The denizens of San Jose are already known to be among the wealthiest, on average, in the nation. Now, an article in this month’s Atlantic Monthly identifies us as the most highly educated large city in the country, based on the number of college graduates per capita. This is very good news for all of us. I would expect that such statistics would translate into a population that is the most supportive of arts and culture in America, financially and intellectually. However, I am not so sure when I look at the continuing problems of the Rep Theater.
Certainly, the institution has been mismanaged from the top, given that they were unable to reach fundraising goals and subsequently make do financially on what they did raise. But, why have they not been able to reach their fundraising goals in the first place? They weren’t entirely unrealistic, given the importance of the institution to the community and the past history of the Rep.
Some of the Rep’s productions may leave many patrons scratching their heads, including me, but they are the town’s number one professional theater company and meeting the public’s expectations that the Rep should cater to their wide range of aesthetic points of view is an impossible task. And, as has been suggested by some, the solution is not for the company to resort to appealing to the lowest common denominator by importing a never-ending series of Andrew Lloyd Webber extravaganzas. Programming is not the biggest factor in the financial condition of the Rep; the theater is doing its best to present highly polished professional productions that have recognized value not merely as easy entertainment but as thought-provoking experiences too. It’s a balancing act, as I have said before, and, perhaps, some years the whole thing goes a little flat or bumpy. We should be taking a more long-term view of the institution’s value. The economic success of this valley was built on innovation developed through years of intellectual struggle coupled with the human ability to learn from failure, and it seems logical that our top stage company falls into a similar pattern in their annual season of productions at times.
The Rep Theater is an important cultural institution in our city. Why isn’t the population—and resident corporations—adequately supporting it with their wealth and educated attendance? As I wrote in a recent column, financial and operational management must be handed over to a more professional and highly capable group of specialists. Will enough supporters step up to the plate to save the theater and insure its future in the city if this happens? I have my nagging doubts, but, given our population’s award-winning wealth and education, there is hope. Scott Herhold suggested in the Mercury News this week that the board should hire an omnipotent “special master” for a year to make changes and decide whether the Rep can be salvaged. I think this is a good idea, but I would say the person needs to be more “miracle worker” than dictator. However, I believe that such a person, with the dedicated help of the community, would have a good chance of finding a way to save the Rep—and not entirely through the public purse.