Finding ‘a balance’ in the arts

Daniel Talbott is an accomplished New York City-based actor, director, playwright, producer, literary manager and artistic director.

Originally from California, he went to Juilliard for acting, started his own theater repertory called Rising Phoenix Repertory, and wrote several acclaimed plays. He’s currently directing Lucy Thurber’s play Scarcity, one of five of her Hill Town Plays currently being produced by Rattlestick Playwrights Theater.

We were talking the other day about the Associated Press’ recent decision to cut a large chunk of opera, dance and off-Broadway coverage. Since Western New York is an artistic community, I interviewed Daniel about the current state of theater and how artists can counter this disinterest.

Q: Do you have advice for first-time writers?

A: I’m going to turn 37 in November. The older I get, the more it all goes back to the work. There’s no program or manager or agent that’s going to make or break you. I don’t mean to say that going to wonderful programs and having an amazing agent aren’t important, I just feel that you can still do your work and walk down the path that interests you, whether you go to the school you want or have the representation of your dreams. In the end you need to sit down and do the work, because that’s what art’s about. Nothing else.

Q: What goes into a theater production once you find a company?

A: It depends on how you want your piece produced. If you want to be a successful off-Broadway playwright, which is a very difficult thing to do now, then that’s a different path from you wanting to just write whatever’s in your head and heart. If you just need to get your work out there, and you’re willing to be flexible and collaborative with your means and surroundings, then production can be as simple as writing a play for your out-of-work actor friends. Have it take place on a street corner – it doesn’t cost any money to rent, and you don’t need any permits or lighting. Do that as much as you can. Then hopefully that trail of work will lead you to the theater company you dreamed of working with.

Q: Do you think more theater-specific Internet platforms would help get the word out to smaller communities?

A: I think that’s always helpful. People should know what’s going on. Not just with theater, but with artists in general. The problem is, I don’t think art is considered essential in our culture. In America, if something is important enough we go out of our way to make it important. We reward it. We pay for it. So basically, what our culture is telling us, is that art is not important. So I ask myself, “Why’s it important to me?” What I love about theater is that it’s this pure space that represents back to us everything we are in physical action, from the way it’s made, from the way it’s marketed, from the way people come and see or don’t come and see it. It’s a Truth box, and it represents back to us on every level what we are. It’s like that Hamlet quote: theater holds “the mirror up to nature.” If you’re bored with theater and you’re bored with the arts, then you’re bored with yourself, and you’re bored with your culture.

Q: Can anything be done about this boredom?

A: Artists need to go deeper. Not to say it’s fair or that we’re not making good work already, but if people are checking out, we need to make better work. We need to speak to whatever it is in culture that is checking out to us. I’ve been doing this thing lately where I create a ten-seat theater so that the audience is always full. This eliminates my need for publicity and marketing, and a huge budget, and gets me back to asking: “What is the intimate act of storytelling and sharing physical action with another human being?”

Q: Many artists need to find a balance between making art and making a living off of art. How do you find your balance?

A: I think it’s a different balance and decision for everybody. I made the decision to do this, knowing that theater does not pay. No one is holding a gun to any of our heads. Every single artist needs to ask themselves, “Is it worth the sacrifice of financial security to do this?” If you make the decision to say “yes,” then you cannot complain about it. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t make a living. I’m just saying no one owes us anything.

Sarah T. Schwab is a Sunday OBSERVER contributor and Fredonia State graduate. Send comments to

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or view her Web site at www.SarahTSchwab.com