The Playgoer: Quote of the Day

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Quote of the Day

"We've been boring audiences for decades now, and they've responded by slowly withdrawing their patronage. I don't care that the recent production of The Seagull at the Royal Court was sold out. To 95% of the population, the theatre (musicals aside for now) is an irrelevance. Of that 95%, we have managed to lure in maybe 10% at some point in their lives, and we've so swiftly and thoroughly bored them that they've never returned. They're not the ones who broke the contract. They paid their money and expected entertainment; we sent them back into the night feeling bored, bullied and baffled. So what are we doing wrong?

The most depressing response I encounter when I'm chatting someone up and I ask them if they ever go to the theatre is this: 'I should go but I don't.' That emphatic 'should' tells you all you need to know. Imagine it in other contexts: 'I should play Grand Theft Auto'....That 'should' tells you that people see theatre-going not as entertainment but as self-improvement, and the critical/ academic establishment have to take some blame for that."

-London playwright/director Anthony Neilson, venting in the Guardian.

The argument gets a bit know-nothing, and, no, I don't think we need to compete with Grand Theft Auto to have a vibrant theatre again. But he does makes it forcefully. Worth reading the whole thing.

Incidentally, I don't think the solution to the theatre's problems lies in playwrights just writing better plays. I'm sure there are just as many good plays and bad plays out there as there's ever been. At least potentially. A bigger question for me is what does it take to get the better work on and out there.


Anonymous said...

Most novels and movies are bad too, and we're spared these smug lectures about those media. Why do people prattle on so about the theatre being bad, dead, boring, etc?

Jason Grote said...

Actually, I tink we cna learn a lot from Grand Theft Auto - there is a chapterer devoted to this in Stephen Duncombe's DREAM. Duncombe is talking about progressive activists and not theater artists, but I think many of the same arguments apply. It's too extensive to go into here, but suffice it to say that the key appeal of GTA is (according to him) not the brutality, misogyny, and racism, but the fantasy.

Anonymous said...

You can't separate form from content. I hardly think a "fantasy" game that did not involve slaughter, hatred of women, and stereotyped minorities would achieve the same impact of "Grand Theft Auto."

I'm also curious what "fantasy" has to do with a video game where everything is graphically represented in astonishing life like detail for the imagination-challenged player.

Anonymous said...

The "fantasy" of GTA (or most any video game) has nothing to do with "life-like detail" -- it's about the fantasy of action, of doing thing you can't or would never do in real life.

Personally, I'm curious about what room there is for fantasy in a theater where everything is represented in astonishing life-like detail for the imagination-challenged theater-goer...

David M