Michael Maso’s TCG Theatre Practitioner Award Acceptance Speech

by Michael Maso

in National Conference

Post image for Michael Maso’s TCG Theatre Practitioner Award Acceptance Speech

Photo by Michal Daniel. Pictured: Lydia R. Diamond, Teresa Eyring, Michael Maso.

Ed. Note: Due to the online conversation surrounding Michael Maso’s TCG Theatre Practitioner Award acceptance speech, we have expedited the posting of the transcript of his speech. Here is the text in full. To see the slides referenced by Michael below, please watch the YouTube video of thespeech recently posted by Huntington Theatre Company. Both an archive of the video and transcript will soon live on the TCG website. – A. Schulenburg

Thank you, Lydia.  Thanks to Teresa and Kevin and to TCG for this recognition.  I look at those who have received it in the past and I am truly honored.  Thanks to the Boston Host Committee, led by Kate Warner.  The energy in this theatre community is palpable, and I look forward to continuing our work once the conference ends to create a new and stronger legacy for theatre in Boston.

Thanks to the Huntington, to Peter DuBois and our extraordinary staff, to our peerless board, and to our friends and partners at BU.  And thanks of course to my family – my wife Lisa and our sons Alexander and Graham – for giving me a wonderful life outside the Huntington.  I owe you all more than I can ever say.

By a remarkable coincidence I was on this stage being honored just two months ago at the Huntington’s gala, and so I am going to share with you a secret – a secret I have only previously revealed to the 500 people at that event.  You see, while I have spent the past forty years working in the theatre, my sensibility as a managing director and producer was already finely honed by the time of my Bar Mitzvah.

(A slide photo of Michael Maso at his Bar Mitzvah.)

Yes that’s me.  And now you can all see what many have long suspected.   I am in reality the love child of:

Eddie Cantor (A slide photo of Eddie Cantor)

and Betty Boop (A slide of Eddie Cantor and Betty Boop photos)

That boy . . .

(Back to Bar Mitzvah photo slide)

. . . came to the theatre through the Broadway musicals of the 50′s and 60′s.  After school I would play them over and over in my parents living room, transforming myself in my head from Harold Hill to Henry Higgins, from the Jets to the Sharks, from Annie Oakley to Nathan Detroit.  Even after I went to college, when my contemporaries were having their worlds turned upside down by the likes of Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones, I was immersed in the world of Ethel Merman.

I believe that for a time in the early 70’s I knew more Broadway musicals by heart than any other straight man in America.

But I was not destined to make my life in the musical theatre.  In the summer of 1972, just after I graduated college and turned 21, I was a volunteer for the Roundabout Theatre Company, which at the time was located under a supermarket on the corner of 26th and Ninth.  One evening I had a call at home from the Roundabout’s founder and his protégé, and they asked me to be their general manager.  I had no professional experience.  I had no training in general management.  I hadn’t even applied for the job.  Yes, they were a bit insane, but these are the people responsible for my career.

That career has been spent in the American not-for-profit theatre.  Over the next few days we will be engaged in an exploration of new ways to sustain our movement.  I wholly endorse that exploration.  We need new ideas.

But we must not forget that this movement is one of the great success stories in the history of the American theatre.  Over the past fifty years we have brought moments of transformation to millions and millions of theatergoers and new opportunity to tens of thousands of artists.  We have not done that as a monolith, and there is no one right path.  The ecology of our field is based on a wide diversity of institutional structures.   Our job, each in our own ways, is to empower artists to make great art and share it as widely as possible.  And in that fundamental task, our theatre has not failed America.

I’m not arguing for complacency.  I believe there we can more fully integrate artists into our institutional lives, and that we can expand our audiences so that we’re serving more of our citizens, not just those who can afford “dynamic” prices.

But I will admit my impatience with those critics of our theatres who seem determined to drive a wedge between individual artists and institutions, and I hope that over the next few days and in the conversations that follow for years to come we can resist finger-pointing and ideological purity.  Real conversations require a foundation of mutual respect and understanding.

Fundamentalism is just as dangerous in the theatre as it is in religion or on the Supreme Court.

So I am here to confess: My name is Michael, and I run a large institutional theatre.  Yes, we built a new theatre with multiple performance spaces in order to produce new plays and create programs for local playwrights and to provide first-class facilities to other local theatres. Yes, we sell tickets to get an audience, yes, we raise money because tickets alone don’t pay the bills, and yes, all of that takes people.  Does that make us overstuffed bureaucracies?  Bullshit!  It takes a lot of people to set that stage every day.

This room is filled with those people – artists and production staff, administrators and trustees – who make up the miracle known as the American non-profit theatre.  And every one of you has made sacrifices because of your deep passion for the art form to which you have dedicated your lives.

I am deeply grateful to you for allowing me the life that I have led, and for showing me each day how you fill your lives with meaning.  I am still the hopeless romantic – the Bar Mitzvah boy who acted out obscure musicals in his parent’s living room.  And helping to bring plays to life is as thrilling now as it was when I began.

So as one Theatre Practitioner to a thousand others I salute you and thank you for this recognition.  To those who came here searching for something better – we need you to succeed.  Whether you are fighting for change from within an institution or building your own framework from scratch – break a leg!  Go forth.  Model the movement.

This is where it starts.

Thank you.

Michael Maso has led the Huntington’s administrative and financial operations since 1982, producing more than 160 plays in partnership with three artistic directors and leading the Huntington’s ten-year drive to build the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, which opened in September 2004. In recognition of these efforts, he was honored by the Boston Herald as 2004′s Theatre Man of the Year. He received the 2010 Theatre Hero Award from StageSource, the Greater Boston Theatre Alliance. From 1997 to 2005, he served as president of the League of Resident Theatres (LORT), an association of 70 of the country’s major not-for-profit professional theatres. In 2005, he was named as one of a dozen members of the inaugural class of the Barr Fellows Program. He is the 2005 recipient of the Commonwealth Award, the state’s highest arts honor, in the category of Catalyst. In 2000, Mr. Maso was honored with the Norton Prize for Sustained Excellence at Boston’s Elliot Norton Awards. He has served as a member of the board of directors of the Theatre Communications Group (TCG), the national service organization for not-for-profit theatre, and as a site visitor, panelist, and panel chairman for the National Endowment for the Arts. Mr. Maso is also a member of the baord of directors of ArtsBoston. Prior to coming to the Huntington, he spent three seasons as the managing director of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. He has also been the general manager of New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company, business manager for PAF Playhouse on Long Island, and an independent arts management consultant based in Taos, New Mexico. Mr. Maso is an associate professor of theatre at Boston University.