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TBA Online: News & Features: Top News

Celebrating 20 Years of CA$H

Monday, June 3, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: TBA Staff
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by Sam Hurwitt

Theatre Bay Area supports Bay Area theatre artists and companies in all sorts of different ways, but for 20 years now one of the primary and most direct ways the organization has supported the field is with cash—or rather, with CA$H grants.

Standing for Creative Assistance for the Small (Organization) and Hungry (Artist), Theatre Bay Area and Dancers Group began CA$H in 1999, to provide financial support to individual performing artists and small companies with budgets under $100,000.

It was before my time, but the legend that has been handed down to me was that Theatre Bay Area and Dancers Group independently of each other were looking for ways to address perceived holes in the funding world,” says Theatre Bay Area deputy director Dale Albright. “It was very difficult for individual artists to find options for funding. The options were very limited. And the same for organizations with budgets of under a hundred thousand dollars. And then they discovered that they were both interested in finding a way to address that.”

For many years Theatre Bay Area administered both the theatre and dance grants in partnership with Dancers Group, but now each organization handles CA$H grants for its discipline separately.

Granting was a new endeavor for Theatre Bay Area at the time. “And from my understanding, it was quite controversial that we would dip our toes into that water,” Albright says. “The field wanted to be sure that members or people closely associated with Theatre Bay Area and Dancers Group wouldn’t receive priority in consideration.”

From the beginning, TBA staff has had no input on who gets awarded CA$H grants. All granting decisions are made by a panel of five artists that’s an entirely new group every round.

 

Dale Albright.

What I love about it is what I think is most frustrating to applicants, that is kind of a moving target,” says Albright. “Because the panel is empowered to read the guidelines as they do individually each round, the exact same application that may end up being in two rounds is going to have completely different results. So I really like that it’s a clean slate for applicants every round, and they can make their case to this unique group of people. It’s just the nature of CA$H that the guidelines are like the Constitution and the panel is like the Supreme Court. You can imagine the havoc that would happen if our Supreme Court changed every six months.”

 Despite any initial controversy, Albright says, “The great news of course is that this really became such a flagship program and became the gateway not only for small organizations and individual artists to be able to have access to funding, but it became a gateway for us to be able to offer a number of programs, because we really did prove to the community that yes, you can trust us to do this. Yes, we take it seriously and we’re going to be rigorous in our practices and do it the best way we can for the most impact. So that led the way to lots of other granting programs.”

The upcoming annual Theatre Bay Area benefit at Z Space on June 24, with the theme “Spark into a Flame,” will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the CA$H Theatre program, with the presentation of TBA’s first Community Impact Award to generous donors Toni Rembe Rock and Arthur Rock. Emceed by Rotimi Agbabiaka (himself a past CA$H grant recipient), the evening also features a performance from Hamilton cast member Isaiah Johnson.

Many stalwart midsize Bay Area companies received CA$H grants when they were smaller. Some companies, such as the now thriving Bay Area Children’s Theatre, were initially built on CA$H grants. Theatre Bay Area executive director Brad Erickson’s theatre company First Seen was one of the grantees in the very first round of CA$H grants in 1999, before he came to TBA.

 

Jeanette Harrison.

“At the beginning of every single successful program Alter has ever launched, CA$H was the only funder willing to take a chance on the idea,” says AlterTheater artistic director Jeanette Harrison. AlterTheater has been awarded ten CA$H grants over the years, and Harrison has also been awarded as an individual artist. 

“Our very first show, which took place in a rocking chair store, was funded by an individual CA$H grant,” Harrison says. “AlterTheater would not exist if not for CA$H. And now, we have a vibrant playwright residency program that is sending work on nationally, that has now been funded by the NEA and by the California Arts Council,” Harrison adds. “But without CA$H’s initial support, the program never would have gotten off the ground. The initial seed money from CA$H helped us show proof of concept to larger funders. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that our first AlterLab project funded by CA$H—a project that couldn’t attract any other funders, not one—that play went on to Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s main stage.”

CA$H’s history is packed with success stories. Playwrights who have received grants include such notables as Adam Bock, Christopher Chen, Lauren Gunderson, and Lauren Yee, to name just a few. Former Bay Area actor-writer-director Colman Domingo, who’s since gone on to fame on Broadway and TV, once got a CA$H grant for a much-needed laptop that helped birth many different projects. 

 

Eugenie Chan. Photo by Joe Zygaj.

“CA$H is amazing and essential,” says playwright Eugenie Chan, who’s received four grants, as early as round five and as recently as round 70. 

As an artist, CA$H grants have allowed me to develop and experiment with theatrical forms that are hard to get support for—like strange new operas and boundary-challenging big plays about tough subjects with big Asian American casts,” Chan says. “Importantly, my most recent CA$H grant wasn’t for me, but for the designers in Madame Ho, the first production my teeny tiny theatre company, Eugenie Chan Theater Project, launched. CASH’s funding supported a design team who created a nimble set, lighting, sound, and costumes that easily moved from the EXIT Theatre’s proscenium stage to Chinatown social service agency Cameron House’s community space.” 

Mark Jackson. Photo by Pak han.

“For me the CA$H Grant functioned like a first domino, setting chain reactions in motion,” says playwright, director and performer Mark Jackson. “The theatre company I founded and ran from 1995-2004, Art Street Theatre, received a CA$H Grant in the 1999 inaugural round. A couple thousand dollars meant a lot to a fringe company in 1999, allowing us to pay folks a modest stipend and add some extra polish to their costumes. My work self-producing with Art Street Theatre is what eventually allowed me to transition to freelancing full time in 2005.”

“I received the grant as an individual artist in 2002, which helped me go to Berlin for a month to study Meyerhold’s Biomechanics, a physical acting practice I’ve used ever since as a performer, director, and teacher. These studies made possible my 2003 play for Shotgun Players, The Death of Meyerhold, and the success of that production opened up a number of Bay Area doors for me,” Jackson adds. “In 2007 a third grant supported a return to Berlin to create Yes Yes to Moscow, a dance-theatre take on Chekhov’s Three Sisters that premiered there and then played in the 2008 SF International Arts Festival. Had that show not happened, it never would have come to pass that Beth Wilmurt and I co-directed another spin on Chekhov, Kill the Debbie Downers, at Shotgun Players this past March. It can’t be underestimated how even a modest financial boost in support of one creative endeavor can indirectly make many other endeavors possible.”

“It’s one of the best funding programs in the Bay Area,” Harrison attests. “And I think it’s a huge reason the theatre scene in the Bay Area is so vibrant, with such a rich variety of new work, and with so many veteran artists able to take risks in their careers and their work. CA$H supports both emerging artists beginning their craft and careers, and established artists who want to try something new.”

Sam Hurwitt is a Bay Area arts journalist and playwright. Follow him at twitter.com/shurwitt