Friday, October 31, 2008

Art, Politics and the Other Thing

What will we all do when the election is over? What will we think about, talk about, wake in the middle of the night screaming about? I both crave and mourn the approach of November 4, regardless the outcome.

In the spirit of the season, I will continue my political diatribes.

So, I’m at a bar with some theatre folks and we are making a wish list of what we’d like to do in the art world. I say I would like to engage more actively, and unite the Boston Theatre community as a whole to engage more actively in local politics. Everyone is immediately skeptical. Therefore my rebuttal:

Anne Bogart argues in her book A Director Prepares that American artists disengaged from the public political sphere in the McCarthy era. No one wanted to incur the HUAAC wrath, so not only did artists stop talking about politics, but they stopped talking to each other. As a result American Theatre revolved around individual struggles in the domestic sphere. Debate, dialogue, engagement with contemporary life bigger than oneself virtually disappeared. Sure, there was and continues to be fringe work that challenges authority, engages in the community, etc but these small, revolutionary companies tend to have more life in history books than in their contemporary popular theatre. She goes on to suggest that this is when the distrust of the artist in popular culture began. We were all red, pinko commies working to bring down democracy by infiltrating popular media with our propaganda.

I’ll go further. I don’t think America has ever really liked artists. Sure, there is the class association that theatre people were synonymous with prostitutes, but those assertions predate our country and originated in nations with hearty arts scenes to this day. Heather Nathans outlines in her book Early American Theatre from the Revolution to Thomas Jefferson the colonial struggle to establish a unique, American identity unrelated to their British cultural roots. Theatre, like tea, being a British-ism was therefore out. In short, we established early on a preference to straight-talking farmers over poets who might be trying to trick us with UnAmerican propaganda disguised in lyrical verse.

Artists are a constituency. Along with our audiences, we believe that arts are important in the cultural vitality of the nation. Therefore, our politicians should know who we are. They should know what we want and they should care. It’s not just about funding. It’s about a larger integration into the consciousness of our representatives and our communities. Look at that word: representative. These people act in place of you in various legislative bodies. If they don’t know what you think is important, how well are they actually going to represent you and your interests?

Is it that you are embarrassed? Because whenever you say “I think the arts are important” some asshole says “more important than eating or cancer research, or reducing infant mortality rates or preventing meanness to puppies?” And you think, “shit, if I had to choose between the arts and a sandwich…I’m actually pretty hungry, and how could I choose Shakespeare or Mozart over babies and puppies?” Here is a crazy paradigm switch for you: why do we have to choose? We are the wealthiest nation in the world. Why do we have even one person without healthcare, without heat, without food, without access to excellent education, inspiring arts and culture?

What really muffles my omelet is artists seem to have given up. I just read this article from Seattle that offered a top 10 suggestion list for small theatres with some “tude”. It instructed artists to give up working towards earning a living wage in the field. Now, I don’t expect to drive my gold-plated Cadillac up Newbury Street anytime soon, but if we are satisfied reducing ourselves to amateurs, hobbyists and extracurriculars, how can we possibly expect to make GREAT ART. We must ALWAYS be working towards legitimizing our profession. It took some time to shake the prostitute thing, but that turned around. We have to be thinking long term.

The arts are important for countless reasons – reasons that I attempt to highlight in this silly thing. But one chestnut that never goes out of style is the arts have always been the lasting cultural artifact of an age. What remains of Elizabethan England, Ancient Athens, Renaissance Italy? I watched a documentary on PBS a while back about Sparta, a culture that thought Athens was a bunch of pansies, that only valued war and physical dominance. Pretty much all we know about Sparta is what Athenians wrote about them (surprisingly unflattering) and what could be gathered from skeletal remains. A bright and varied picture you can imagine.

We can yell "U.S.A." as loud as want at sporting events, they aren’t going to hear us in a thousand years. (You know, if the polar ice caps don’t melt and the planet doesn’t careen into the sun.) If we are so gosh darn proud of this little nation of ours, why don’t we want anyone to remember us except by skeletal remains?

