Sarah Benson Reps Soho Rep

02/01/2012 6:00 AM |

Just to play devil's advocate for a minute—why grow at all? Why is growth important?
I feel like theater is a very privileged form and a huge part of that is that the only people who can afford to make theater are the people who have the cultural capital and who practically don't need to be earning a lot of money. That's a giant problem. We have to be able to start paying people close to a real living wage. This is something we run into all the time. Designers are doing more shows than they would like to because they can't get paid enough. So they're taking on two or three shows too many a year, which just makes them spread too thin on every show that they're working on. And I think for a theater of our size, we've made a real priority to pay people as much as we can.

So that, for you, is a big reason behind the impulse for financial growth—to be able to return some of that investment to the artists.
That's giant. Absolutely. And, you know, to be able to pay our staff is huge. I feel like people in arts administration, across the board, are drastically underpaid. And I want for our audience to connect to more of our work. It's frustrating that we have all this incredible work in the pipeline and we can only produce a portion of that. And I feel passionate about more people seeing the work we do. I think it's powerful, I think it connects with the world, I think it transforms people, and I want for more people to be able to experience that. I mean, we love the small house. We looked in the strategic plan at growth in that sense and, you know, I don't think we would want to be in a much bigger house at all. Maybe we would go up a little bit, but not very much at all. The intimate experience and what that does to the live performer-audience relationship is so huge, and creating that charge and creating that powerful experience is such a big part of what we do. But I want more people to experience that. And that means more shows, longer runs, higher running costs and all that.

Do you feel like your 99 cent ticket program succeeded in getting new audiences? I mean, it's got to be hard because it's a lot of artists and existing audience members who know about it.
It's hard. We're trying something new this year. Traditionally we put them online and they sell out in minutes. So what we're trying this time is an at-the-door approach. And doing more street team marketing. We're hoping that kind of cracks it open.

Last month there was a panel discussion at the Under the Radar festival about the divisions between contemporary performance that comes out of the visual art tradition and contemporary performance that comes out of theater and dance. One thing that came up in the discussion, from the artist David Levine, was his feeling that he was unable to innovate in the theater, in part, because of the hierarchical structures it imposed on the artists involved. What do you think about that statement?
Well, I hope it's not true at Soho Rep, but I would say I definitely feel like there are institutional structures in place in some theaters that aren't necessarily encouraging innovation, because there are a lot of assumptions—that the text comes first and then the director and then the designers. And that isn't always the best way to make a play, even if the text is a central part of it.