When you run a nonprofit organization, at some point you get creative in your pleas for funding. Kathleen Anderson Culebro knows all about that. As the co-founder and artistic director of Fort Worth’s Amphibian Stage Productions, she’s stuck in the same boat as so many arts groups, asking for money when there’s less to share.
As an outlet for those frustrations, Kathleen made a series of videos for Amphibian’s Web site depicting an over-the-top artistic director named, of course, Kathleen (played by Susan Schuld) looking for new ways to generate revenue. In the premiere episode, she even suggests that an impressionable playwright, Evan (Dalane Mason), consider the potential box-office bonanza that would be created should he reach an unfortunate early demise:
Kathleen: “The future of this play is in your hands. You can take it all the way,”
Evan: “By dying?”
Kathleen: “By making the ultimate sacrifice for your art!”
Four more episodes are on the way, with the next one schedule to hit the site next week. We talked to the TCU grad about finding time to write her own plays around her managerial duties and what she has is common with the people on both sides of the first video.
Art&Seek: “For the Love …” takes a satirical look at the difficulty of marketing. What gave you the idea to make the video?
Kathleen Anderson Culebro: Sometimes, I kind of crack myself up because I come up with ridiculous ideas of how to raise money. Once you start running a nonprofit, that becomes your life – it’s how you’re going to pay the bills and how you’re going to keep going. And so, being a creative person, I’m always trying to think of new and different ways, because everybody gets hit up all the time. I started thinking of these funny ways, and how ridiculous my life is sometimes, in my brainstorming for how to raise money. And I just kinda wanted to make fun of myself and make light of the situation. Particularly at this time when everybody is struggling, if you look at it the right way, it’s kind of funny.
A&S: Being both a playwright and artistic director, you must have been on both sides of that conversation at some point.
KAC: Absolutely. I had a play produced in New York in ’07, and I was really excited that I didn’t have to raise the money. But I watched the other people struggle and make decision that you could tell were 100 percent based on money. And it was funny because [the theater’s artistic director] turned out to be kind of shady, although it was an interesting experience. One day right before we opened, he calls me into his office and he said that I didn’t do my share of fund-raising on this project and so they were behind on their fund-raising and they didn’t know how they were going to make it to the end of the run. I felt like, “Wait a second, I’m the writer – it’s not my responsibility to raise the funds. That was the whole point, otherwise I would have self-produced the show.” He really raked me over the coals for not raising more money, and that was the genesis of this story.
As a playwright, you do feel so vulnerable and hungry for compliments, which you see in this particular episode. That writer is so vulnerable, and it makes him all the more easy prey for this artistic director.
A&S: What has been the response?
KAC: It’s been fantastic. I’m not good at tracking how many hits because I’m busy intimidating playwrights and such, but the response has been fantastic. We would love for lots of arts groups to use them for their benefit. We don’t make any money off of it – we got a grant from the arts council, and we just have a message. And the message is: When the arts don’t get the support we need, then we have to make cuts. People are directly affected in very profound ways. And they aren’t always quite so funny.
A&S: What can you tell us about the next installment?
KAC: The rest of the Webisodes do not follow his story; they’re all different crazy schemes on the part of this insane artistic director.
A&S: In July, Amphibian is putting on Guttenberg the Musical! – a spoof about two playwrights trying to impress a producer. It seems the fight for funding is always in the air for those in the theater world.
KAC: It always is in the air, right now more so than ever. Everybody has been hit by the economy, and so I think the word has to get out that if we don’t support them, those groups aren’t going to be there next year.
A&S: You consider yourself a playwright first – are you writing anything these days?
KAC: I’m always working on something new. Similarly to the playwright in that Webisode, I’m always worried that the last thing I wrote is the best thing I’ll ever write – I’ll never write anything better! [laughs]. So yep, I’m working on something, but I don’t know where it will go.
A&S: Let’s hope that you will be able to be alive to see its success, unlike the guy in the video.
KAC: Indeed. But you know, if somebody said “Pulitzer,” maybe I’d go, too…
The Art&Seek Q&A is a weekly discussion with a person involved in the arts in North Texas. Check back next Thursday for another installment.