So vote. Write your reps. Talk to your friends. And your Mom. And crazy Uncle whozits that thinks you’re a hippie and is waiting for you to cut your hair and get a real job. Talk to them all the time. Watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report because, at the risk of sounding hyperbolic, they are saving America. These shows are reviving public discourse and critical thinking through satire. The really good kind.

And for God Sake’s, Vote No on Question 1. Don’t make me bring up the puppies again…

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Stop Me If You've Heard This One

Dear readers,

A challenge has been issued. Well, maybe not a challenge, but a redirection of focus has been…requested. A reader, and dear friend (is it possible I don’t know all 3 of my readers?) asked me why I didn’t write more about what was happening in Boston. While I am loathe to review area productions, I agreed that I could speak more specifically about area trends, etc. Here goes:

About a month ago, StageSource, Boston’s best theatrical resource, held the biannual Boston Theatre Conference. I’ve been to all three (if there have, in fact, been only three) and I found this gathering the most successful, even though will all my hand-raising, I was only able to speak at the Small Theatre break-out session (boo for me, yay for you). What better place to raise my salient points then my own blog?

At one of the earlier group sessions, Paul Daigneault (Producing Artistic Director of SpeakEasy Stage Company) gingerly brought up that he finds his company and several others in town are frequently vying for the same shows. He politely wondered if, perhaps there could be more communication between like-minded companies (Paul, if you are reading this and I am paraphrasing incorrectly, my apologies). I don’t recall any particular answer to his query, but fast-forward about an hour to the Artistic Directors Break-Out session – a veritable who’s-who of everyone who is anybody in town.... and people like me. No one really spoke to Paul’s point earlier to my recollection, but one of Boston’s giants did mentioned last year’s Boston Foundation Study, which he said called smaller arts organizations to merge or close.

A lot of people got all up in arms when this study came out. For the city’s major grant-making institution to say that not every arts organization is sacred is disconcerting at best. I mean, if they don’t think all arts are worthy, does anyone in this country love the arts – all the arts - equally?

Cue awkward kid in the front of the room with her hand up. “But, teacher, that’s a misrepresentation of the study.” It’s like American interpretations of Stanislavski – they didn’t get the most important part. If you are so inclined, you can read the study for yourself, but basically, the Boston Foundation study suggests that struggling non-profits have three options. The first, and arguably most important, is that organizations should clarify or refocus their mission, so they are more specific, more targeted in their work. If the organization is unwilling or able to get clearer about what they want to do, they should merge with like-minded organizations or close and shift their funds and audience to another like-minded organization. This calls to mind Mr. Daigneault’s comment earlier. If several companies are frequently competing for the same material, doesn’t it follow that they are competing for the same audiences and donors? The Boston Foundation seems to think so.

That being said, many of the smallest companies have clear missions, are doing work unlike the mid-and big guys, and are more apt to attract younger audiences. But lots of them fail all the time and it’s because of money.

Recently Chronicle did a profile of several arts organizations, including Snappy Dance – one of the most innovative, fun dance companies Boston has ever seen. Their complaint about the study is that the Boston Foundation treats arts organizations like businesses, and they are not businesses. Unfortunately, this is America, and we don’t believe in government subsidy for anything but corn. Medicine shouldn’t be a business, but it is here. Education shouldn’t be a business, but it is here. And this goes extra-true for the arts. Until the Federal, state and local government starts funding social services; they are forced to behave like businesses. Snappy closed their (metaphorical) doors earlier this year and Boston will be the lesser without it.

The real problem with the Boston Foundation isn’t their study, it is their refusal to fund small organizations. The tiniest amount of money would make a significant difference for any of the companies you might see at Boston Playwright’s Theatre, The Factory Theatre or the rehearsal rooms at the BCA. But, TBF, like most grant organizations, want their names on walls. Then they can prove to their donors that they are giving their money to worthy causes. So if you don’t have a wall (as in, you are a non-resident company) you are likely screwed. Besides, if you can’t afford the black box at the BCA, you probably don’t have a grant writer on staff and wouldn’t make it through the first cut anyway.

