Thursday, February 26, 2009

And Now, a Word from Our Sponsors…

I’m not really an endorsement kind of gal – cheap commercialism ranks low on my list of priorities. But the advent of low-cost, quality bus service like Megabus and Bolt Bus, have changed my life. Or at least changed my relationship to that behemoth to the south. I am able to pop down to New York on a whim, for relatively low dollars, while enjoying free wifi and keeping my lappy happily juiced. Megabus even offers an 11:30PM bus back to Boston, which is perfect for catching a show without having to harass your friends for a place to stay (or taking an extra day off from work). As we speak, I am heading to Nueva York to enjoy the musical stylings of Tally Hall and some piece of theatricalness tomorrow evening. More anon.
(And, yes, should Mega-or-Bolt-Bus decide to compensate me for my endorsement, I will gladly accept it - even artists on the internet need to eat).

Saturday, February 7, 2009

You going to pay for that?

I literally wrote most of this post a year ago and only stumbled upon it now. Whoops. I think it is still mostly relevant.

Art and capitalism. Two subjects that have been dominating my conversation lately and with fascinating results. Part of this conversation was played out in a previous post about new work, but I felt like it really deserved a post of its own.

Art is not a natural fit with capitalism. First off, capitalism is about the individual, and Art, particularly Theatre, is about a community. (Does Hamlet die if there is no one there to see him?) Capitalism thrives on consumerism, an exchange of goods and/or services. Art is a different kind of exchange but in a land without subsidy, Art needs your money to happen.

Art invites you to participate, in fact, it needs you to participate to function. The story of a book exists more in your mind than on the page. A book sitting on your shelf doesn't "tell you" what its about - you have to read it, you have to engage with it, participate in it to get the story. Why would this be any different in theatre, where a live audience sits in close proximity to the action on stage?

Theatre requires an audience to be sitting up, to be paying attention, to be engaged. Paula Vogel once said the play isn't what happens on stage, but what happens between the stage and the audience. So, if a play isn't working, it might not just be what's on stage. Part of schism is the theatre's own fault. As a friend of mine pointed out, we don't encourage people to yell at the stage anymore. We usually have the house lights out and expect everyone to watch in respectful silence.

I'm not suggesting throwing rotten fruit and veg is entirely the way to go. But OFTEN I have had the experience (and most often in America) that an audience just sits there, almost combative. "Come on," you can hear their brains' taunting, "just try and entertain me." That production is not going to be enjoyable for anyone. It's understandable. If you just dropped $80 of your hard-earned cash, you want to get $80 of experience - whatever that means to you. But don't you want that to be a good experience? Do you expect it to be good if you dropped a meaningful amount of money?

I guess for some people, a good time is being unhappy. More importantly, this is why art transcends a standard commercial model. Ok, that's elitist and fundamental to the objection Republicans have to the art. I think it is also true. It's why art is subsidized pretty much everywhere but here. Can we get on that, Mr. O?

Friday, February 6, 2009

Will All the Fake People Please Rise?

My boss just handed me an article from the Boston Globe, in which Michael Kranish quotes Rep. Jack Kingston from Georgia expressing doubt that I am a real person. Quote:

“We have real people out of work right now and putting $50 million in the NEA
and pretending that’s going to save jobs as opposed to putting $50 million in a
road project is disingenuous.”

My first thought is: FUCK YOU, GEORGIA! But, that’s not really constructive, so here's an attempt at reason. Did Republicans not learn in the last election that arbitrarily dividing the nation between “real” and “fake” people is neither popular nor constructive? Apparently, no.

I am a person, Mr. Kingston. I eat, I breathe, I talk, I walk and I vote (not in Georgia, fortunately for you). But, especially I work. I work roughly 50 hours a week in a university arts department and I work anywhere from 10 – 40 hours a week to make art independently. My friends and I are making a positive cultural contribution to our society. In a thousand years, future generations will look to what we’ve made to find out who we are today. The greatest societies of all time are marked by their art. We wish to be in those ranks.

But, you don’t care about that. You don’t care about future generations, as demonstrated by your reluctance to support constructive environmental policies. I can understand why you wouldn’t want to subsidize the arts when that money could subsidize oil, a clean and renewable energy source that will help future generations thrive…Oh, actually, I don’t understand, cause that’s stupid.

But, again, if postive cultural impact and better lives for this generation and the next aren’t good enough for you, I refer, once again, to the hard numbers provided by the Phoenix editorial staff last year:

“Undeniable too is the economic impact of the nonprofit arts sector. Total
spending exceeds $53 billion by organizations and $80 billion by audiences. The
tax revenues they generate exceed $10 billion for the federal government, $7.3
billion for states, and $6.6 billion for cities and towns. This impact is even
more pronounced in Boston. In 2002, the city’s so-called creative industry — its
seventh largest industry— added $10.7 billion to Boston’s total economic
output, and $12.7 billion to the greater metro area.”

Maybe the reason you are so quick to jump on the “real-fake” bandwagon, is you are having a crisis of conscience, Mr. Kingston. Maybe you realize you have absolutely no connection with reality (which your website supports), therefore endangering your “real” status. Maybe you, sir, are fake?

No, I don’t think so. I think, unless you are revealed to be a synthetically-created robot programmed with all of the worst rhetoric the Republican party has cooked up in the last 75 years, you too are real.

Now that reality has been established, do you think we might elevate the level of debate a little? Maybe with facts and statistics on all sides to make a well-reasoned vote? Or, were you not programmed that way?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Ruminations from a Mourner

This past weekend, I made a quick venture south to theatrical mecca to see Stolen Chair's Theatre is Dead and So Are You, a "vaudeville funeral for the stage." I had a thoroughly enjoyable evening. However, like all good theatre, my mind was left spinning. Is theatre actually "dead?" One of the actors posits a comparison between theatre today and theatre in the time of Shakespeare when (to paraphrase) audiences fingered oranges and orange-sellers, straining to hear men dressed as women outdoors in overcast London light. And that's when theatre was supposed to be alive?

The actor whose name escapes me makes a good point. I've always found the declaration of theatre's passing a might premature and not terribly apt anyway. It's like saying the nerds were dead in high school. Theatre isn't dead, like colloquial Latin, say. It just doesn't sit with the cool kids at lunch anymore.

But if High School taught us anything, it's that the cool kids weren't very interesting and often don't end up making any important contributions to society. The socially down-trodden, however, motivated by a desire to belong somewhere or their own special brand of crazy-genius, revolutionize the world to their liking (and hopefully, for the better). So, maybe theatre isn't going to fit in with cooler cousins TV and live sports. It doesn't mean it, and we theatre practitioners, can't do some awesome stuff. So, enough of the dead talk, already!

And, frankly, if in the extension of this metaphor, the cool kids are cultural millstones like American Idol or Ultimate Fighting, I think theatre is better off with the weird kids.

(Sorry, once I grab onto a good metaphor, I have to run it into the ground.)