Thursday, September 9, 2010

Why Do You Insist There's a Difference?

So, via another blog I was exposed to this:

Why Can't Playwrights Feel Free to be Political?

Which, I'm going to speak frankly here, I found to be one of the most annoying pieces of self-serving tripe I've seen in a while. Now, I've not read or seen Ugly, and I am not familiar with Emma Adams as a playwright, so I'm not going to speak on the quality of her writing. Except in the case of this blog. It reads like a playwright wanting to mention her own production as many times as possible in conjunction with a Athol Fugard.

Way to go, Emma.

It's also yet another damn example of pushing this idea that there's some impenetrable wall between "entertaining" and "making a statement." It's a falsehood. There's nothing in the world keeping you, as a playwright, from writing a compelling, entertaining work that actually has something to say about the world, politically or otherwise. Nothing except you as a playwright. You can write any story in the world, in the universe even, and you can give it any meaning you want to with your pen/typewriter/word processor. You're the playwright, damn it! You're God of this world you've created!

If I could speak to Ms. Adams, I'd simply say that by even chewing over this "division" she sees, she's failed. By acknowledging it, she's become a slave to it. A story is a story is a story. Story is what engages people, emotion is what engages an audience, and that's what lets you make whatever point you want.*

If you want to make a political statement?...Start with people.

Let me use a movie as an example. The Hurt Locker was, hands down, the best movie made about the Iraq War. The movie made me think about the political implications, the people of Iraq, and the American soldiers over there. Fact is, NONE of that is vocally dealt with on screen. It's all subtext. What screenwriter Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow did was focus on the people involved, their story, and how it affected them.

They made the political personal, through that it became emotionally engaging, and when you are emotionally engaged, you're entertained. You're invested in the story being told. You want to know how it ends, you're dying to know how it ends. No, it's not dancing girls and crappy musical numbers, but that's not the end-all be-all of "entertainment." (Frankly, it's pretty much anti-entertainment, as far as I'm concerned) It's only people trying to make the same, insipid argument Ms. Adams is who think so.

...And if you think a long, impassioned monologue about how horrible life is in Afganistan after the Taliban is making it personal...You. Are. Wrong. Unless maybe you can get Sir Ian McKellan to play the role.

I'm far more taken with what Anthony Neilson has to say about theatre, political or otherwise:

Don't Be So Boring

I've linked to that before, but, frankly, it's still relevant. Your job is to create a compelling evening of theatre. Make people care about what's happening on your stage. Make them CARE. That's what "entertainment" is. If it can be thought-provoking, too, great, but I'll always believe the shortest path to the soul is the heart, and not the mind.

*I want to state again, I know nothing about Ugly, as a play. It may avoid all the pitfalls I've seen be so damn common in "political" theatre. This, well, let's call it what it is, rant is simply about what she wrote for the Guardian.

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