October 13, 2011

What if . . . Indie theatre played Moneyball?

There's rich teams, and there's poor teams. Then there's 50 feet of crap, and then there's us."
-- Brad Pitt as Billy Beane, Moneyball

I'm not much of a sports fan, so Moneyball was a real departure for me in terms of my normal film viewing habits. That said, I was glad I went to see it because what I saw got me thinking about the way we approach making theatre.

In the film, the Oakland A's is a major league baseball team that doesn't have the money to attract and maintain star players. When they get someone really good, they're quickly snapped up by teams that can offer a lot more money. In effect, the A's were constantly hemorrhaging talent to rich teams like the Yankees and the Red Sox.

The story starts when the A's have just lost their top three players, which they have to replace on the same limited budget they've always been operating with. Having had enough of this, General Manager Billy Beane starts to question the conventional wisdom of finding and recruiting talent. Help comes in the form of Peter Brand, a Yale economics graduate who has adapted a system for determining just how much a player can contribute to winning games. It completely goes against the old way of thinking about what matters when it comes to how baseball games are won. The system leads to the A's uncovering rare gems in major league baseball who were previously overlooked because they looked and performed differently from the square-jawed All-American ideal of what makes a great baseball player. The result was what Peter Brand called the major league baseball version of the Island of Misfit Toys. Once they were able to maximize and synergize the unique talents of these players, the A's had a 20-game winning streak.

I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this.

What if . . . we applied Moneyball thinking to off-off-Broadway theatre?

How would we take out the guesswork and bias of conventional wisdom to find what truly works for the theatre we want to make? How can we transform the way we relate to and organize with other people in the trenches with us? How can we maximize the strengths of off-off-Broadway theatre to uncover the hidden gems that get overlooked by the current way of doing things?

The way things look now, a lot of us are doing what Broadway does but on a smaller scale (in other words, cheaper). From our selection process to putting together a cast and crew to securing a venue for rehearsal and performance, there's nothing about the way we go about doing these things that separates us from the big guys. We even look for the same things when we do this, with a few cosmetic differences here and there.

We're all on the lookout for this vague thing called quality and striving for this thing we call excellence. Although this can lead to some amazing results, I sometimes wonder if this is despite the system rather than because of it.

What would happen if we took the search for quality out of the equation? What if, instead of relying on what we call talent or chemistry, we figured out a way to describe, observe, and measure what we are looking for? How would that change the way we talk about what we're trying to do? How would that change who could be involved in that process? How would that change where we worked? How we worked? Why we worked? What we worked with/on?

What I see happening is a move away from credentials and connections toward model where individuals come together to create theatre for a specific purpose in a distinctive way. Imagine more things like FUREE in Pins and Needles, things that could not happen in any other environment but one that made room for experimentation, encouraged the participation of non-specialists, and facilitated direct collaboration within communities.

At least, that's what I hope would happen.


  1. If you were adhering as closely to the Moneyball model in as direct a parallel as possible, it would mean things like:

    1) Not even asking for a headshot and resume, because as much as we like to think we're above such petty concerns in indie theatre, I know I've been guilty of "oohh, so and so studied/worked THERE." Make the audition entirely about the work. Matter of fact, post casting notices everywhere and openly solicit "non-actors" (i.e. untrained).

    2) No revivals, just original work.

    3) Waaaaay more LGBT and POC writers.

    4) No awards. Fuck a Tony, an Obie, even an IT award.

    Some of these points might be more popular than others (though we could do with (3) no matter what) but that's a rough start on how to play indie theatre Moneyball, I think.

  2. @Danny:

    Believe it or not, 1, 3, and 4 were exactly part of what I had in mind.

    Speaking of auditions, how would you go about making it entirely about the work? I can see dispensing with monologues and focusing on scene work, but what else can we do?