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Other Blogs: Lessons From Newt Gingrich on How to Make America Love Performing Arts

Posted August 21st, 2013
Good people.

Good people.

A few months ago,, a new website covering Philadelphia theater and arts, re-publsihed an old blog post of mine from 2011 titled Lessons from Newt Gingrich: or how we in the theatre and dance communities can stop acting like losers and learn to make the nation love us. The article (originally published in the currently dormant, spurred by going through an old stack of New Yorkers and reading a profile of John Bohner, details his mentor Newt’s rise to prominence and his ability to change the course of a defeated Republican Party largely through rhetoric and looks to apply that same thinking to the performing arts. Rereading the article recently, I thought, wow, there’s some pretty good stuff in there that continues to be super-relevent.

Lessons from Newt poses a number of the following questions: “How often have you heard that performing arts are dying, that we’re a niche market, that you can never make a living off of it, that we’re a charity case? That dance and theatre will never be the way it used to? Have you ever caught yourself saying, as an excuse for some failure or inability to accomplish a simple task or even some slightly unseemly arrangement in your programming: well, you have to understand, that’s life in the performing arts.”

And goes on:

“Do you accept as given that theatre and dance will never be as culturally or socially as relevant as TV or film? Has it ever bothered you, that whether through foundation giving or corporate giving or the generosity of patron saints, that you have geared your programming, and by dint your organization, to appease the money that comes from those aforementioned sources, as oppose to appeasing your artistic vision and audiences? Yet you still make the spurious claim that you are not commercial because you have sold out to your funding “partners” as oppose to Dentyne?”

Who should come to the rescue of this dilemma? Newt Gingrich, that’s who! To quote from The New Yorker profile upon which Lessons is based:  “After Newt Gingrich served a few terms as a member of the Republican minority in Congress, a circumstance he detested, he devised a plan to achieve what most of his colleagues could scarcely conceive—a Republican majority in the House. Gingrich believed that the G.O.P. had been the minority party for so long—ever since the first Eisenhower Administration—that Republicans had lost the ability to imagine themselves as anything else.” (My emphasis.)

newt-has-advice-for-philadelphia-theaterNewt, after securing his power base, taught his neo-con apostles how to speak. Again, from The New Yorker article: “One of GOPAC’s most effective tools was an audio instruction series, teaching conservatives to communicate their program in the pithy style mastered by Gingrich himself. The mail-order audiotapes included specific phrases, recorded by Gingrich himself, that listeners were to memorize, and repeat every opportunity until they had internalized the message: ‘You favor a political revolution. You want to replace the welfare state with an opportunity society. You favor workfare over welfare. You want to lock prisoners up and you’re actually prepared to give up some political pork barrel to build as many prisons as you need.’”

So look, you may not be a Newt fan, but neither was I, and then I thought more about it. Let’s read what I came up with thanks to Newt!

“The performing arts community needs to convene into little soviets and discover new ways to talk about dance and theatre, ways that are not defeatist in nature, that doesn’t thank people for their support, as much as for being a fan. That a show was not made possible because of the generous donations by so-and-so and such-and-such, but that the show was made possible by the artists who created the fucking thing. That dance and theatre are not dying art forms but thriving art forms just by the fact that I am putting on a show that’s really fucking cool, motherfuckers. Stop thanking people for keeping performing arts alive in Philadelphia but thank them for being part of such an awesome performing arts scene in Philadelphia.

“Take out all those apologetic and subservient words and language that are used to talk about performing arts and performing arts companies, and start talking about the work that is being created and how it is the next big thing. Start using language that values performing arts for its own merits and not just how it funding the arts allows restaurants to sell cocktails to the patrons.”

And it goes on with other points of great interest and occasional profanity–you can read the full article here! Thought written a couple of years back, the ideas of this article seem just as relevant today, two more years down the road, deeply involved in the performing arts scene in Philadelphia. As a community we have yet to come out of the mindset of being subservient, downtrodden, and willing to settle for the crumbs. We need to think of ourselves as leaders and start acting–and speaking–the way Newt would have us do.

–Said Johnson