I started thinking about the idea of " Less than Ten Years" for the world of Theatre Ensembles.
Comedic. Dramatic. Improvised. Scripted.
I was opted into a group called "Chicago 1986 - 1994"
Do you realize that is not even a ten year span of Chicago Theatre?
Reading through the "Remember this ensemble" and “Remember that improv group” is a nice trip down memory lane personally...But sort of depressing: These companies and amazing ensembles could not make it past ten years...and now a few decades later...our forty year old plus brains are trying to piece it all together again...pulling faded pictures of us in thin ties and Aquanet hair and brand new V for Vendetta T-Shirts with the cut off sleeves and jogger wrists bands...the theatre we did for a few years tops.
Thinking when we started it: This theatre is going to change the world! This company will last forever because *we are going to make it last*
...then...for some reason or another...*something happens* Then we justify:"Well, five years is a good stretch of time. We will be remembered" A last show is done. A party is thrown. Someone buys the champagne. You toast. You go home. You put the bottle in a trunk with the pictures of your shows and the reviews.
Because when we are young? Five years? Seven Years? It seems like forever in that moment. We were young theatre people who believe our work will be remembered...Only to find yourself a few decades later wondering where everyone went...not realizing the person you started the company with had children or died...and no one remembers what you have done unless you pull out that trunk, move the dusty Champaign bottle out of the way and show those faded pictures.
Or in modern day world: Point to a blurry Youtube clip someone transferred from that VHS.
I started thinking about the longevity of theatre, theatre ensembles and other forms of entertainment where you have a group of people trying to achieve a common goal: art. The ones who seem to be able to get past that ten year mark? They are generally the ones for the actual history books. Just out of basic math alone: The longer you are with something, the longer you are remembered. Even if your art is not good. Your entire crappy ensemble stuck it out together.
But when they are good and stick it out? Those are the ones for nostalgia.
In the the theatre world I trod around in (comedy), the examples are harder to find. But they are there:
The Kids in The Hall. They started in 1984. They never really broke up. Never announced they broke up. They had a tour in 2000 and again in 2008. For all purposes, Kids in The Hall have been active for twenty five years. If you are super lucky you can see half of them just hanging out at the bar at iO West. If you are super lucky...Dave Foley will kiss you on your birthday.
Yes. I'm a lucky girl.
You look at the Pythons as an example. The range of them working together went from 1969 -1983. Not them doing separate things somewhere else with say *one Python* (like a Fish Called Wanda as an example). I mean *as Monty Python* That is fourteen years.
The less time you have as an ensemble or a theatre of rotating people? The less people will remember your lineage.
Everyone knows the lineage of The Second City. Everyone. They have been around (with original founders still hanging on) for over fifty years. The Committee? Not so much. On a good day in San Francisco you can get into a cab and you are almost assured some old man driving is going to claim he was in The Committee. And you know what? He probably was for five minutes or so before he realized that this was not his rehab session. :)
The Committee made it under the wire at nine years from 1963 to 1972. History becomes foggy and it has to be pieced carefully back together decades later because most ensembles under ten years try to not only be creative? But edgy.
All for one and one for all. Unfortunately all did not pick one to keep any concrete records.
A clique of people will remember you (the odds seem to say), if you only did your theatre for less than ten years. But people will fool themselves in that toast to your remaining members saying goodbye that anything less than ten is a long period for a theatre ensemble.
Actors Gang in Los Angeles. They are an experimental group. They have been around since 1981. This was when Tim Robbins was just some actor who wasn't even really doing movies or television.
They turn thirty years next year. The same age of the people toasting goodbye with the thirty six year old making the goodbye speech now...after hanging it up with their experimental group of seven years.
I await the day an ensemble that once upon a time touted being edgy, communal on the forefront of art (and who had a color flow chart wheel of who gets to be responsible for stuff) who was around for only six years and walks up on Tim Robbins and says "Well, our experimental ensemble lasted for six years! We had a flow chart wheel of responsibility! That was a pretty long time to be together, right?" One would only assume Mr. Robbins will smile politely and walk slowly away from them. Backwards.
Longevity means something. It means quite a bit. It means you have put yourself fully into something and completely. I have usually found that companies that do not last the ten year theory (unless it was completely planned they were going to disband before ten years, which in my memory I have never seen occur) is not disbanding because they feel they have succeeded.
They are disbanding because something has failed.
It could be a literal deluge of circumstances, but the underlying base is simple: Something broke down and failed.
Sometimes it is just as simple as the ultimate ones on the negative tip: “We don't wish to be edgy anymore. We actually now just want to have an actual PR Person, Theatre Booking Agent, Artistic Director and a person to clean the toilet instead of someone missing their turn on the ‘Color Wheel of Responsibility’ We don’t want to do this with this group of people anymore. Especially the guy who keeps missing his turn on the ‘Color Wheel of Responsibility.’”
Could be As simple as "Well...we are not fighting anyone anymore who got us angry enough to start this company...we win, so lets go home"
Could be as base as "I’m bored” or “I just found a new girlfriend/boyfriend” or “I just had a baby I got more important things to do”
All are just in their own ways. Some might not be in some folks mind. Something has failed that ensemble. It's a horrible shocking reality to write. But truth hurts. It is not failure if after three years something like death to a main company member or death to an entire ensemble occurs. The only instance where it is not failure. That is when it is tragedy.
