Thursday, April 3, 2008

Hear, Hear

Turnabout is fair play, I hear, so since Matthew Freeman tossed me a nice link here, I'll toss it right back to him and this very excellent, thoughtful and well-stated post.

He hits on a lot of things that I was trying to say here. Most of us out in the field know the problems, know the things we want to see and are largely going back and forth over methods. We get so caught up in the "how" that we sometimes forget the "why". And we forget that, as Freeman says, we're all in this together.

I'm disenchanted with the standard model. So, when I start my theatre, I won't have the standard model. Scott wants tribes in small cities. Great! Let's have those, too. John says, in the comments here, that the problem is that not enough theatre people are running theatres. Then let's get it more. It's not all mutually-exclusive, zero-sum games.

The important part is this: we all want there to be better theatre, more vibrant theatre, more exciting theatre more readily available to more people than what we have now. How we get that theatre is up to us. Part of what's happened in the psychology of artists (and, I think, especially theatre artists) is that we've internalized this whole Calvinist, Puritan idea of what we do as being inherently frivolous and somehow needing massive justification. It automatically puts us on weaker footing out in the world, that feeling of having to convince the world that what we do has merit. And it does (and I hate to even utter this loathsome term) contribute to a culture of victim-hood and begging. (Ugh. I need a shower.)

A while back, I took a very, very excellent workshop on collaboration and we spoke at length about music-theatre and musical theatre and the rise and fall of the NEA. It was a kind of a free-wheeling conversation that raised a lot of questions about our methods of making art and our assumptions about the way it's all supposed to work. One of the points raised was that, often, in reaching out for funding, arts groups emphasize the "practical" benefits of exposure to the arts. "If your child listens to Mozart, he'll be good at math! If your child learns to read the works of Ovid in Latin, she'll be ready for law school!" Rather than this simple idea: "If you're exposed to the arts, you'll be a better human." In making the case of our usefulness, we often undermine our worth as artists, as doing something essential to humanity.

At the end of the day, for me, the works of Shakespeare and Moliere, Miller and Williams, Kusher and Vogel, Wasserstein and Wilson, Belluso and Washburn, they make us better people. And should be celebrated for that. We should be able to take comfort in that.

Yes, boards are very complicated things that are hard to get right. And, yes, the audiences are getting older and it's harder to find new one. And, yes, the ticket prices are out of control. And, hell, m*f*ing yes, the economics of this field need a revision, but goddamn it, we make better humans. Let's keep our eye on that ball.

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