I am in thousands of conversations about what Boston needs to do to have a vital arts scene. I’m not about to suggest anything revolutionary – I think we all know the answers. We need to be able to sustain local artists. We need to originate more work than we import. We need to develop audiences. We need an attentive press (this is another post altogether – more anon). Almost all of this requires money.

And money is the problem, right? Well, I would like to offer two counter-suggestions to the Boston Foundation and two to the Theatre Community.

First, Boston Foundation, why not start a grant program aimed specifically at small arts organizations or artists? A handful of $500 grants with a minimal application process and turn-around time that you give to the 5 or 10 projects you find the most interesting. These would not be about investing in the longevity of the institution but supporting artistic innovation and risk where it is most likely to happen – call them innovation grants. Be a hero.

Not worth your time? Well, then, why not subsidize the most important, and most expensive part of a budget for any company – space? The state is already starting this (sort of), but if it cost, say $100 a week to use a room instead of $1000, I bet more companies would be taking advantage of the state-of-the-art facilities cropping up all over the city. This way, you get your name on the wall, and smaller companies have a better chance, and everybody wins.

Now you, Boston. To make a blanket statement: theatre people are not very generous in this town. We don’t like to see each other’s work. We don’t like to share our actors. We don’t even seem like to talk to each other about Art very much. Sharing was good for you in Kindergarten, its even better for you now. Share resources. All the time. A common storage for props and costumes (like in New York?) would be a good goal.

Finally, vote, artists, vote! Subsidy works. Massachusetts is 25th (or at least we were the last time I looked) in state arts funding and the NEA isn’t likely to pick up the slack anytime soon. Lobby your local representatives. Vote for candidates who have an arts platform and don’t be embarrassed about it. Arts subsidy is important, damn it. This is obviously not an immediate fix, but if art is important to the public, it will be important in the government too.

I mean, I could be wrong, but that all sounds pretty good, right?

PS. I'm taking requests for topics. I can rant about just about anything.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Give me a P

Hello dear readers,
Insert the usual axioms here about being a delinquent blogger. I’m a little riled up. No, not about another musty production of a once great play bungling the Boston’s boards into oblivion and mediocrity. It’s politics, with some theatre thrown in for good measure.

I don’t want to bring another tuna casserole to the church supper, but I cannot keep still about Ms. Palin. To make a categorically blanket and unfair statement, she is everything that is wrong…well, I was going to say with America, or with politics, or Seventeen Magazine, but I think I will just end there. She is everything that is wrong.

Before I go any further, I have to aside. Why does every person who gives his or her opinion about politics have to qualify his or her identity? “As a veteran…” “As an Alaskan woman…” “As the brother of a man in Iraq…” “As an African-American…” It seems to me you are saying either a. Let me speak for my people or b. What I’m about to say would be otherwise ridiculous, unsound, offensive or just plain irrelevant, but since I’m a fill-in-the-blank that makes my point valid and you must - MUST - give credence to it. I mention this because I was tempted to begin my manifesto with a similar apologetic preamble. Cut that daisy train off before it’s been picked.

Now back to our regular tirade: Here are just some of the reasons Sarah Palin really tweaks my spleen. I’m not going to talk about her policies (even though she banned books from public libraries and fired the librarian who refused to remove them) or her politics (even though she believes the war in Iraq is a holy war to crusade against infidels in the name of a Christian god) or her daughter (even though she proves that her stance on abstinence-only education isn’t effective for parents and teens who don’t want babies before they can vote) or her ignorance (even though “her brilliant speech” didn’t actually say anything and she is CRAZY racist, sexist, crusadist – I’m coining that term right now – formal definition below). No, I’d like to explore what Sarah Palin means to me.

A lot of the “Passion for Palin” is the same malarkey that gets me all frothy about the current administration and Republican maneuvering in general. Republicans have strategically aligned themselves with core American ideology and their rhetoric reinforces the belief in the American Myth. Who doesn’t want to believe in the American Dream? Maybe, I should ask who doesn’t like puppies, rainbows and dewdrops? It makes sense, logically, that if you work hard it will pay off for you and your children. If you work a full-time job, or two, or three, you should be able to afford a roof over your head, food, health care and education for you and your family. But, it is categorically untrue. If it were even a little bit true, why would 23 million children have no or little access to healthcare?

