I am disturbed by the sheer amount of waste in the theater. I don’t mean wasted wood or fabric – although there is a helluva lot of that, too – I mean the waste of talent of all kinds.
The reality is that almost 60% of Actor’s Equity members didn’t get to use their talents in the theatre at all last year. That’s wasteful. Indeed, that’s shameful. I think of all of the talented and intelligent people I have encountered in my life, and it makes me crazy that the world was robbed of what they have to offer simply because we think that only a few people deserve to be creative, that only a few people are “good enough” to be creative.
Author Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers: The Story of Success, borrows from the psychometrician James Flynn an idea that goes to the heart of this problem of waste of talent. He calls it “capitalization,” which he defines as “the rate at which a given community capitalizes on the human potential… what percentage of those who are capable of achieving something actually achieve it.” He goes on, “when we look at the different rates that groups succeed we think that that reflects some underlying innate trait in the characteristics of that group. And that is wrong… what capitalization rates say… is there’s another explanation and that has to do with poverty, with stupidity, and with culture.”
The culture of the arts is dysfunctional. We bring an American Idol approach to creativity, in which we gradually jettison everyone except a few who fit some concept we have of what a truly talented person is. Everyone else is discarded, or worse, as in the early rounds of American Idol, ridiculed for even trying to express themselves. The message is: if you can’t be the best, sit down, shut up, and buy what the best gives you. We turn creators into consumers.
Gladwell sums it up beautifully: “We have a scarcity of achievement… not because we have a scarcity of talent. We have a scarcity of achievement because we’re squandering our talent. And that’s not bad news that’s good news; because it says that this scarcity is not something we have to live with. It’s something we can do something about.”
That is what this column is about: the something we can do to raise the level of “capitalization” in the arts so that there is more opportunities to share creativity broadly across the nation. Not just in a few major markets – everywhere.
Can you think of people that you know who you considered quite talented, but who never got an opportunity to share their gifts?