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120 120 7 an alternative theater angel: grant goodman David A. Crespy When one thinks of the typical theater investor, what comes to mind are those hopelessly starstruck entrepreneurs—say, corporate executives or investment bankers—who, out of personal vanity, rather credulously drop large sums of money into a Broadway show so they can see their names in the Playbill for the latest Broadway hit. And as the Broadway musical hits the $15 million mark for production budgets, in many ways only the super rich, super elite can afford to drop a few hundred thousand on these kinds of projects. But there is another theater in America, one that I have written about in my book, Off-Off-Broadway Explosion, and that is the regional alternative theater, which is largely funded by the generosity of a very different kind of theatrical investor. This kind of regional Off-Off Broadway lives in the community centers, libraries, and community-college and high school theater auditoriums. Here, the costs are low enough and the ideals high enough to allow to exist theaters that challenge prevailing tastes and mores and attempt to present the kind of plays that were once done in the small art theaters. These are not community theaters in the 121 an alternative theater angel conventional sense of the phrase, doing endless productions of Nunsense or Gypsy. The regional alternative theater movement carries on the traditions of Paul Fort’s Théâtre D’Art and Lugné-Poe’s Théâtre de L’Oeuvre in the nineteenth century, the Provincetown Playhouse and Washington Square Players in the early twentieth century, and the Caffe Cino and La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club in the 1960s. Across the country, these theaters, like Annex Theatre in Seattle or First Run Theatre in St. Louis, have found some funding through government sources, but they owe their existence to individual benefactors who are also theater members—putting in long hours of labor in addition to the money they invest. By the late 1990s and early 2000s, under the more conservative funding policies and economics of the Bush administration, these small theaters became more reliant upon these individual investors than ever. Theater artists presenting nontraditional work in places outside of New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles are still subject to the kind of backlash that Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri, received when it produced Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart in 1989—a boycott by local conservatives and an attempt to shut down a theatrical production. Theaters have found it increasingly more difficult to find funding to present alternative theater. The theatrical entrepreneurs of this not-for-profit regional alternative theater movement are very different from rich dilettantes who do not actually participate in the day-to-day tasks of running a theater. They differ, too, from the kind of corporate investors like Disney, which consider the $10 million to $20 million it costs to produce a Broadway show a drop in its budgetary bucket.1 This essay examines one particular alternative theater angel and the events that led him to a lifelong commitment to theatrical investment. Professor Grant K. Goodman, an emeritus faculty member of the University of Kansas, has, since 1989, donated to the English Alternative Theater (EAT) of the University of Kansas in Lawrence anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000 a year for its artistic director, Paul Stephen Lim, to use any way he sees fit. Goodman describes his working relationship with Lim: “I’ve given him carte blanche—he tells me he’s doing this or that or the other. I don’t question his decisions. He’s a very bright capable person and this gives him free reign to do as he sees fit. KU, accordingly, has the only English Department in the United States with a theatrical component. And that excites me as an academic.”2 122 david a. crespy Since a full history of English Alternative Theater would be a separate essay, my focus is on the aspects of Goodman’s life that led him to his initial investment in EAT and the vital roles he continues to play in that theater company. In addition, this essay explores Goodman’s partnership with playwright, director, and playwriting teacher Paul Stephen Lim and how the two have worked together to provide a support system for theatrical writers in their community. Goodman’s investment effectively created English Alternative Theatre and sustains Lim’s project, which is to produce alternative theater by artists...


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