Monday, December 12, 2011

Bruce Norris - You May Not Want To Hear This....

I love this:
(Bruce) Norris does not believe that theatre is a particularly good catalyst for change. "There is no political value in having sensitive feelings about the world. I don't think it generates political action. You go, you watch, you say, 'That's sad,' and then you go for a steak. The best you can hope for is to make people slightly uncomfortable. At least if you take the piss out of the audience, they feel they are being addressed," he argues.

This man is so right. Theatre is not an agent for change. I do believe it can be an agent for understanding, and maybe Norris poo-poos that too easily. Understanding can lead to change, in the right context. I also, strongly, believe it can impart moral lessons, as all storytelling can, but moral lessons are not political statements.

Oh, I know, everyone thinks their own, personal, politics always carry the moral high ground. Here's the difference, morals are personal, politics are institutional. Morals are emotional, politics are intellectual.

Lectures are intellectual, stories are emotional. Please, people, stop writing plays that are political manifestos first, and storytelling second...because nobody gives a shit.

Seriously, nobody gives a shit. Oh sure, the people who agree with you will rally around you, slap you on the back and tell you how brave you are. Here's the're not brave, you're just another part of the problem.

And what is the problem?

We've worked ourselves into a corner because we've allowed ourselves to become awash in trying to give our work "meaning." We've got tons of kids coming out of theatre school, all pumped up with their desire to re-make the world into a liberal utopia, having been fed that they can do this by doing what they love. How happy and easy it all sounds! I don't have to protest, or run for office, or collect signatures, or do any of that icky work. Yes, you can CHANGE THE WORLD with theatre!!!

No you can't. Sorry to break it to you.

Just a joke...OK, Picard fans?
One of the biggest reasons you can't is because in the last century we have all but given up our place as actual, honest-to-god entertainers in favor of trying to be educators. No one cares about theatre except the people making it. Year after year, production after production, we've receded further and further from making emotional connections in favor of trotting out facts, figures and heavy-handed, blindingly obvious arguments. We've lost our way as storytellers so completely that theatre of a serious bent, as opposed to the cotton-candy bullshit of the Broadway musical, is reduced to lecture.

Research is important, facts are important, but, ultimately, useless for storytelling.

"There are 213,000 victims of sexual assault each year! A sexual assault occurs every 2 minutes!!! DOESN'T THAT MAKE YOU ANGRY!!?!!?"

Well, if you want me to be honest, no. It doesn't. The reason is simple, too. It's just a number. Why don't you, instead of waving numbers in my face, tell me story about a rape victim? Someone who's just living, and trying to deal with the results of what's happened. Why don't you eject the "concerned rape councilor" character, who's a crutch for you to inject facts and figures, which, ultimately, are a billion times less interesting and important than just writing a damaged character honestly, and letting an actor play it honestly.

People, also, do not talk like that.

Well, some people do, but NOBODY WANTS TO HAVE A CONVERSATION WITH THEM. Let alone watch them on stage. They may have to, and there's some drama to be mined in that. The drama however would be in the fact that THESE PEOPLE ARE INSUFFERABLE.

A few years ago, I directed a production of Stop Kiss by Diana Son. I love that play, and I think it's genius. It's wonderfully aggressive about not being profound. It's not about gay bashing, or homosexual awakening, it's about two people falling in love, who happen to be women, and something terrible happens to them. The fact is, that story makes more of an impact because Son just refuses to write a "gay play," but creates characters who act and feel real. Normal people in extraordinary circumstances, who are too busy dealing with their situation to even think about what it means to other people, let alone speaking it out loud.

Stop writing about ideas. Write about people.

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