The 1% of the population that pulls themselves up from nothing under a fortuitous coincidence of circumstances is exceptional – as in they are the exception. I don’t mean to downplay the achievements of people like, well Mr. Obama. What he and some others like him have been able to do is extraordinary. But that doesn’t mean that Democracy and specifically Capitalism works. In fact, by focusing on these individual achievements, or more appropriately, the idea of them, we set up unrealistic expectations for everyone else in the country. It’s like absurdly thin models in magazines. Just because they exist out there in the world, doesn’t mean that it’s realistic for everyone to look like them.

And just like magazine phenomena, the millions of Americans who aren’t making it, are judged by themselves and others because they don’t fit the model. But this isn’t the only aspect of Americana that our elephant pals encourage. They perpetuate the falsehood that they are “just folks.” They are just like you. The fact that nothing in their personal actions or policy decisions supports the idea that they give two muffin crumbs about you is apparently irrelevant. The fact that they are millionaires, and have the support of billionaires and do not live anything like you (assuming here that “you” is your average middleclass American citizen), is also irrelevant. The fact that they are willing to prostitute their religious beliefs to exploit yours is not disturbing and offensive, but just another part of the charm. If W. wasn’t the heir to one of the most powerful political families of the 20th century, I doubt he would have gone to Yale or successfully dodged the draft let alone survived past his 40’s and run for office (drug & alcohol abuse + repeated on-the-job failure is not an equation for success unless LOTS of money and influence are involved). But you feel like you could have a beer with the guy, even though you never, ever will and therefore he is the right choice to be the leader of one of the most powerful nations on earth? I’m sorry, I don’t understand, but that’s a post for another day.

The myth that anyone can be President goes to the founding of the nation and the establishment of the American identity. Almost across the board, the Founding Fathers had little faith in the common man to govern themselves – a notion that persists in the Electoral College. We have only been able to directly elect our senators for about the last 100 years. But it was important in the branding of this new nation to differentiate itself from the old one. Whatever was British could not be American. Therefore it became patriotic to reject political as well as cultural imports of Mother England. No tea, no king, no theatre (I told you I would work that in there).

The few early American plays that survived the anti-theatrical tracts of both the religious and patriotic agendas consistently contrast two archetypes. The first is the smart, sophisticated, European noble who is tricky and generally no-good, if not explicitly evil. The second is the dull but hard-working American, usually a farmer. He might get outfoxed by his European counterpart, but his goodness (and occasionally brawn) will eventually triumph. The reverberation of this fundamental contrast can be felt over and again as with McCain’s “Straight Talk Express” and the (albeit shockingly racist) recent assertions from Republicans that Obama is “uppity.” Of course one of the many problems with this dichotomy is that it requires or at least encourages Americans to think of themselves as stupid – to value simpleness – or the inability to understand or articulate complex thought. And, if you are capable of complex thought, you better keep it to yourself. Debate may have been the foundation of Athenian democracy but buzz words, jingles and catchphrases, well, ain’t that America?

Palin plays right into the role. But now, in addition to being a good Republican / American, she’s just like the majority of voters – female. I’ll admit that six months ago the notion that a woman was a viable candidate for the presidency was exciting for many people, including me. But, I also have more in common politically and ideologically with Ms. Clinton than with a breadbox, for example, and therefore my ability to be excited about the prior notion was based wholly on the later. I don’t know where the breadbox stands on a lot of issues, but I know it holds bread, and I’m ok with that. I can not say the same about Mc-Pal. This leads me to my deep-seated Sarah-loathing.

