A fine time was had by all last night at the "Great Moral Values Debate" at the Brick Theater in good old Billyburg. Martin Denton referred to the participants (myself included) as "ten luminaries of the off-off broadway theatre scene." It's a kind turn of phrase, and we lived up to it: we glimmered with sweat in the only marginally air-conditioned space.
That aside, though, it was fun and we did our best to keep it lively. We struggled, a bit, to make it a true "debate" as most of us were in agreement: theatre is hard, we all have trouble finding an audience, and we all struggle with how best to affect that audience.
I tend to err on the side of the art as its own valueable goal, and the message as a side-effect. I often try very hard NOT to write a message into my plays. I'm no expert on how to live or what to believe.
There was one person in the audience that made what I felt was a rather telling statement: that if theater is "good" it will find an audience. It implied, of course, that if a play doesn't find an audience it is the fault of the play alone. That the work of the company and the performers and the writer haven't "earned" the praise they crave.
I would pose that this is wrong-headed: in a world with so much competition for eyeballs and so much marketing money behind some shows as opposed to others, there are many factors in how to find an audience. And being "good" is not as high on the list as any of us would like.
Of course, the quality of anything is subjective. But it also has to do with what your audience understands to be good. Some people are affected by Hallmark cards and scratch their heads reading T.S. Eliot. Does that mean, could it possibly mean, that the poetry on Hallmark cards is superior to that of T.S. Eliot? Of course not.
The truth is, audiences are just as much a part of what makes something "good" or "bad" as the artists themselves. And where the audiences are going to find "entertainment" (if it is not Off-Off Broadway) DOES have a great deal to do with money, advertising and their own understanding of what they want to see, based on a variety of market factors. Very little of the buying dollar of the average theater-goer has to do with seeking out challenging, brilliant, irreverent plays.
I would like to send a quick hello to John Devore, who I met at the debate, and who is a loud, brash, smart fellow. One I share some mutal friends with, a New York inevitablity. One who noted that he'd read this blog and I should probably keep at it. Here you go John.
- Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.