Wednesday, October 14, 2009

In which I bite off more than I can chew

I am an actor. I write, I direct, I have been a member of 4 theatre companies in 2 cities, and the Artistic Director of one. I've been involved with theatre as a professional, on various levels, for almost 20 years. I feel qualified to speak on the subject.

I believe in theatre. I believe in theatre in ways I can't even describe. Truth to tell, I believe in any event that brings humanity together in a way that allows them to feel something as a group. Movies, concerts, sporting events, any and all of those can fit the bill. I don't, personally, give a rat's behind about sports, but I understand that it holds power. Sitting in a room with dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of people sharing an emotional release connects us more than anything else on the planet. We see ourselves as part of a whole, and divisions seem unimportant when everyone around you is feeling the same thing.

I believe, OK?

However, I think, far too often, we, as theatre artists, end up in a little clique of people who feel generally the same way, tell themselves how great we all are, and pat ourselves on the back for it. In a recent blog I read the author, whom I do not know, listed off a bunch of their friends, and congratulate them for "working for the good of theatre without regard to stroking their own egos."

I know some of the folks that were listed in that blog, I have no personal animosity toward them, think they do very good work, and want to see them succeed. I'm also keenly aware that their egos are, in fact, hugely invested in being, or to be acknowledged as being, at the "cutting edge" of what they see as the future of theatre. That's not a sin, as ego is an inherent part of what we do. The basic need to create "art" is based around a single idea....being egotistical enough to think that the ideas which are exciting to you will be exciting to other people.

Basically, the first step is to just admit, if you make art, of any kind, you're an egotist. Not an egomaniac, because that's a wholly different thing, but if you don't think pretty highly of your own ideas, what's the point? Why would you share? I keep this blog because, hey, maybe somebody out there will see some wisdom, or get some entertainment, from what I write.

Theatre is not any one thing. I HATE musicals. They drive me up the wall. When I do see a musical that I enjoy, it tends to be the exception that proves the rule. That being said, I accept that lots of people do like musicals. It might even be said that more people like musicals than straight plays.

Although, that seems like something that is inspired, and perpetuated, more by the culture of Broadway than anything else. A discussion for another time.

I like straight plays. I did not come to theatre from glee club, or choir, but from seeing a production of American Buffalo right here in Chicago. I had been in my College theatre program mainly out of boredom, but that show let me see something that I, personally, could latch on to. Something that spoke to me.

That means I, as a theatre professional, am going to want to do that kind of work. I'm going to suggest and push for it at my theatre company. That's my job, and it's an activity of ego. I don't really care if you can market the shows I like, but if you let me tell you what I find incredibly exciting about them, maybe an idea will present itself.

That doesn't mean I'm right. Hell, I'm dead wrong a lot.

And this is why, frankly, I like having people around to tell me I'm wrong. I like getting well-written, thoughtful, bad reviews. I like to have people who question and challenge. Art is not a conflict-free zone, nor should it be. Let's fight about it! Let's be passionate about it!

The point is this, the last thing we need in an art form that's, frankly, not popular, is to sit around in little groups assuring each other of their own genius, "the cool kids" who know how things should be. What you need is a bunch of people to execute their own, individual ideas as well as they possibly can, and and succeed or fail based on that. Oh, yes...people will fail, and that's a good thing. It culls the weak, the less talented, the less organized and the less focused.

Most of the time the best ideas aren't the ones that everyone likes, and are nowhere near the "cutting edge," because frankly, the best ideas are still the old ones. Tell a good, entertaining, compelling story, commit to it, pay more attention to the emotions than the trappings. Shakespeare had a bare stage, a few benches, and a desire to please the people who came. That's where it starts.

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