From Superfluities, talking about Manet:
"What does all this have to do with theater and drama? Well, one of the things it points out it is how far our drama is behind the other arts, about 150 years behind painting in this case. Most of our drama is still playing with Victorian narrative form; as much as there are jokes around the edges of it, "playing with form," that form is not abandoned nearly as much as Manet abandoned conventions of narrative and allegory in 19th-century French painting. But there's more, too: there's the emphasis on light and shadow, rather than shape and detail; and, of course, the implication of the viewer. Manet's nude challenges us to enter the painting, accepting the impossibility of interpreting it, of assuming that if we do so it will grant us meaning. It doesn't. Foreman, too, places people on the stage, staring out at us, inviting us into that world, and we too can reject that meaninglessness, if we wish to do so. But the sensual pleasures it offers in our entering the world of the painting, without preconceived notions, can be revolutionary in changing our way of seeing, as Manet changed the art of painting."
I think that an important point is brought up here (although I don't necessarily agree with the interpretations of the painting or how George interprets Foreman). I believe that narrative is something that we are tied to, by and large, in the theatre, in a way that we rarely reconsider.
Narrative is viewed by almost everyone one in the theatre as almost the same thing as a play. A play is a form of a narrative. Just another way to tell a story.
Observance is inherent, but narrative is a form. We use forms of narrative (comedy, tragedy) the way we use makeup. It is a way to direct the viewers observation. It is a tried and true method to show something to the viewer that, in fact, invites them into something familiar, so that those who observe feel complicit in and engaged by what is being shown to them.
I believe that narrative is something that is handled best by Television and Film, and that Poetry and Visual Art, for the most part, eschew direct narrative as a matter of course. Theatre should consider viewing narrative in a new way, and that might help it distinguish itself more fully and excitingly than other mediums that utilize storytelling.
Here is where George and I diverge: Foreman, who sees narrative as something that needs to be challenged, doesn't seem to invite the audience into his insular world. I find this often true of non-narrative theatre that I've seen... it is distancing, and elitist, and makes no effort to make its symbols or images or words ring true for the casual observer.
Is it possible to invite an audience into non-narrative theatre? To make them complicit and involved, without self-indulgence?
- 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.