A more thorough response to Scott Walters recent post on Theatre Ideas. The one I wrote on his blog last night was a bit quick and dirty, and perhaps a little too glib.
Scott breaks down his objections to other's critiques of his recent posts one at a time but ends with what I think I will term his "key graf:" (I actually made little quotation mark signs with my fingers after I typed that)
Listen, I am not against art that provokes. I think we needed the provocative art of the 60s and 70s as a way of breaking us out of the complacency of the 1950s. But today's mass media is filled with hostility. We are constantly yelled at on TV, the internet, magazines, newspapers about environmental damage, the economic destruction of the global economy, the increasingly wide gap between rich and poor. We are constantly told, at least implicitly, that changing things is impossible, that idealism is stupid, that competition beats cooperation, that capitalism red in tooth and claw benefits everyone, that the spiritual is nonsense, that personal piece is impossible and undesirable. 2005 is not the Leave It to Beaver world of the 1950s, one that needed to be shaken up. Today, we are shaken up hourly, to the point where we no longer notice that we are shaking. Maybe if we want to attract attention, we need to stop shaking, not shake harder.
And closes with a sort of open ended, wide eyed question:
Is that so objectionable? Why are we so very much attached to attack?
I think I've made a bit of a mistake about what I thought Scott was trying to say previously. It's been my impulse to take him to take for trying to tell artists what he thought they should do. I think, more accurately, he's expressing exhaustion. He thinks that people can hear us anymore, no matter what we say, if we join in on the "noise."
There is something unique to our time, about the constant barrage of information. How we walk around with our cell phone, music, e-mail, video games all in one small device, hooked up to our ear. It's the age of competeing 24 hour news coverage, of constantly updated blogs, of screaming from the right and negotiation on the left.
What's amazing, too, is that the level of discourse has dropped considerably. We speak in sound bites, the rhetorical version of McDonald's cheeseburgers. Just read some of the letters and speeches of "The Founding Fathers" and compare them to one or two speeches of our current President to see the brutal leap backwards we've made. We hear more and more noise, and that noise has less and less to say.
Scott seems to be responding to this, more than anything else. And I would say that he's in the right business.
He's in theatre.
That's one of the things that may save us, gentlemen and women. We are in an industry that expressly says "Come and sit down and be quiet and turn off your cell phone and be with other people." Unlike film where the movie can overwhelm the senses, invite conversation, and the actors can't hear you or respond to you; theatre is a place where our senses are heightened and we are very, very aware of one another. It's a place that I feel will become more and more attractive (if we make it so) to people who feel, I'm sure, very much like Scott does: that they can't get away from the awful clanging and banging of todays 24 hour mediastream.
So while I disagree with Scott that the solution is to change the plays in order to appeal to people that want a little less conflict; I think we all need to take heart. We're standing in the oasis, and we just need to get a sign to those in the desert that says "Water here."
- 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.