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.

1 comment:

Jack said...

Wow, glad to have read this and realize whats going on. I may have missed it otherwise. It is certainly very lame to think that a place once so dedicated to avant garde could become more mainstream. It sort of sums up the experience of being an artist in America... or really in capitalism. Exploration doesn't sell. Give me diversion please!

Strangly on one hand, I feel that you can't kill avant garde. You can only shoosh it out of your neighborhood. It will live on because there are always artists inspired to try something new, and they will find and support each other. The true tragedy is that with this alleged shift coming, avant garde will just be that much harder to find for those on the border of interest, and it will become invisible to those who didn't care before.

In our consumer society, many people won't go out of their way to find the art that really made them think if they can go to the same building and get Oklahoma (not to rag on that show, because it was at one time revolutionary, but...).