Her appointment is not a shallow attempt to lure wayward female voters in search of va-jay-jay in the Oval. It is indicative of at least 100 years of blindly sexist rhetoric and policy. You would think Republicans would be more adept at identifying sexism appropriately since they have been so good at gift-wrapping it but it seems they need a refresher course. Women were denied the right to vote till 1920 because it was believed they did not have the capacity for rational thought (among other reasons) and Palin is leading the charge to resurrect that rationale. Even though her platform and her actions in her (brief) time in public office have kicked women’s rights and needs in the guts, she’s good for women? Even though, she fundamentally undercuts all women’s advancements throughout time by intentionally countering legitimate criticism with cries of sexism, she’s good for women? She demands the choice she would deny all other women and is good for women? She thinks women are stupid enough to buy that and she’s good for women? Oh, I forgot, she is a woman. By that logic, Bush should have a rocking human rights’ record – he is human afterall. What’s that Amnesty International? I can’t hear you over the deafening cries of Guatanamo Bay.

Even if I put the hypocrisy and the bad policies in a corner for a well-deserved timeout, I can not get away from the damaging example to women Palin is. If you are pretty, and carefully manipulate people to think you are dumber than you are, you can get what you want. This is literally advice you can read in Teen Magazines if you are looking for the attentions of 16 year-old boy. Sarah deliberately plays against the public portrayal of women like Hillary Clinton. Hillary is smart, successful and ambitious and not afraid who knows that about her and is therefore a bitch. Sarah is a member of the NRA, a former beauty queen and a vicious sports competitor, but none of these things apparently make her a bitch (I’ll leave the wrongful terminations aside for now). Her basketball nickname is cute because of its perceived hyperbole (That pretty, little girl is a terrifying fish? – How sweet!) The pageant life not only prepared her to look pretty and polished in challenging circumstances but trained her to speak persuasively without actually saying anything of substance. And when she holds a semi-assault rifle for a photo shoot, she could just as easily be posing for a male fantasy magazine, thereby further undercutting the idea of a strong woman as only existing for male gratification. In short, she presents herself as non-threatening, the traditional hallmark of the good American woman. Be pretty and not too smart and the boys will like you. Thanks, Sarah.

Does this mean we have to give the 19th Amendment back?

cru-sadist: n. one who admires, encourages or wishes to pursue a war in emulation of the European Christians in the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries to recover the Holy Land from the Muslims and exterminate any opposition to Christianity, demonstrating a desire to cause great pain in strangers and a questionable grasp of reality.
[from Latin crux, cruc-, cross. And the French sadisme; see Sade, -ist]

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Why FDR is the Coolest: a Fable

The subject of the Federal Work programs of the 1930's has come up a couple of times this week, and I thought I would celebrate it here, because it was a rare moment in American history and gives me hope about the future of the arts in this country.
Once upon a time, the country was awash in prosperity at the hands of a new fangled invention: the stock market. For reasons that have nothing to do with the arts, the market crashed and plunged the country into a great depression - the Great Depression, in fact. Bread lines. Extreme poverty. Former millionaires jumping out of skyscrapers. The president pretended there wasn't actually a problem, and soon, he wasn't president anymore. The new president had all these great plans to get the country out of this terrible depression, most of which congress wanted no part of. However, one plan, the Federal Work Project, that went through for a glorious few years. FDR thought it was not only silly, but bad for America for violists to build roads, or dancers to work at Woolworths, so he established various federally funded arts organizations (the Federal Theatre project, being one) to get artists working doing art. Sculptors sculpted statutes. Musicians played symphonies. Actors acted in plays. It was a beautiful thing.
But like so many beautiful things, it had to be stomped to death. Wasn't this just like communism? And what were these plays and sculptures and symphonies really about? Were they really proper American work, or red-commie-propaganda? No one really wanted to know the answer so, it all stopped.
Democrats have been paying for that glorious moment in the early 30's and in the mid-sixties, when liberal became associated with terrible things. Like free art, equal protection under the law, and, worst of all, government subsidy.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Ode to a Blackout

