07/24/2012 01:09 pm ET

Shakespeare In America: Could The Bard Be Used To Fund Risky Theater?

Over at The Guardian, Lyn Gardner questions the wisdom of funding Shakespeare. By her research, Shakespeare continues to dominate the British theater scene, be it in Olympics programming, on TV, as fodder for summer festivals, or in the stock repertories of subsidized theaters. And while the funding model she's referring to is different than in the U.S. -- where theater survives largely on the strength of ticket sales and private donors, and not the government, as in Europe -- Gardner's larger fear of creative stagnation holds here too. Is Shakespeare crowding out everyone else? Here's Gardner on a British way to make sure he doesn't:

"My suggestion is not that we should stop producing Shakespeare, but that we should have a brief – perhaps two-year – moratorium on funding his work. Theatres can produce Shakespeare if they want; but they can't spend their subsidy on it. As non-subsidised outfits such as the Globe and all this summer's pop-up shows prove, he can survive very well on his own. A breathing space would allow theatres to spend their money in other ways; the RSC and others could concentrate on supporting the future and not just the past. Who knows? We might even produce the next Shakespeare."

That notion of Shakespeare as a self-sustaining force is a provocative and potentially broad one. For Americans, it might suggest a resource sitting under our noses that could enable our theater companies to take risks.

Here's a proposition: What if companies developed a one-to-one exchange, in which the profits from any Shakespeare production they put on went in part toward the funding of a fresh work? As for the country's innumerable regional companies and festivals devoted to Shakespeare and Shakespeare alone (more than 50 in California), perhaps they could aim to stage one non-W.S. play a year -- a new playwright's one-act, for instance, or something similarly low-maintenance. Shakespeare productions could, in effect, be the stage version of "tent-poles," Hollywood speak for blockbusters whose shoo-in profits are used by studios to finance riskier, smaller projects,

This month marks the 50th anniversary of New York's Shakespeare In The Park festival, one of the country's oldest. While the event may not be the most respectful backdrop for a conversation about Shakespeare's utilitarian potential, the fact that such experiments can even be considered speaks to the incredible hardiness of his work. Maybe this is the perfect time to talk about using the resources he left us more effectively.

What do you think readers? Should we start thinking of Shakespeare as a means to enliven the other theater we produce? Or should we leave the world's most famous playwright alone?