The Playgoer: damn the highbrows?

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

damn the highbrows?

To formally respond to some the of the lively comments on the previous post...

I wholeheartedly agree with the last comment that theatre should be "relevant and THEREFORE popular, not popular and therefore 'relevant.' " And I realize some of my postings sound like I'm willing to do anything--just anything--to get cool people, young people, funders, mainstream media to please, please pay attention to us. I'm all for the legitimate stage persisting as the meeting place of an elite coterie. However, it would be nice it were a sustainable elite coterie. And not the hobby of gadabouts living in a bubble of wealthy indulgence--like Baccarat. Nor just the province of performance art cellars in bohemia. I worry that the more theatre is marginalized from the rest of--for want of a better term--"the culture," the harder it will be for our best theatre artists to make a living and sustain their work in this country. They won't die or give up, just go to Europe. The brain drain will flow back.

While, of course, acknowledging the caveat of the many fine "two-handers" (and accepting that a fine art has been forged out of the limitations of downtown theatre--solo performance, e.g.), I also agree that a theatre that cannot afford to employ more than two actors per show will ultimately limit the artform. Ed: But limitation is freedom! And read your Aristotle--the Greeks started with just one actor, and it took Aeschylus to add a third....Ah, but even the one still had a chorus beyond him

I remember something TCG head Ben Cameron says in his "big speech" he gives to every regional theatre gathering (I've heard it twice now, myself). Something like: when the cultural marketplace challenged theatre to adjust to new audiences and new realities, theatre companies responded by doing The Gin Game. It's true: these companies draw up their season budgets (hence, their seasons) partially based on how many total Equity actors will be employed. I've been in on such meetings. You can do, say The Crucible or a Shakespeare, but you have to "earn" that by using no more than 10 or so actors for the remaining plays. Look at some season schedules and you'll see what I mean--1 large cast show, offset by solo shows, two-handers, and maybe one or two 5-6 character plays.

Finally: I strongly believe that in the end, the work will out. There is indeed no point in begging the rest of the culture to go to the theatre because...well, because it's good for them. (And good for us.) There's no better "case" to make than the quality of what's on stage. (McNulty's Yale Theater essay dares to question whether the quality is indeed there. I'm not totally sure where he ultimately comes down on that.) And we should indeed be wary of expending our energy in whining and instead put it into the work. At least the theatre artists among us. As for critics--we also should beware of lecturing readers to attend (and attend to) the theatre whatever is playing. After all, we do our best cheerleading by engaging rigorously and honestly with the quality of what we see. Sending people to mediocre theatre will only make them more cynical and indifferent.

I guess what I am talking about is demanding a seat at the cultural table of this country.

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