Thursday, November 6, 2008

Ballard bombs away

Laurence Ballard is letting the theater establishment have it with both barrels. Ballard, the no-longer-based-in-Seattle actor, is interviewed by Tim Appelo in the October issue of Seattle City Arts magazine.

Ballard has skipped town for a teaching gig at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia. The reasons are simple: a living wage, health plan, pension, and summers off. Ballard worked full-time as an actor last year, and pulled in about $25K. He's mad as hell at those who run theater companies, and blasting away.

"I don't give a rat's ass anymore," Appelo quotes Ballard, "because I've left the plantation. I can talk about what they do at the Big House now!"

What they do, in Ballard's view, is take complete advantage of actors and make it well nigh impossible for an artist to make any sort of living on the stage. As Mr. Wiggin in Monty Python's "Architect Sketch" might put it, they "don't care a tinker's cuss for the struggling artist." Or the great one; Ballard earned his meager salary as a critically acclaimed actor working at the top of the scale -- a scale that hasn't changed a penny in 15 years.

Appelo calls Ballard "one of the best actors I've seen in 30 years as a critic." Weisenheimer has only been a "critic" since starting this blog this summer, but I've seen Ballard in a great number of memorable shows in 17 years of attending Seattle stage productions. I share Appelo's assessment.

The performance that really sticks with me is Ballard's brilliant, over-the-top performance as Roy Cohn in Intiman's Angels in America productions (that's Ballard in a Chris Bennion photo from Angels above). He was also part of a hilarious Arms and the Man, a solid Measure for Measure, did a fabulous turn as George Bernard Shaw in Dear Liar, and has starred in numerous other fine productions at Intiman.

Going through old playbills at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival recently, we spotted some photos of him from his time there. I sure wish we'd seen those plays. Perhaps we'll get a chance to see him there, or in Seattle, again some day. Appelo points out that Ballard wanted to do a show in Seattle this summer, but the schedules didn't work out, and adds that the actor has been in conversations about doing a show with Intiman's Bart Sher -- but on the Broadway stage, not here. Alas.

Ballard admits in the article that he doesn't have the answers. At a minimum he says management should value the talent -- the actual product of the theater company. He also suggests many more low-cost, pay-what-you-can performances to fill empty seats. Would the model work? Might be worth a try.

1 comment:

Becky said...

One thing I discovered at the end of my college experience was that right-brained people don't get paid nearly as much as left-brained people. Why is that?

The right-brains - artists, actors, musicians, writers, philosophers - struggle through life, practically begging for attention...and money.

The lefties - engineers, doctors, scientists, businesspeople - soar through life as though nothing could be easier...and make a bundle of money doing it.

As a right-brained person - and a musician and a writer - this angers and confuses me. Anyone have any thoughts as to why we don't seem to value right-brained folks as highly as left-brained folks?