I was going to do an post about the Lydia Diamond article from the NYT a few weeks back and then tie it into some of the conversation bouncing around about community...but then, basically, I lost interest about a third of the way through.
Here's what I think about community:
A) You define it for yourself. If "community" for you has geographical limits, cool. if it has to do with lifestyle choices, background, race, fine by me. Whatever you feel connected to, whatever you want to connect to, whoever you're trying to reach, that's all fine by me.
B) But you don't get to define it for anyone else. You don't get to tell me that my community isn't a community because it's not defined by geographic bounds or it's too homogeneous or heterogeneous or whatever. If my community is theatre people, and that's the audience I want, that's my lookout. It doesn't mean my theatre is less valid than yours.
C) THEATRE IS A COMMUNITY ACTIVITY. Period. I can not stress this enough. It's made by community, it's produced by community, it's enjoyed by community. The big question is what community is it for? I firmly believe that theatre is an instructive art. It is meant to teach us something about life, about our life, about the way life should be, about the lives we are or should be leading. I don't mean this is the simplistic didactic sense of finger-wagging morality. I mean it in the big picture, "hold a mirror up to nature" sense. We reflect and amplify life. Why? To educate a community.
One of the plays I saw this weekend (and you can pretty easily guess which one) was very much about the inner workings and existence of wealthy, well-to-do, literate upper middle-class white people who live in Manhattan. In the end, it carried a message meant for that community, that segment of the population. It may not hit other populations in the bull's-eye and I don't think that the playwright cared particularly about that. He had something to say to those people. And he said it.
We have this way of talking about our community as though all we should be doing is venerating them. Sometimes we scold. Sometimes we mock. Sometimes we spew venom and say "how dare you live this way?" But we should always know who we're talking to. Some of the plays I write are meant for white audiences. Some of the plays I write are meant for black audiences. I don't speak to them the same way, about the same things. Some are meant for mixed audiences. Sometimes I know this going in. Sometimes I figure it out later. But that's part of the artist's intention. Not all messages are meant for everyone. There are dog-whistles, codewords, shibboleths a-plenty. That's okay. Writers have been doing that for centuries. Making work that's universal is never a matter of losing touch with yourself or your community. It's about connecting to the human places in you and in your community. And knowing who you're talking to.