Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Future Is Now

The standard complaints apply here, but there are some pretty good things to come out of this. The one thing I was most struck by was the number of people who basically declare that the system is broken. Just flat out. No one really thinks that it will last 25 years as it is. Which makes you wonder why it still lasts today.

The other thing that struck me is that no one is talking about saving it. No ideas for fixing the standard model. Either it's just ignored, or it's declared non-functional, or it's assumed that the theatre of the future will look nothing like it. At what point does it simply cease to exist? No one seems to know. But these folks are moving on.

Yes, I do like the playwrights' responses best. But even still, the ideas live in such a narrow band. More community involvement. No standard model. More interactivity (in terms of audience outreach). More like rock shows. All good and interesting, and, yep, they're short essays, but nothing that goes beyond that surface. Little reflection on what that means. Like I said below, there's little sense of all of that beyond ways of getting more (or different) butts in seats. Which is a noble goal and might be the place we need to start. But there's little about what kind of art they will be seeing in their club settings that they were texted to attend. Well, beside magnet theater.

What will plays, theatre pieces, dance pieces look like in 25 years? What did they look like 25 years ago? How different are they now? I don't think there's really that much difference, in terms of actual plays. And that might be the larger problem. It might even be an insolvable problem, really. As the old saying goes, there are only seven stories in the world. Well, some folks have even narrowed it down to two. And plays? How many kinds of plays are there really? I don't know. But that might be a good question to answer.


RLewis said...

Just from an nyc view: for something that so many think is irrevocably broken, it sure is cranking out some terrific and well-attended work lately.

Just a sampling: Our Town (selling out), Angela's Mixtape, Ruined (extended), Rambo Solo (extended), Telephone, The Good Negro, Jailbait, That Pretty Pretty (extended), Why Torture is Wrong, Beowolf, Krapp 39 (moved), Humor Abuse, Love/Stories (extended), 1984, End Days, Orestia, Toxic Avenger, Rock of Ages (moved), This Beautiful City (moved), Soul Samuri (sold out), Blanche/FEMA Trailor (moved), Red Haired Thomas, People Without History, Chautauqua!, Venice Saved (sold out), Hair (moved), Rooms, DollHouse (returned), Incident at Vichy, and I'm skipping a lot of the classics -- WOW - what an indie spring season!

Anonymous said...

99 seats, how do i email you - can't find a link on the page - am i being stupid?

99 said...

Good point. That was rather mean of me. You are definitely not stupid. If you go to my profile on Blogger, there's a link. But here it is: Please don't spam me, spammers!

99 said...

And while I'm here, RLewis, no one is saying that there aren't productions, even good productions going on. What makes the system broken is the relatively narrow scope of those productions and the intense dissatisfaction a large number of artists are feeling. At a cursory glance, your list looks like more than 50% of those projects were developed and produced outside of the standard theatre model or by smaller companies and transfered to the large institutions. That's not an "indie" season, exactly. There is a ton of exciting work out there and a lot of exciting artists are working. That's why I don't really give into despair. But there are a lot more artists out there, not getting their chances and a lot of great work not seeing the light of day. There could be more. It's not the theatre that's broken; it's the institutions.

RLewis said...

Look, 99, I'll give you the supply & demand issues, but ya can't say there's a "narrow scope" and then critique all these successes because 50% comes from outside your scope. Is it narrow or not?

You say that you don't give into despair, but your blog does its best to spread despair to anyone who'll read. Eventually, that has the very effect that you purport to be against. Have you checked out Sheila C.'s blog? She doesn't seem so disgruntled. Any guess why? Institutions of all different sizes are doing really great work, Sheila seems less concerned with their status, but if your problem is that it's not everyone's work, you're gonna be ranting till the end.

How do we get the theatrosphere to be a place that supports and grows the theater community, instead of just constantly ragging on it? If you're not part of the solution....

99 said...

Despair? Really? I didn't think so and that's not my end. And, as should be obvious, I completely reject the whole "part of the solution, part of the problem" concept. We're not on sides here, we're not at odds. I think everyone, from ADs to board chairs to funders to artists to critics, even, want a vibrant, alive and present theatre and some of us differ on the best way to get there.

That said, the standard model is broken, ailing, floundering, whatever you want to say. We're all talking about it, we're all concerned about it. Audiences are aging, graying and dwindling. Looking at that list again (and I haven't seen all of those plays), but there are a lot of plays about white people, a few plays about black people, and not a lot of plays about anyone else. That's not exactly a wide scope. And, since we're talking about the institutional, non-profit model and not just the general health of the theatre, it is valid to point out a large number of what's going on NY stages and what's being successful are projects that don't come from that model. I think, in your comment, that it's not right to label Ruined, The Good Negro, Why Torture..., or Hair as "indie" theatre. They come from big, institutional non-profits. Same basically goes for Rooms, Toxic Avenger, and Rock of Ages. Those are commerical productions. It's a different model and a different beast (and before you even go there, this has nothing to do with content).

Again, I'm not one of the people saying that theatre is dying. It's not. I believe that firmly. But I do believe that our big, non-profits are failing and can do better. I just think that we can do better.