Thursday, March 26, 2009

Get Busy Living or...

Since I'm back here, I figured I should explain the latest gap. I got nothing as cogent as Isaac to say (though Scott's thoughts on the follow-up are really good). I kind of just got busy, writing a new play (in something like three weeks), getting ready for a reading of another, short play (and meaning to do rewrites there, too...eventually), going out on the occasional date, working my regular 9-5 gig, and doing teaching one day (now, two) a week. Not mention friends, karaoke and watching lots and lots of television programs. (And I haven't even gotten to this one yet...and I know a couple of the writers.)

And so...something had to give. And it was you guys. Or rather, this thing. Which, I'll tell you, isn't necessarily the worst thing in the world. Not that this blog is so awful (I'm not fishing for compliments here); I know it's not. And it probably does some useful service in the world or the theatrosphere (or however that's spelled these days). But...really? I'm happier writing plays. So I think I'll be doing more of that for a little while. And it turns out, it's hard for me to write and blog. Not so much for others, so go read them for a while.

Me, I'm looking for a sandbox to play in. I want to build sand castles, quick, dirty, messy and maybe beautiful, let the tide take 'em and build some more. Isaac is right: we trade in smoke and mirrors. I say, it's a feature, not a bug. I'm tired of trying to make plays perfect. I want to just make some plays. I want to write a metric ton of first drafts and then find some poor sucker willing to let me dive into his pool and put them up, as is. It was good enough for Shakespeare. Hell, it was good enough for Nicky Silver. It can be good enough for me.

Before I head out to play in other people's sandboxes (and maybe pee in a couple of pools), a couple of quick things:

- This is old, but still...heh, indeed.

- Scott, I love ya, dude. No matter what pops up in the comments. But please to remember this: some folks leave small towns for good reasons. Sometimes it's not the place for you, your talent or your life. Sometimes you have to travel, learn a few things about yourself in order to come back (a la Doc Hollywood...or Cars...or Jeff Daniels). Staying, returning to your small town should be presented as an option, but it's not the only one or even a better one for many, many young artists. That's just as irresponsible as presenting New York (or Chicago or L.A.) as a the solution to all of their problems. Ideas are good, options are good, but there is a reality out there.

- And speaking of reality...let's say theatre is not dying...not even really ailing. Let's say that theartre will go on and on and on for all of human history on this planet. And let's say that it will look like this forever: there will be big fancy theatres that do shows and plays and whatnot and appeal to the widest audience with the bluntest objects they can find and there will be mid-sized theatres that ape the big theatres and there will be small theatres that do their own thing, some trying to be mid-sized theatres, some not and there will be little theatres struggling for oxygen, growing, blooming, dying in short bursts, all the time, all over. And that is what American theatre will be. And no blog, no book, no single theatre company is ever, ever going to change that. Let's say all of that. a wiser man than I once said, "What are you prepared to do?"

Remember, the first thing we all learn about theatre? It's about action.

See ya in the funny papers.



Anonymous said...

I think the last part is fantastic. Thank you.

Scott Walters said...

I can't agree with the last part -- once you start pretending that the status quo is all there ever will be, you're dead. YIt may be an active deadness, like zombies, but you're still dead. We re-create reality every day by our willingness to accept it. If the current situation doesn't fit, then change it or create a new reality outside of the current one.

Now, about small towns. Yes, of course small towns aren't for everyone, nor are large towns. I am arguing against the domination of one over the other. As someone said in my comments (was it you), NYC is another region. It isn't the sole center of the theatrical universe, and only our constant reinforcement of that mistaken notion gives it any credence at all.

What I'm trying to get at with the Wal-Mart analogy is that artists need to find a place and stay there. If that place is NY or Chicago or LA, fine, then stay there and commit your life to creating for that place; if it is Marshall NC or Normal IL, fine, stay there and commit your life to creating for that place. But stick someplace, put down some roots, and really become a fixture, listen and absorb. This rootless Wal-Mart culture saps the lifeblood from the arts, replacing it with a thin water that is called "American popular culture" that is the result of theoretical ideas about what Americans "like," not real experience. That's all I'm saying.

99 said...

