The Playgoer: AD's as Public Intellectuals?

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

AD's as Public Intellectuals?

Isaac points us to yet another installment in the Nick Hytner vs the London critical establishment spat, and makes an excellent point along the way.

One thing this points me to in our ongoing envy of Britain's theatre scene... their artistic directors are public figures, which makes sense given that theatres are a public trust to some extent. When was the last time the artistic director of The Public, The Roundabout, Lincoln Center Theater or Manhattan Theatre Club wrote an essay for the Times, the Voice, TONY or the Sun?
Absolutely right. Theatre can't become a player in public discourse if theatre people are not active players.

Now perhaps Mssrs Eustis, Bishop et al are submitting op-ed after op-ed to no avail. It wouldn't surprise me if the Times, for instance, routinely passed them up for, say, Henry Kissinger or David Sedaris. Maybe theatre as a topic fails to catch their interest. But theatre people don't have to limit their commentary to plays and playhouses. Why not the arts and the culture in general? When everyone was debating if our culture is too violent after the Virginia Tech shootings, theatre artists are no less qualified to talk. (And cite Titus Andronicus in defense, for instance.) Tony Kushner has probably been the most successful at breaking this "barrier" by his interventions into the Matthew Shepard killing and other political issues he takes a vested interest in. (Indeed, I worried for a while he was writing more op-ed's than plays.)

I also can't help wondering if sticking your neck out on the Times op-ed page on a controversial issue is even something an NYC Artistic Director sees as a prudent thing to do. In the current funding climate, are our leaders happy to err on the side of staying "above the fray" lest they attract the "wrong" kind of attention?

Not to point the finger exclusively at the AD's. Sure, it's a 2-way street. But the media ain't gonna notice us until we start making some noise.

The Hytner piece by the way is good. A kind of apology--only to qualify and make more reasonable what he was saying about diversifying critical opinion and not letting the privileged "Oxbridgers" (as we would say Ivy Leaguers) have a monopoly on arbitrating theatrical culture.

1 comment:

Nick said...


Nicholas Hyter did not deliberately become a player in the public discourse. As he himself puts it, he is there because he “chatted idly and intemperately about male theatre critics.” And I guess his Guardian Observer “arts column” here suggests it is different in species than the numerous Guardian theatre “blog posts” on subject, but it doesn’t really qualify as an op-ed piece, does it?

Actually the exact same Hyter blog post/article/column is double “published” and carries two totally different titles: one for the blog, “What I really think about theatre critics”, and one for the column, “Dear theatre critics: why not see a film for a change?”

The controversy centered around the phrase often used to describe the literary canon, “dead white males”, cleverly appropriated to describe contemporary “living” critics. A funny little quip that normally would be presented semi-privately gets thrown into the public arena. The line between gossip and news and discourse is dissolving. That’s the real story in all this.