You get two posts this week - that's right. I have to make up for being such a slacker most of the rest of the time. Don't get accustomed to it.
Anyway, now for my Ode to a Blackout (many of you have heard early rantings on this subject). O, Blackout, how do I loathe thee? Let me count the ways.
Arguably the most over-used shortcut on the American stage today, the blackout is a plague attacking otherwise good (and often mediocre) theatre across the nation. Let me be clear, I do not refer to a play which requires complete darkness as an element of plot - Black Comedy comes to mind, in which a good portion of the story depends on being told in darkness (there is a power outage, or something). I guess I refer to the blackout as transitional device. The play needs to move from scene A to scene B, to get there, all the lights go briefly out, actors and possible technicians scurry in darkness - knocking into things, whispering - only to reset for lights up and the new scene. This is my first problem. Here I sit, interested, engrossed in the story maybe, wrapped up in the world of the characters and BOOM! Blackout. Pause. Removed from the engaging world of the story, to watching and listening to figures trip in the dark. I swear, I have almost yelled out, "We can see you!" But proper etiquette demands I ignore these interludes, that I sit quietly in limbo, perhaps to check my watch or examine my program, and enjoy the inevitable transition music. One too many blackouts, though, and even your most patient theatre-goer isn't going to stay with you for long, and your second act, or second scene in some cases, will play to empty seats, or the music of the program orchestra.
Putting aside the arcane game of hide-and-seek, my real problem with the blackout speaks to trends in American theatre that are far more disturbing - disrespect for the audience, disrespect for the medium and generally lazy, uncreative thinking.
First, there are cases when you see a blackout and you can almost hear the director whispering in your ear (if you are a neurotic snob like me, anyway) "this next scene takes place later, somewhere else. I just wanted that to be clear." As if the audience, dolts that we are, couldn't pick that up from a myriad of other clues, not the least of which is the script OR the fact that the scene follows the previous scene. I find this particularly maddening when there isn't even a change to set, but two characters switch position, or put on a different coat or something.
Now, before you get snippy, yes, there are plays that do not move sequentially, they move in reverse, or scatter shot through time. But, is a blackout really necessary to make those distinctions? I think not. I think if these directors had a little more faith in me and their storytelling ability, we would all be better off. This brings me to my third point (I'll get back to number 2) - maybe the director isn't thinking about me at all, because he or she isn't really thinking about it. The blackout has become a necessary convention, and how else are you supposed to get from A to B? The problem here, of course, is they aren't asking that question. They are not challenging the convention. They are allowing the crusts of about a century's worth of dust to cake around their brains and their productions. If we can't be cleverer about our transitions, is it any wonder our plays aren't any better? This is harsh, but come on, you can be smarter. Theatre is art, after all, this is an opportunity to showcase your creativity in all its glory.
Finally, to return to point two, blackouts feel like an apology for the medium. In film and TV we can be anywhere, actually there, instantly. People can be in a room, and quick cut, they aren't anymore. This is not a failing of theatre. It's not a failing of an apple that it wasn't designed for easy peeling, like a banana. Theatre is a different medium from film and TV, and the more live theatre attempts to be like film and TV, the more it will fail. Without any irony, there is a magic and wonder in live theatre that film and TV do not have. Namely you don't feel life through your TV screen - they try, with the things like mood music, to generate a similar feeling, but its not going to come close because it isn't live. Film and TV are more suited to "realism" - they can pull it off better. Don't despair that realism on stage is played out - its a fairly recent invention, and pretty much every other nation in the world has gotten over it. That's a rant for another day. Nonetheless, the blackout, those moments of hide-and-seek, only reinforce a filmic superiority in performance. Maybe if we focused on what we do well, instead of what works for film, we would be better off for a whole host of things.
So, in conclusion, the next time you are faced with an unnecessary blackout, write the director and ask why he or she hates you, theatre, and his or herself. (I'm kidding - don't actually do that. You get the point though, right?)

