The Playgoer: "Yutes"

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Thursday, April 06, 2006

"Yutes"

Thoughtful words from Mark at "Mr Excitement News" especially in connecting the issues at stake with "Rachel Corrie" with the plight not only of the political playwright, but that of the voice of the young on the American stage in general. (As opposed to young characters written by established older writers.) "Corrie" may be conceived by two more seasoned pro's (a film star and a journalist). But the controversial text itself is that of a 23 year old American activist and amateur writer.

...what NYTW is saying [is] essentially, say what you want, as long as you let the “adults” manage the “context”. The artist can have freedom of expression, but it will always be subject to a sort of tut-tutting from the “wise” people who know how to be “responsible”. This sort of attitude, frankly, is why it’s so hard to build a career as a young person in the US theater.

Playwrights spend their twenties going through various readings and workshops where various appointed elders tell them how to write their play (and then don’t produce it). (“I can’t wait to see what you’ll write when you’re older” gushed one artistic director about a friend’s play.) Directors spend that time sitting quietly watching established artists work, or working within the confines of graduate school. Perhaps in deliberate counterpoint to music and film, which celebrate youth (although sometimes cynically, but that’s true of mainstream-anything), theater in the US remains mostly the province of the over-35 set. Maybe that’s why we don’t seem to know what to do about My Name isRachel Corrie. British audiences are certainly relishing hearing the voice of a 23-year old activist who is, in her own words, “scattered and deviant and too loud”.

Here in the States, our stages don’t celebrate the voice of a 23-year old anything. It’s worth noting that Christopher Shinn’s work was embraced at 23 by the Royal Court, when he (now famously) hadn’t had any luck getting even a student production here. When younger writers (though never as young as 23) do break through, they’ve been treated rather patronizingly in the press, which often suggests that their voice is not “mature” enough.

I would add, btw, this play not only runs up against a prejudice against staging young voices. But also against true progressivism. The outcry and rallying around "Rachel Corrie" has revealed to us in the east the vibrancy of a Pacific Northwest grassroots-community activism. "Green Party" liberalism, not NPR/NYT. Not New York "boho" liberalism. Once upon a day, when politically radical theatre looked to Cliffod Odets and the Federal Theatre, New York could claim to be the fulcrum. No more. American progressivism has moved west, and part of the theatre community's blindness here is in not recognizing that. And in those who call themselves "political" theatres not moving to incorporate and invite that new progressivism into our drama.

2 comments:

Mark said...

Wow. Thanks for the platform. And nice work differentiating between Olympia-style progressivism and its milder cousins at NPR, etc.

I'd just clarify that my quotation marks at the beginning of the excerpt refer not to anything said by NYTW, but to language that's come up in the blog comments of others--which I compare to the position of NYTW, but the quotes refer to others' words in the conversation.

Philip Munger said...

PG,

These past five weeks or so that you've covered this issue, you were presented with a fairly vertical learning curve. At first, you appeared to be unaware of the irrational world the flak was coming from. You were more outraged about what you didn't know than what you knew.

But, more than any web space I've observed on this issue during this time, you've taken what you had to learn, analyzed it, built this blog's stature and challenged people to use the resistance to production of Rachel Corrie art to help figure out solutions to a wide range of art production issues.

Thanks, Garrett!