Here's the thing, and I know you don't agree, but what's dead? Define "dead" or "zombie." Who's dying? Is theatre? Is good theatre? Is authentic theatre? Is it theatre's place in the world? I'm a big fan of How Theatre Failed America and I've attended discussions about it and it invariably turns into how theatre is failing artists. Which isn't the same thing. Yes, there are communities, states, entire regions that are being underserved and if you're choosing to make sure those regions are better served, good on you. But how does that mean you're dying? For you, personally, Scott, believing that this large, unwieldy, multifaceted thing we call the American theatre is doing as well right now as it ever has and will ever and that it is what is, that means death. Okay, fine. But for me, that just means I do what I do, I do what I can, have conversations, write the best plays I can, and decide where I want to work. I don't think there's anything inherently less noble about leaving Columbia, SC and moving to New York with the express desire to perform on Broadway, just like I don't think there's anything inherently more noble about leaving New York to make a theatre in Cairo, IL. You pursue your art and follow where it takes you. If being on Broadway isn't fulfilling for you, don't do it. But also don't say that, as a rule, being on Broadway is unfulfilling.

I completely agree with you that an artist should choose the kind of career they want to have and pursue it. I just don't see how that jibes with calling something an "active deadness."

I'm not arguing for New York or anywhere else to be the center of the theatrical universe. I'm not even arguing anything, really. I'm just saying that there are many valid paths for an artist to choose, at any stage of their career.

Scott Walters said...

Well, I suppose this is circular reasoning, but dead to me means not changing. Standing still. Here's the issue, perhaps: if you like the way things are, then good on you -- work within it, do your thing, make your contribution. But if you don't like the way things are, don't pretend you do just because it is easier -- make the effort to change it. To say there are problems, but to just shrug and say "That's the way they will always be" is defeatist and cynical, and ultimately it will damage your soul, even if you achieve some level of success. I think everyone's job, not just in the arts but in life, is to make the world better. If you see something that could be better, and you ignore it because it is too much trouble to change it, then you have contributed to the problem. My personal choice has been to commit to expanding theatre to areas that are underserved, and to facilitating a broader use of the arts for self-expression. To me, part of that means combating the current story about theatre that draws artists like lemmings to a few places, draining talent away from other places. That's the problem I saw that I'm trying to make better. And that's a very hard job. It would be way easier to just shrug and say, "Well, a centralized theatre is how it's always been [historically inaccurate] and that's the way it will always be [defeatist], so I'll just keep teaching these youngsters the easy way and leading them to slaughter." I'm not saying that's what you're suggesting, I'm saying that as a way of illustrating my point. All the major social changes had to fight the idea that the way things were was the way things would always be.

99 said...

I'm certainly not saying that a "centrally-located" theatre is best, in any way. I actually think that my description of various levels of theatres works in a number of locales and regions. That was my intention when I wrote it. The important part of the thing is the question: what are you prepared to do? And frankly, especially given the context of the original quote, revolution is a legitimate answer. I just don't think that the theatre is in danger of dying off. I really, really don't. Is it as varied as it has been in the past? No. Are artists as encouraged to experiment, fail and push themselves? No. Is there as strong a connection to the audiences? No. But it's not going to suddenly vanish. I think ringing the alarm bell all the time deafens not only ourselves but our audiences and brings as defeatist a spirit as anything else. I say, "What are you prepared to do?" as a real question. For myself, it's doing the best work I can, the best way I can and letting go of ideas about a certain kind of success or my approach to that success. I didn't say anything or mean to imply that it was too hard to make changes. It is hard to fight an entire culture AND create my works that I'm proud of. And I don't stay in New York because it's easier as an artist or because I believe it's the center of the theatrical universe. I stay here because it's home, which is, ultimately what you're asking people to do. Or maybe not, I suppose. I see you say "that's not what I'm suggesting" but I don't understand why you keep treating me like that's what I'm suggesting.

Scott Walters said...

I agree with you: theatre is not dying, if we mean by that the actual genre of people pretending to be other people in front of an audience. But I do think that the current system is starting to collapse under its own weight and requires adjustment for the 21st century. That's not surprising -- it has been in place for more than a century, and I can think of few things in America that stay the same for that long. A lot had changed in a hundred years. And that's why I object to the idea that the way it is is the way it will be. Like our banking system and our auto makers, the industrial system of doing theatre is starting to crumble, in my opinion. So my particular answer to your question "what are you prepared to do" is "investigate a different way." And I am working to create an organization that can promote and encourage that new way.

If NYC is your home, by all means stay there and create art. That gets all my admiration.

99 said...

Amen to all of the above. With this added benefit: if the system fails, the system fails. Thankfully, unlike the auto industry or the banking sector, if theatres collapse, society as a whole won't necessarily descend into the Road Warrior. I'm really not downplaying the awful effects of being laid off or the lack of opportunities. But I think theatre will keep happening and if we prepare for that eventuality, we'll all be all the better for it.