Scott Walters and George Hunka are once again inspiring the best in each other. Scott posted this and George follows up here.
As the vulgar, low-brow artist of the pack, I'll try to put this all in a nutshell:
Scott, who teaches a class in Modern Drama, concludes with this:
"So I can't agree that the theatre has somehow been stuck in a formal rut for 150 years. It seems to me that it has been just as revolutionary as any of the arts, if perhaps a bit slower at times. Now if you wanted to argue that we haven't had an advance in the theatre's means of production since the Victorian era, I'd be with you!"
And George responds with a bit of "well, sure, maybe Scott's right about this-and-that BUT" and then goes on to belittle what he views as the current popular mode of playwrighting. He swings his bat pretty wide, going after Nicky Silver, Magical Realism in its entirety, absurdism, irony, Avenue Q. Then he makes the following statement:
"...there's very little in the work of our contemporary playwrights that suggests even a familiarity with the innovations of modern theater over the past 150 years, let alone a coming-to-terms with them."
Then he goes on to define the "next major project in theater" as "to reintegrate the lyrical, minimalist text with the Grotowskian body, to reintroduce eroticism and tragedy into a dramatic form desiccated by facile irony, totalitarian ideology of the left and right, and absurdism. Obviously, while narrative is welcome to stay, it will be a different sort of narrative than the one that our traditionalist playwrights conceive, and popular culture and magic realism will have very little to do with it."
Now, I actually was having a conversation in a bar about this very thing, or I think so, because I had a few beers. I have, in my life, certainly talked disparagingly about the cage of narrative that we often fall into. Also, to be fair, I'm working on plays that are rife with irony, magical realism, absurdism and popular culture. But I'll try very hard not to take exception to Mr. Hunka's decision that I'm 50 years behind the times at the age of 30.
That being said, I'll give George the benefit of the doubt and assuming he's playing the role of provacateur here. The idea that "minimalist eroticism" is going to create some inherently better theater than that informed by "magical realism" is generally ridiculous. Is it possible that magical realism is traditionalist and "eroticism and tragedy" are not? Or that all contemporary playwrights are just incredibly lazy by not paring down their writing to the bare essentials, and then presenting it carefully out-of-order?
The fact is, the success or failure of a play depends entirely on execution, not on the seed ideas themselves. One can be a smashing, miserable bore while blowing away traditional forms, and can be amazing at writing the most paint-by-numbers kitchen sink drama. I'm sure we've all seen examples of both.
This is not to say that I don't love and seek innovation, and that I am against shaking things up, or screwing with narrative, or trying to throw out traditional narrative entirely. It is to say that judging any writing based on a checklist of "-ians" (Grotowskian?) and "-isms"is, as they say in old movies, putting the cart before the horse.
The best innovation comes when we want to make a particular kind of statement, and find ourselves unable to with what we have available to us. Innovation based on rebellion in generally hollow. Innovation based on necessity is built on something far more firm.
If what I hear is "we need to put aside what is being done today" the important question is"Why?" I'm simply not convinced that magical realism, absurdism, irony, and even narrative create inferior theater to non-narrative, minimalist, Grotowskian, erotic tragedy. I'd like to see any of these, mixed and matched...I don't care.
Just make sure it's honest.
- 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.