A Note About New Plays

See them. Always. Or, at least, whenever you can. This country needs more, good, new plays, but theatres are reluctant to do them because of you, yes YOU. They are afraid you won't come. So, prove them wrong.
You might want to keep your expectations...reasonable. Shakespeare got 400 years of workshop and performance to get it right, the play you are seeing only got about 4 weeks. Think of yourself as a pioneer, or even better, as part of the development process. Because you are. Playwrights learn more about their play from you than anyone else.
I deeply believe if Boston is ever going to become any kind of first-rate theatre town, we have to originate work here and export it. We are going to continue to be on the sidelines if we let other cities take the risks, test out the new material, and get the glory. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I swear, if I see one more "Boston Premiere" of a recent-ish play from New York or Chicago or Seattle or Minneapolis or Atlanta...well, let's just not let that happen.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Willy Don't Give A Damn

I need to rail. I have heard some silly, silly assumptions of late, and, while I am by no means an expert, I feel the need to rant my little knowledge here. Forgive the indulgence.
Shakespeare's plays were meant to be performed. They just were. So much so, that almost all the editions of the text we have were published posthumously by actors who played the roles. One reason for all those textual confusions (e.g. "too sullied flesh" vs. "too solid flesh"), prepare yourselves, is because sometimes actors mess up lines. In truth, without any hard evidence, I suspect the number of professional actors who are consistently letter perfect, never mind know an entire script years after they performed it, is quite small.
Shakespeare didn't intend for his plays to be read. He wrote plays cause he was pretty good at it and wanted to make a living, and when he made enough that he didn't have to work anymore, he stopped. The majority of his audience was likely illiterate anyway except for the people who paid him to write them sonnets. I'm sure he doesn't mind if you read his plays alone in your room to yourself. He might even be flattered, if he hadn't died 400 years ago, that is.
But the text is widely available, if you are upset with any stage productions you see. The "sanctity of the text" is protected in print and the millions of other productions happening around the world at this very moment. I mention again, the author and all his descendants of consequence are long since dead, so they don't mind either.
But, what of these productions? Why don't they do it like Shakespeare did? Well, this is a complicated question, so it requires a multiple part answer.
First, it was 400 years ago. We can't be sure how the plays were performed because we weren't there. None of us. For all you know, we are doing it EXACTLY like they did.
Second, based on what we think we know, some things have changed since then. It's no longer considered indecent for women to be seen on stage, so young boys no longer need to play women's roles. Most of our theatres are indoors and productions are accompanied by sets and lights. We are also more of a visual culture than the Elizabethans. As in, we believe they were able to take in information aurally much faster/better than we can, because that was pretty much the main form of communication. Therefore, the actors probably spoke a lot faster so, the plays were a lot shorter (there are several references in the plays about the play itself only being 2 hours long). This is to say nothing of the cultural changes - domestic abuse, antisemitism, and slavery aren't as funny as they used to be in popular culture. Contemporary productions often try to make the play relevant to today so it doesn't stand as a museum piece, which leads me to my next point.
Thirdly, the nature of live theatre is that it is never the same twice. It is temporal experience that experiences vast changes based on all kinds of things, most especially the audience. Therefore, it is impossible to do Shakespeare like Shakespeare did it. Even he was unable to do it the same way he did it.
Finally, after 400 years, don't you think the plays would get a little old if they were done EXACTLY the same way all the time. Part of why these plays have been so popular for so long is the room they allow for interpretation and experimentation.
Maybe you disagree. If that's the case, then you can sit in your room, alone, and read him to yourself. Willy don't give a damn.

A Post Script: I'm at a production of As You Like It a few years ago, and Rosalind comes to the edge of the stage and delivers the epilogue. The young woman behind me leans over to her companion and whispers, "I hate when they break the 4th wall." No one likes a nosy dramaturg, so you must suffer. The 4th wall is a late 19th - early 20th century invention. While the hallmark of most American theatre today, the notion that the characters on stage believed themselves to be real and living life in the world, unaware of the hundreds of people watching them was completely foreign to Elizabethans. You would be hard-pressed to ignore an Elizabethan audience, as they were generally loud, smelly and obnoxious. Willy makes fun of them and makes jokes specifically to them all the time. I believe that many characters motivations throughout the plays are to get the audience on his or her side before they do something terrible (Look at Richard III).
Thus endeth the lesson.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

In Short, Everything Wrong With Trying to Do Art in America

"Every time x tries to do a classic, they mangle it. They try to make it relevant."
-a patron to a box office employee