by DANI OLIVER
[dropcap]It’s[/dropcap] a memory worth documenting. When Bill Bordy walked into the LA STAGE Alliance offices in Atwater a few months ago, we – that is, the LA STAGE staff – were having one of those days.
If you’ve ever worked at a nonprofit organization, you know that there are days of extraordinary fulfillment, when your actions are in sync with your mission and you can see the progress, or even the payoff, within the community you’re working to serve. And other days… well, they seem marred by futility. There’s never enough time. There’s never enough money. There are decisions you feel backed into a corner to make, and you lose sight of the why in the muck of it all.
This was one of the latter, and it was a doozy. If I remember correctly, a quiet hysteria had bled into our office by the early afternoon. Crystal was buried in a pile of manila folders that I didn’t even have the courage to inquire about. Mark was staring at his laptop screen in this funny way he does sometimes — head tilted, eyes slightly buggy and mouth open. Julie had just finished a call that had launched her into (what I lovingly refer to in my head as) muttering-mode, and Terence had crept silently into his office and hadn’t emerged for hours. And me? Covered in sticky notes, as per usual, hair giant and frizzed from a combination of physical and mental fidgeting.
And then I got a phone call. A Mr. Bordy was on the line, asking me if he could kindly drop by, see our offices, talk to us about our programs. Okay.
More than once, I’ve caught myself explaining last year’s closure of LA STAGE Times by using the words, “We lost our journalism program.” To me and, I think, to many members of the L.A. performing arts community, it really did feel like a moment of jarring subtraction – as if we had accidentally let slip the string of our shiny red balloon and could do nothing but watch it float away.
The news came just a month after the LA Weekly had declared it was significantly cutting back on its theatre coverage, so when we made the announcement that our own publication was shutting down, it seemed like the final kick-in-the-gut surrender.
It’s been a year now. And somewhere in the ping-pong between more tribulations and points of progress, I’ve come to realize that these words – “loss,” and “surrender” – are from the wrong set of vocabulary. Our journalism program did not wander off. LA STAGE Times did not cease to exist. It was halted, with intention, and we were the ones who did it. And we didn’t do it because we threw our hands in the air or ran out of ideas; we took action because we had a problem – a sustainability problem – that we determined was both financially unwise and operationally unhealthy to continue. In short, it took me a while to realize, we were playing offense. Not defense.
I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t know what Drama-Logue was before Mr. Bordy arrived. He called me on it, too. “I’m sure you don’t know,” he said. “You’re too young.”
He was right. I am of an age where I can confidently say I’ve picked up fewer than thirty actual newspapers in my life. I barely remember a time before internet, and I certainly don’t remember a time before computers. I sent my first fax a couple months back, and I was only half-kidding when I yelled into the machine, “HELLO, CAN YOU HEAR ME?” to amuse my coworkers.
When Mr. Bordy walked into Terence’s office to discuss what we’d later find out was a possible resuscitation, I did what all good millennial adults do. I googled furiously, and I read everything I could find on Drama-Logue.
Within a few weeks of that initial conversation, Mr. Bordy had finalized a multi-year gift of funding for LA STAGE to bring back our journalism program. That doozy of a day is now a surreal moment in our organization’s history – the stuff of nonprofit dreams.
When we announced last year that we were pushing pause on the program, a handful of our LA STAGE Times contributors came to us and offered to write for free – telling us that the publication was more important than a paycheck. I’m not sure this sat right with any one of us, and – however grateful – we turned it down.
In case you don’t know everyone (or anyone) on the LA STAGE Alliance staff, know this: we’re all artists. We all agreed that, if our journalism program were to come back, the model would have to be reexamined significantly. But paying our team of contributors, our fellow artists, was a point of pride – however modest the sum. In making decisions about the new magazine, this point has never been removed from the table.
Other non-negotiables… our commitment to our organizational mission, which must drive each and every one of our programs, including this one – to build awareness, appreciation, and support for the performing arts, first and foremost. We also decided that, like the former iterations of this program, we would stay away from arts criticism. As a service organization, we exist to serve our members, and qualitative assessments about creative work don’t fall under our mission. We’re happy to leave reviews to the professionals.
And so, what about the program did we wish to change?