Tuesday, March 31, 2009

All Of This Has Happened Before...*

(So, apparently, that little break was way more little than I expected. I left my memory stick at home today with the play I was working and have nothing to do at work. So...there's this.)

Apparently, watching a lot of television leads to philosophy. Two of my favorite shows lately, this one and this one lead me to this philosophical idea: eternal return. Or for the more theatrically minded, The Circle of Life. Or also, so it goes, if you want to get all literary.

In the back and forth below, I said something I think bears a little repeating: theatre is not dying. There. I said it. I'll say it again: the American theatre is not dying. There is not doom and gloom on the horizon. We will not all be replaced by life-size high def screens playing the collected works of Michael Bay. I do not believe this. And, I think, in most of your hearts, you do not believe this.

On the flip side, the theatre has been dying since the day after Oedipus Rex closed. There was always some better time, when the plays were better and more varied, the artists happier, the audiences plentiful and engaged. Whether it was five years, ten years, fifty years or whatever, it was better and the current time is a pale shadow. Plays are crasser, shallower, the audiences are old now and out of touch and the artists are unsatisfied and unhappy. Critics have said it, theatre schools have been founded upon it, pages of ink spilled over it. Theatre has been a dying art since the year 3.

So it goes.

I'm being flip about this, I know. But it does drive me up the wall. What I was trying to say here wasn't that it was good, or right, or even unfixable. But it is. It simply is. And there has to be a point where you recognize it and make your decision about what to do about it. Not what to say or who to talk to, but do. And where you're going to put your energy.

I don't think it does theatre any good to have people running around like Chicken Littles, throwing up their hands and saying, "The sky is falling." Because, from the outside, it ain't. It ain't falling at all. Yes, of course, I believe it can be better and, yes, of course, I believe we can all be acting towards change, but the professions of disaster don't help our case and keep us in this reactive, begging mode.

This isn't to say that theatres closing and jobs and opportunities drying up isn't a problem for all of us. I'm talking about the attack to that problem. How do we engage it? I've worked in theatres for a healthy chunk of my adult life, but I'm a playwright. I think like a playwright. I engage this problem as a playwright. Other people engage it in different ways and kudos to them. We will all come together at some point. I do have faith in that. Theatre is continuing to develop, grow and change. As it evolves, we evolve. We may not always like the current state. We may have more velociraptors and less peacocks. But like the old joke about the weather in New England, wait five years and it'll change.

When I approach all of this stuff from the standpoint of an artist, and trying to be an artist only, my horizon does narrow a bit. I think, "What am I going to write next? What do I have to say now?" Among the people I have to banish from my mental studio, along with critics, artistic directors and my parents, right there are the good fighters, saying, "How is this making theatre better?" I can only write what I write. Once it's done, I can figure out how to use this script to make the theatre I want to see, want to be involved in. Right now, I'm focusing on being an artist. And if theatre is dying art form, smothering in its own pretensions and creature comforts, if good work is snuffed out, well, then, what the hell's the point?

The point is I can opt out of that system. Just...opt out. Or opt in partly, slightly, or decide that in the ecology of theatre, I'm not an oak, growing anywhere. I'm an orchid and I flower better in fewer places. And, yes, Scott, I know: the oak suck up all the nutrients and light and the orchids die off. But if I'm a successful little orchid, I make other orchids and sooner or later, we take over the oaks. But, huh, what do you know? The oaks gave us shelter, and added some nutrients back and when they're gone, we go. But then we're all mulch and new oaks and orchids grow. (I should note here that I literally know nothing at all about plants, ecology, or oaks. That may not have been readily apparent.)

Our ecosystem is out of whack, that's for sure. But unlike the real ecosystem, this imaginary one isn't going to kill us all. Honest.

All of this has happened before...and it will happen again.


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