Monday, September 13, 2010

you're killing yourself!

Back from two days in the city. It was a slaughterhouse of meetings, restaurant food and how-do-you-do's. Every interstitial moment was occupied by writing a big grant proposal that's due in two days.

I saw two pieces of theater - one was work-related, one not. The work one was great - directed and written by a guy in Vancouver. It was fresh and funny, risky, and filled with insight about sexuality, relationships, and love. Two sex scenes, double-handed anal fisting, witches, vials full of semen... how can you go wrong?

The second play was called "A Life in the Theatre", by David Mamet. The acting was fantastic, and there were some very funny scenes. However, the subject matter of the piece made me understand why the average Joe does not watch theatre.

The first thing I noticed was the audience. The place was packed, but I felt like I was in a church. There was a certain deathly reverence and snobbery afoot. Not a place to say the wrong things aloud! Grey-haired folks in sweaters and slacks. The other third of the crowd was young - they were obviously actors and theatre-school students, who will grow up to wear slacks and sweaters and go see theatre. A recycling audience that is not growing - possibly shrinking.

I wonder why?

Apparently David Mamet is a brilliant playwright - he's best known for writing Glengarry Glen Ross. If you are in theatre, you know this, so you go see it, and you will love it, because (apparently) David Mamet is AMAZING. If you're not in theatre, you don't give a damn. This is the first big problem - don't re-mount a fucking play just because it's a famous playwright. This was written in 1977, for god's sake! Do people recreate movies that have already been done? (Sometimes, but they always suck). Do you find a script written in 1977 and make a movie out of it in 2010? No you don't! Why? Because it's NO LONGER RELEVANT. This is why Shakespeare is not fun for most of us. If you need a literature degree to understand the subtleties of the story, then you enter the vile realm of elitism, and risk isolating 99% of your potential audience.

Also, the play made too many "inside jokes" about theatre as an art form. Actors missing their queues, overacted scenes, and other things which I'm not sure about, but people laughed at. Interludes between scenes were filled by an audio recording of some old theatre guy talking about embarassing theatre things that happened to him. "Old Johnny fell in LOVE with this novel, so he would carry it with him everywhere - even onto the stage during the performance." The audience thought this was hilarious, and guffawed appropriately. Gag.

Why would you perform work that only theatre people will fully enjoy? It seems self-centred, and inconsiderate of the audience. It makes me want to throw chairs and grenades.

Re-creating work is safe because you're not to blame if no one likes the story. The writer is to blame, and if the writer is famous, you're going to look like an uneducated savage if you critique it. It feels a bit like watching a rerun of M*A*S*H on TV. It's been done before, it was good in its time, you know some people will watch it. It passes the time. But it ain't nothing special.

If you want your fucking medium to stay alive, by the gods, PLEASE take some risks and PLEASE talk about things that the world cares about. Create new work. Speak your mind! If you're going to re-mount old work, make it relevant! Do something new with it!

Theatre-goers who enjoy these shows have no right to complain that no one appreciates theatre. The rest of us are taken up by art and stories that are relevant to ourselves, and to the world today. The problem isn't the medium, its the stories you're telling. This is more of an issue in theatre than any other artform I can think of.

But I do have hope. There is some mindblowing theatre out there - and a good live performance is more powerful than anything you will ever see.


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