Saturday, April 04, 2009

A mini-rant

It’s theatre competition season for Texas high schools. I’ve been timekeeper for a couple of local contests, which means I’ve seen thirteen plays in the last week.

I saw one good production (Man of La Mancha, which didn’t advance to the next level of competition), one bad production (Inherit the Wind, performed by rhesus monkeys on Paxil), and eleven productions that elicited no feelings from me whatsoever. These shows were not bad. They were well rehearsed and precisely performed. However, they were not good. At all.

I used to enjoy going to the theatre quite a bit, but now I don’t. I don’t see a lot of terrible theatre, but easily 90% of what I see is just pointless. Like, one of the productions I saw yesterday was Rabbit Hole, a play about a couple coming to terms with the death of their child. It wasn’t awful, but it was derivative of countless similar plays and movies, and I still don’t know why the playwright bothered to put pen to paper to tell this story.

I also saw Kindertransport. Once again, not a poorly accomplished production. But I really wanted to go up to the director after the show and say, “If you’re looking for something to do on a Friday, and you see that a theatre is doing this play, do you immediately call for tickets? Is this the kind of theatre you enjoy watching? If not, then why would you bother to make this kind of theatre?”

It’s not that I don’t like contemporary, heavy drama. I think The Laramie Project is an excellent piece of work because it feels new, and it takes advantage of what theatre can do as a medium of storytelling. Rabbit Hole felt like a Movie of the Week, and Kindertransport felt like a novel being read aloud. Shouldn’t theatre feel like theatre?

When did theatre get so dull? I still enjoy the process of making theatre, but the act of attending theatre has been boring me to tears. Is anyone else running into this problem?


At 8:11 PM, Blogger Gedaly said...

Yes. All the time. It's saddening as a theatre professional to run into this sort of thing when one sees theatre. Especially at the professional level. But every now and then a great show comes along and reminds me why I do what I do... and that I should set my goals that high as well.

At 10:31 AM, Blogger Meg said...

I know you're tired of hearing it from me, but I posit that Competition Theater is not theater at all. It's stylized entertainment, often very slickly and extremely and competently well-done, but the goal of the action is to win prizes and approval from judges, not to reach members of an audience emotionally, intellectually, or what have you. But in order to risk making an emotional connection, the people involved with the production have to be willing to accept that the emotional connection might not happen in a given scene in a given performance. For a director under pressure to deliver product, it can be too big a risk. If I catch a show on an off night, am I likely to buy tickets to their next show? And so the process of setting the emotional moments in stone begins, and as that happens, the life in the moment dies, and you end up with what Peter Brook calls "Deadly Theater." I'm not really blaming the productions that do this; in this economy it's not a great time to be risky in an arts organization. And for high school theaters hoping that prizes will bring them a tiny bit of respect and recognition for their fantastic kids who are too often overlooked?--again, I understand.

So I totally agree with you--it is a rare production that really grabs me emotionally, and when that happens I am cheered up for weeks. I seek in my own work as a director to allow my actors freedom to find the moment and play it and not worry when it doesn't happen. As an actor I try to allow each moment to play as honestly as I can. I fail far more often than I succeed. But then along comes a new moment, and I try again. Art is hard. Why couldn't I be a doctor? ;-)

You'll see a show that sets your hair on fire again. In the meantime, continue to enjoy the good work you are doing with your students!


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