There's a real need for arts conservatories to train students in technique and history of various forms, and this certainly has great values when it comes to painters, illustrators, filmmakers, dancers, actors, and techies-- artists who need practical training.I found this funny because I'd just been talking to a friend about my undergraduate college. I went to a school in a large state college system that was widely recognized as the "second-best" arts school in the system. The top school in the system, our dreaded rival, was spoken of in sneering tones by my friends and classmates. You see, they were a conservatory and we were a regular liberal arts college with a BFA track. Our students, we told ourselves, learned more than just our craft, more about life, more about the art (since we were required to take other classes in the theatre department to fulfill our major). We would be well-rounded artists and individuals with our general education classes in modern history and college math requirements. Those poor schmucks from the conservatory would be ham-strung by having only taken classes in their field, all day, every day for four years. Suckers.
But, of course, out in the real world, the kids coming out of the conservatory far outpaced us liberal arts kids. That's the nature of this field. But in the long run...who knows.
I disagree with Ian about one thing, though. Theatre-making, whether as a playwright, actor, director or designer, is a practical field. You learn most by doing, in a professional setting, over and over again. It's all muscle memory and learning in three dimensions, even the writing. Practice definitely makes perfect. But most of us spend a long time in classroom settings. I think it might be stunting our growth.
As I mentioned here, this is one of the highlighted shows from this year's NY Fringe Festival. In the interest of full disclosure, I haven't seen it, I don't know anyone involved in it, I'm not talking about the quality of the show, just the subject matter. Then there's this, one of the hits from the Midtown International Theatre Festival, this, this, this and the Mamet play here. I know it's not a scientific study or a particular wide sampling, just what I could call back. And maybe it's not any more or less than any other season, maybe I'm just feeling sensitive to it all as I sit in a day job all day. I don't know. But I feel like more and more young writers are starting at plays about pop culture or theatre, more inside baseball stuff, and less things about the "real" world, the world outside the conservatory. And I think the prevalence of training is feeding into it.
For many playwrights, the journey of being a playwright starts in college, takes them to grad school and out in the professional world, with only, in many cases, a glancing brush with people outside of theatre. Yes, there are families, partners, lovers, roommates, day jobs and whatnot out there. It's all true. And Bekah Brunstetter's play is a welcome break from this trend.
I've talked about a theatre I worked at as both a banana republic and Vietnam, in the same post even, but there's another metaphor, too: the Amish. Insular, slightly backwards and odd, incestuous. That's what I fear the whole field is becoming. We spend so much time with each other that we're all we can talk about.
If there's one thing that I would like it would be a moratorium on plays about the entertainment industry, writers, actors, movie making, the evils of Hollywood or whatever. If there's two, a required two year gap between undergrad and grad school. Go out, learn some things, experience some stuff, then start to write. And, if there's three things, it would be a better, more functional playwriting apprentice system. And if there's four things, well, I'll let Steve Martin take it from here.
(Sorry about that embedded video. This one isn't the real thing, but the audio is good.)