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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.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

David Cote's Review of Rabbit Hole

Making the rounds on the theatrical blogosphere is David Cote's review of David Lindsay-Abaire's Rabbit Hole.

I posted on George Hunka's blog one of my little glib comments, and wound up with the reviewer himself, it seems, taking issue with it.

Now, as a writer, I'm not in the business of shaking a stick at critics. It's what one might call, um, career suicide? Yes, that's it. So I wanted to expand on my thoughts regarding that particular review.

Let's put it this way: I actually agree with the sentiment herein. I certainly have been known to bitch about The New Group to friends (they don't do 'new works' they revive works from the 1980s and 70s and put film stars in them); but that's just my bellyaching. It's the same impulse that makes me complain about Puff Daddy (P. Diddy?) being on Broadway, even though his presence probably brought more people to see A Raisin in the Sun that would have checked it out without him. The problem with MTC and the Roundabout isn't that they are intentionally trying to bore the shite out of us. And sometimes (let's be honest) they don't put up Woody Allen-lite. The problem is economic, purely, and its a lot less fun to write about or think about.

The reason I called the review a "joke" (poor choice of words, to be sure) is because there are far larger armies to shoot at than whether or not MTC can be often (too often?) stuffy. I think we should be more concerned about how the subscribers of MTC are the only people that CARE to support them, and those subscribers are probably collectively one billion years old.

If the theaters the Cote takes a knife to want to survive, they cannot do so without making some money. And in order to do that, they have to appeal to the sort of upper class, insulated snobs that would find Elevator Repair Service and The National Theater of the United States baffling.

Essentially, screaming about how bored we are won't do much. Instead, we need to think about how to get the good stuff out of the slums. And that means broadening the ticket buying interest of younger people who might appreciate a little Uzi-Wielding Hobo action.

We need to take collective action to promote and encourage younger audiences (I'm talking below 35 here) to take a real and active interest in the theater.

It might be the chicken or the egg issue: Would more young audiences come if the plays were directed to them? Maybe so. I suspect, as of now, they're not about to dig into their pockets and become full-time subscribers.

That's what we need to attack. Disinterest.

Not the author of Fuddy Meers for writing a play that's not "challenging" enough.


Alison Croggon said...

Hi Matt - David Cote's review - not least because it's very funny - has made a alot of people talk and think about boring subscriber theatre (which we have here too - and it's also called the MTC ...) I don't think it's going to change anything, because I am personally sceptical about the magical power atributed to critics, but it's a start. The point is that David Cole (and judging from the description etc I'm sure I would have been equally poleaxed) was excruciatingly bored, and said so, albeit colourfully; and so he should. Whether there are many more companies making scads of dull, expensive theatre is kind of beside the point. Whether the company intends to be boring is beside the point. Boredom is always the first thing that alerts me to crappy theatre: no amount of money disguises it. And it ought to be called. If you want young people to come, you don't want them going to this kind of theatre and thinking that's what theatre is: they never go again. So one part of the attack - only one part, but an important part - is saying that theatre can be otherwise, it can be exciting and imaginative, a place where something happens. That's what my kids think, and they even go on their own these days. I recently took my son to our own MTC and he was quite shocked that theatre could be like that. "But Mum," he said at interval, with a kind of puzzlement, "I don't feel anything..." Out of the mouths of babes...

The problem (as here) is not purely an economic one, although the economics are real: it's about a lack of imagination. Of course the subscribers are the only ones who will go to this sort of theatre; who else would? But this is a long and more subtle argument than I can make here. Isaac's point on George's blog about "speaking to power" is certainly part of it.

MattJ said...

"It might be the chicken or the egg issue: Would more young audiences come if the plays were directed to them? Maybe so. I suspect, as of now, they're not about to dig into their pockets and become full-time subscribers."

True. And I have a hunch, a hypothesis if you will that young people would come more if the plays were directed to them. I'm not pointing to censorship or bastardization, or dumbing down. I'm just referring to a change in subject matter I guess, or at least temporality.

Alison Croggon said...

We have a Shakespeare company here that explicitly directs its productions to "young people" (Hamlet as a vampire, etc). It's rather patronising; also when I have taken young people - teens, I mean - they treat it with the scorn it deserves. That stuff only seems to appeal to the middle-aged. On the other hand, young people respond to passion and excitement - Brook, Mnouchkine, Kantor might be good models here. Trying to make theatre relevant "their" culture won't work; they already have their culture, and it just ends up looking dicky to their blase, media-sophisticate eyes.

Freeman said...

I am adding the word "dicky" to my American English Lexicon.