To increase empathy in our culture
We envision a culture of compassion in which humanity's tendency to judge and alienate those that are different is replaced by a desire to understand and empathize. We believe that new stories from diverse cultures help us approach this vision and that sharing these stories in the theater is the most compelling and effective way we can effect change.
For our first 5 years we plan on producing one locally written, directed, designed and acted play from a variety of cities in the U.S. We will tour these plays across the country and give local artists a national audience.
In 20 years we'd like to have a network that supports producing many plays in many cities every year. Each year we'll produce a kind of travelling Fringe Festival. It is our hope that a person living in, let's say, Omaha, could see a play from St. Louis one weekend, Seattle the next, then Tampa, Boston, and so on...
If we choose plays that speak to culturally relevant topics and that ask our audiences to consider a new perspective we will inevitably end up increasing our ability to empathize.
Our commitment to increasing empathy extends well beyond the stage. We've tried to create a business model that forces us to practice empathy during every phase of the production process. This manifests itself in several ways.
First, as a cooperative we've decided to forego the traditional hierarchy that exists in most theaters. We don't have an Artistic Director that dictates the season each year. Our Ambassadors propose plays that they believe speak to our mission and we make a collective decision about which play would be best to produce. This dissemination of power forces us to use empathic communication to achieve our most basic function: producing new work.
Second, we rely on the communities we visit to fund, feed, and house us during our tours. We have no other source of funding; we don't apply for grants; and this year we aren't accepting gifts larger than $500. We like to think of it as operating on the gift economy. By continually asking for what we need we receive feedback about the relevance of our work and create opportunities for empathic exchanges outside the performance space.
Additionally, we operate in a land somewhere between the non-profit and for-profit world. We aren't a 501(c)3, and don't have plans to become one. We also don't identify with the for-profit culture because stressing about the bottom line isn't how we like to spend our time. Every year we figure out how much money we need to accomplish our current projects. We raise that amount and not any more. Most of the money we make from ticket sales goes to pay the members of the cooperative. Anything that's left over after taxes gets invested in infrastructure. We're basically a for-profit whose goal is to break even. We don't want to take more than we need because that would create an impediment for empathy.
First, in the most literal sense, we like to move around. If we’re going to have a meaningful impact on our culture we're going to need to reach more than the few hundred people in our respective hometowns. So, we take our shows on the road, circus-style, and share with friends and soon-to-be-friends in other cities.
Second, for many people the word “transient” is synonymous with homeless, vagrant or vagabond; words that carry negative connotations and indicate people living on the fringe of our society. These people are a constant reminder of the lack of empathy in our world. By awakening our sense of connection to those around us, we hope that our audiences will look at this word again and find what they have in common with the guy sleeping on the sidewalk.
Third, as our friend Barbara says, “We’re here for a good time, not a long time.” For a lot of people it’s easier to ignore the fact that they’ll be gone in 50 or so years, and totally forgotten in 100 or so. At Transient Theater we are greatly disturbed by this. As a result we spend a lot of time thinking about ways in which we can have a positive lasting effect on our culture in the short time that we have.
Finally, unlike most theater groups, Transient Theater does not have a group of core artists. We are an ever-changing collection of producing artists who come and go from season to season. This internal transience allows us to constantly explore new voices in the many artistic communities where we have contacts.