Today the British Council will announce the Young Creative Entrepreneur award program for 2009-2010. The program is open to people between ages 25-25 working in publishing, fashion, music, and theater. One of the judges, Lyn Gardner, says to her colleagues in the theater, “we are still quite squeamish about the idea of people who
not only have a demonstrable passion for the arts, but who are also
capable of seeing the arts as a business like any other,” adding, “[o]ur greatest playwright was a commercial playwright working for a commercial management.”
Gardner is right to challenge the notion that penury is the necessary accompaniment to any serious artistic endeavor. It should be noted, however, that for sound business reasons the Globe Theatre was located outside the London city limits. A canny British theater entrepreneur would be more likely to look in a colorless suburb like Enfield rather than in overpriced London. Locating a theater where there’s plenty of parking is sound business, but hardly the kind of venture to restore the glory of the British stage.
Also, even in the commercial realm our most glamorous cultural products are subsidized by more prosaic, and often less desirable, commodities. Restaurants make their money not on the food but on the liquor. Bakeries survive only when they sell coffee. Movies are vehicles to sell popcorn. Television shows are vehicles to sell commercials. Bookstores sell an amazing array of junk only tangentially related to books themselves. Even Shakespeare’s plays at the Globe were performed with a variety of other acts, like singing and dancing. The idea that Shakespeare somehow magically persuaded his audiences to pay money to do nothing else but sit in hushed reverence is sheer wishful thinking. Anyone who can figure out how to make money just by selling the artistic product by itself deserves a Nobel Prize in economics, not just a prize from the British Council.