else!” They know who they are. And it’s unacceptable. They’re fossils.

Off Broadway

June 24-27; broad.stream/off-broadway


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