The Playgoer: Avant Garde Crossovers?

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Avant Garde Crossovers?

Charles McNulty has an interesting LA Times piece considering a slew of recent avant-garde/pop hybrid pieces from Wooster Group (Hamlet), Will Power (The Seven), and even Les Freres Corbusier.

While commending all to a degree, when contrasted with the more severe alienating aesthetic of something like The Living Theatre's The Brig (currently touring in LA), he can't help wondering if the new generation of iconoclasts are chickening out a bit.

There's something usually quite rarefied about such theatrically assembled works. The audience, for the most part, is the already initiated or the intrepid few willing to stretch their performing arts paradigms, while more mainstream attendees are typically left scratching their heads. Recall what happened when Robert Wilson's "The Black Rider" played at the Ahmanson Theatre and subscribers unaccustomed to the stylized storytelling were reported to be leaving in angry droves, some before intermission.

Perhaps this accounts for why the new breed of innovators seems to be rebelling against the example of their sometimes obscure forerunners. Yearning for wider appreciation, these artists want their avant-garde attitude and their accessibility too.
Yes, it's hard to think of current celebrated enfant terribles actually surviving the poverty and fringe-existence a group like the Living Theatre thrived on forty years ago. But one could counter that the younger generation has less innate scorn for pop culture than did the predecessors (who came of age in the relatively homogonous and limited white-male fare of 50s and 60s Hollywood). In the age of the internet and all things "streaming," the current crop sees no shame in the current multi-cultural pop culture and perhaps a genuine opportunity to reach out to more people and build a bigger community.

It's an argument at least.

I do agree with McNulty, though, that the sheer indifference to audience pleasure you get from The Brig today is...well, refreshing!


Anonymous said...

Ok, while I liked Charles article, I do think that he may be unable to make a correct anology to the Living Theater that created The Brig. The "new breed of innovators" that he references have all be making work for well over a decade, and that was not the case for the folks who created The Brig.

It seems to me that he is comparing established artists to mid-career artists. If we're gonna compare today's cutting edge to that Living Theater, wouldn't we be talking about some of the work being made out in Bushwick or the Bronx? Even if not, I think that the lamented work IS being made (by groups like TRYST, Trick Saddle, and EX.P Girls just to name a couple), but there's so much more work out there today that I doubt Charles even sees what he's talking about, but I guess that's why we call it "under the radar".

Slay said...

I'd love to know how he decided to include Will Power in this article. Will's great and his show is a fantastic piece of work; but comparing it to Robert Wilson or The Living Theatre is like comparing KRS-One to Stravinsky or Mahler and saying, "Why doesn't KRS rap like that?"

frank said...

The Brig. despite its problems, deserves all the praise heaped upon it and probably even more attention than it's gotten. That said, however, the "poverty" endured by the Living Theatre in their heydey is hardly exemplary of their generation of the "avant garde."

My complaint about "avant garde" theatre, more generally, is that is made up almost entirely of trust-fund kids who have the luxury never to have to make any money...