The Playgoer: Quote of the Day

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Quote of the Day

"It's time to redefine straight-to-video releases as a facet of legitimate distribution. If someone cannot foresee making money off of, say, Resnais's Not on the Lips, Akerman's Tomorrow We Move, or Rivette's The Story of Marie and Julien—all DVD'd in 2005—why should that negate their presence and accessibility? Projection is optimal, of course, but I'd be happier if more filmgoers stayed home with a crystalline digital Rivette or Sokurov or Iosselliani than donate their ten-spot to guaranteeing another brain-raping superhero franchise."

-V.Voice film critic Michael Atkinson on the future of Indie Film. (See here, scroll to bottom under heading "Get Rich or Die Trying." Part of December's Voice critics poll "Take 7", an annual must-read. As with the Obies, no one does anti-awards better than the Voice.)

I cite this not just for those concerned about the kind of films mentioned. This is exactly the kind of new thinking we need about the survival of all the performing arts, especially the drama, in the capitalism of the 21st century. I hope theatre artists and producers (and critics) will take a cue from approaches like this and throw out old assumptions, reimagine the conditions under which we operate. Obviously "straight-to-video" is not an option for live theatre. But smaller venues? Earlier curtain times? Less subscription-reliant?

As Netflix subscribers will tell you, all the best in exciting new (and classic) cinema is now even more affordable and conveniently available on DVD than theatrical releases could ever promise. How do we make serious theatre, good theatre, similarly accessible once again to those who actually want it? (As opposed to only those who don't really want it but use it for status or leisure.) Look no further for proof that cinema will continue to far outstrip theatre as the serious dramatic artform for current and future generations. It's the accessibility, stupid.


June said...

Atkinson is no doubt right (and a couple of top-notch critics in this year's Slate Movie Club made similar points), but as a serious movie-goer (more than 100 movies in theaters most years), I know that I don't want to watch movies on my television set, no matter how good it is. I like going to the movies more than I like seeing movies, I guess.

That's fine, my perogative, and my loss. Straight-to-video (cf Andrew Bujalski's work) and DVD sources like Facets are a lifeline for folks who live in population centers with little or no indie film or who simply prefer to stay home and watch. But they're not for me.

Folks in and caring for performing arts absolutely should be thinking about alternative "delivery methods" and "business models" and should never contain their thoughts within the box. But they should be prepared to lose some people who are just as pigheaded about theater as I am about the movies.

Anonymous said...

Hello--new to your blog, and I'm enjoying it very much.

When you talk about accessibility, do you mean in underserved areas, parts of the country without much theater? Because in New York, at least, there's no trouble finding theater for people who want to find it. (As for its quality, that's another story, of course.) If it's a question of making theater more present in people's everyday lives, then what you mention makes sense--smaller-scale, shorter productions that people can choose to see on a whim; that are close to where they work; that are cheap to do and easy to get up and down.

But unlike straight-to-video stuff, theater's always going to require more effort. We can't bring it all the way to your house (or maybe we can, but only one house at a time). So now that people can get stories of any kind, whenever they want, wherever it's most convenient for them, how do we convince them to come see us live? That's a different question, it seems, from the one you're asking, and it's enormous.

Freeman said...

Interesting to see this brought up. I've talked a bit on my blog in the past about theatre not changing its delivery, but it's approach to marketing. Using, say, Wine as a model. Or Milk, Pork or Cheese branding as "Industries."

Short version: You can create buzz, even on a small scale, that gets people out of their house and talking. You don't need to upload Theatre onto an Ipod to increase interest.

Instead of trying to make theater more accessible, just make it something people want to go out and get.

Anonymous said...

James Merrill said he'd rather have one good reader than a million mediocre ones. This is how I feel about theatre. Look around at our culture. It is shallow, stupid, pornographic and/or messianic and fundamentalist. Theatre will never appeal to people because it is inherently complex. Even an Andrew Lloyd Weber show demands a level of intelligence and discipline from its audience that most moviegoers and TV watchers either could not muster or would not wish to.

Theatre will always be marginal, as will poetry. Creating the most challenging art is the way to secure the audience of elites that wishes to attend theatre. Dumbing down for an illusory audience will alienate the only people ever liable to show up to theatre consistently in the first place.