There is also something depressing to be said if you have ever attended the end of an ensemble final show/party/toast if it is less than ten years. That vibe in the room that has hints of "This is depressing" with splats of smirky "knew they couldn't keep it together" with blurts of "Can I now have sex with her now that we are not working together?"
You never get that vibe with a company that is disbanding that has been past ten years. Gravity is actually in the room. Actual crying. In this day and age: More than three people have posted on your comment section on your website and at least 90% of them have not been involved in the ensemble at one point or another.
Over ten years? It feels like a funeral. Under ten years? It feels like you have been asked to move your friend’s furniture out before the landlord comes.
Less than ten years in the scheme of the theatre universe is not even a drop in the Thespis bucket. For all intent and purposes the only people who will truly remember a one to nine year run theatre company are the people who were in it and the lucky audience members who saw them perform. You might be even lucky and have that one reviewer who was more a fan than a reviewer...who will remember you.
You might do a reunion show down the line. Maybe people will remember you fondly. Maybe if you are super popular after the fact, you might be a footnote in a thesis book somewhere. If you are that company member who years later became that improv guru or star on a famous show, you might talk about that at a seminar full of kids who will either look at you wistfully wondering what you were like in your mid thirties...or kids just like you back then not really giving a fuck and thinking to themselves: “This is lame as shit. Who the hell were these people, who cares and why does this old man go on and on? Now my ensemble that we just created...NOW OUR STUFF is going to break ground and last forever!”
That is if they are just like you and think that under ten years is a good stretch of time. Then the rotating guest historical theatre guest speaker talking about a forgotten group marches on. If they are not like you, this guy has probably started the new Kids in The Hall for his generation.
His generation that will watch him for a very long time and will remember him.
Less than ten years. It’s a half of a blink of an eye. In new technology abandoned Facebook Fanpages are now the faded pictures of an ensemble that could not keep it together for more than ten years. That final post of goodbye. The virtual Champaign toast of we will miss you.
Then people will forget. The page goes dark. Into the viral trunk. Until one day twenty years from now when the original members are in their 50's...someone will do a search and find that faded page of people wearing a white t-shirt under an open plaid shirt..or that girl playing Lady Macbeth where you can see that strip of pink hair and the neck tat... or that improv ensemble who spent that money they got from some lucky paying show to do a slick looking picture once upon a time in a real studio with real photography lights..and scroll down to see when the group started...and the last post and realize that this ensemble had only been around for five years?
Well. They will probably sigh a sigh and pull up a new tab and click onto what used to be Youtube to watch Monty Python Flying Circus...or they might just forgo that and head out and see the newest alternative piece from Actors Gang.
Longevity means something. And unfortunately, under ten years is not longevity.
Think about that for your last toast to your four year theatre company you are disbanding my young actors. Stop talking about possible get together’s and your hopeful future plans and how this experience you will always remember and carry on you till the day you die and hopefully the audience that saw you until their last death rattle.
Let me give you your toast speech to save some time on the future of your short lived, disbanded ensemble:
Here is to us! We didn't get past ten! I will probably make an attempt to do some stuff with the ones in this company I like the most. The rest of you? Hell. I won’t remember your name in five years. Catherine...I probably won’t remember your name in a year. You will probably bug the living shit out of everyone on wanting to do stuff with us...but more than likely we will avoid you like the annoying person you are until you give up and we never hear from you again.
I’m putting the hard copies of our reviews and the original copies of the photo shoot I paid for and no one reimbursed me for and I will never give any of you copies...in a trunk and will probably carry them around with me for a good chunk of time...opening it occasionally to the newest hot looking theatre actor conquest to impress before I boink him/her. Or possibly show to my kid to prove that I was once super on edge before I ground them for breaking open my liquor cabinet. Eventually something bad will happen to this trunk. More than likely a bad flood in my basement...or the storage unit I will not be able to pay for.
For ten years I will try to forget I was even a part of this company...but for those who consider that we had some good name recognition for our burn bright/die out company... I will use this on my resume for a good five years until people will look at it and not even care...and that is when I will start re-arranging my resume in the order of importance of what I will eventually end up doing until this company is not even mentioned.
I’m sure some of you will not even wish to be associated with this group and not use the name at all. But if any of you become famous...in time it will go back on your resume...or at least use the name of this company in your bio and let me assure you: We will *all drop that person's name like a hot stinky bag of poo. So get working on that everyone. If it is you Catherine? Yes. I will remember your name. Start working on being a star, Karen...Catherine...whatever. It’s your only hope with us at this point.”
So let’s all raise a glass! To us and the theatre we did that could not hit that Ten Year Mark! Remember when we said we were going to change the world with our theatre? Well we didn’t. Matter of fact, we just upheld an age old tradition of the stereotype of actors not being able to commit to anything for too long!
Godspeed to everyone...and lets hope someone quietly scanned some good copies of our stuff and stored them in a free safe place online so Google can pick that up...because twenty years from now someone is going to invite us to some group called Theatre 2005 - 2014. Just want to make sure we got that all together when that happens! Now lets get out of here I got to get my props from the theatre we have been doing shows at. I didn't tell them we were disbanding!
Salud! (Drinks from glass)
Then leave the bar. In a half of a blink of an eye. It will probably be the most truthful speech about a less than a decade old theatre company not lasting.
Also, be assured. That speech will probably be remembered more than any show you ever did.
Causes Shaun Landry Supports
The Alzheimer's Foundation, NAACP, Breast Cancer Foundation, Gilda's Club.