Monday, November 26, 2007

A Small Stand

After railing last week, I have decided to try my small part to influence the search committee for the new ART artistic director. Please read, consider signing, and pass on this petition.
Thank you.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Panic Time

I was all prepared to rail against irresponsible criticism this week, but then, I read this article in the Boston Globe. I am now in HIGH panic mode. Let me explain.
For the last 28 years, the American Repertory Theatre has been a pioneer in avant garde theatre in this country and they are in need of a new Artistic Director. Whatever you hear about the ART is true: it can be pretentious, long, loud, weird, boring, but it can also be stunning, exhilarating, challenging, engaging, unique and original. Whatever you think about it, they are one of the only theatres (I can think of maybe 5) doing this kind of work in this country. Period. What the Globe article suggests, is the candidates whose current body of work demonstrates a commitment to aesthetically-challenging work, in keeping with the aesthetic the ART is renowed for, won the Tony for, was named one of the 5 best theatres in the country for, are being bumped from the short list, and candidates whose work has been commercially successful are staying on. James Lapine is a librettist for Broadway musicals. Broadway has its place - its in Manhattan between 77th and 35th streets. It has no place in Cambridge. Period.
This news comes on the heels of news that Theatre de la Jeune Lune, a frequent ART collaborator, and recent Tony-Award winning company, is facing a crushing financial crisis (you can read about it here. ) If this country cannot support this kind of work, we are doomed. I don't mean sound melodramatic, but I speak very, very true. Without this level of work happening somewhere, there is no forward momentum in the medium and we will be cursed with boring, kitchen-sink, self-centered, tv-style junk.
And while we are on the subject, when Stanislavski came to the States in 20's and infected millions of Americans with the idea of realism, he was pretty much done with the concept. He had written about it, he had been working on it for a good number of years. When he returned to Russia, he renounced the concept entirely, and moved onto what we would consider much more avant garde work. The ENTIRE rest of the world has moved on. We, as a whole, have not. Strike 1 Cold War victory for Russia.
Why go to the theatre to see something you could see at home for free? The live experience of theatre is peerless, in my opinion, but I don't want to see another sit-com plot played out on the stage in 90 minutes. Just as the style of painting radically changed with the advent of photography, shouldn't the style of theatre change to play to its unique strengths (namely, a live audience) in the face of the rise of television and film?
Apparently Harvard University, the decision-makers, would like to perpetuate its long and embarrassing history of trying to obliterate the arts from the campus, the Commonwealth and the nation. There is historical evidence to suggest that Boston's lagging arts scene is in no small part due to the University's stance. I could bore you with it, but I would rather suggest that if you care about the future of the ART and the future of the arts in this country, consider doing the following:
Write Harvard's Provost Steve Hyman and implore the search committee to be be brave and stay true to the mission of the theatre in the hunt for the new leader.
Contact your local representatives and encourage them to support funding for the arts.
Tell everyone you know do to the same.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Give Us Your Hands

Sit with me in the theatre one evening, and you will find me a polite and attentive theatre-goer. I will do my best to suspend my judgements till the final curtain. Once we get to the end, however, you may find me somewhat disgruntled, regardless of my opinion of the show. It's those damn bows. I speak of no company or production in particular - the culprits know who they are. (Pause)

I have set out to find the origins of this strange theatre-custom. I have even employed the services of a reference librarian (we're related). We haven't come up with much, so much of the following rant is educated speculation. If you find better sources to the contrary, please elaborate. (Resume)

The OED defines curtain-call as "a call by an audience for an actor or actors to take a bow after the fall of the curtain." What this means, ladies and gentlemen, is that the AUDIENCE, not the actors, are supposed to lead curtain call. Anything else is self-indulgent, ego-massage.

Bowing is (again according to the OED) "a token of respect, reverence, submission." Until the beginning of the last century, actors were considered no better than criminals, so to play before ANYONE they had to show respect, reverence, and submission to their betters. In fact, actors would bow to the audience before every scene, in a sense asking permission to speak.

There is little acknowlegement of the humility of the custom in the self-congratulatory prancing I see more than I would care to remember. I am not suggesting that we should return to those days of gratiutous self-deprecation. To bow more than the audience asks you to is self-indulgant and rude - clapping hurts.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Turg Talk: an Introduction

I wouldn't call myself a technophile, but I don't fear it either. This idea of "blogging" has lingered long enough that even household pets seem to be able to express their most superficial thoughts, so why can't I? If you know me in the actual world, you know I have a fairly strong opinion about somethings, like the city of Boston and the state of American Theatre. Perhaps a blog is an ideal place to share them.
I see a fair amount of theatre, but I am not so interested in "reviewing plays," per se. Rather, I would like to use current plays, articles or trends as a jumping off point for discussion about what is right (and wrong) about Contemporary American Theatre. I hope you will engage in debate. A civilized exchange of ideas is hot.