Steinbeck, in the Grapes of Wrath, places the most modern of questions in the mouth of a farmer. It is, "Who do we shoot?" The response, not only from the man he is threatening, but from a world of corporations, profits, heirarchies of authority and plausible deniability, is "I just don't know."
Recently, David Cote's Rabbit Hole review got a few of us in a bit of a tizzy. Then, in Superfluities ever entertaining comments section, Abe Goldfarb seemed pleased as bunch that George didn't exclude the "off-off-off-off [ad infinitum]" scene from the list of his disapprovals.
What strikes me as a unifying theme here is... everyone is looking for the right group to shoot, it seems. Here's a list of those recently complained about in the blogosphere:
Low Brow, Middle Brow, Popular Culture, the leftist press the Complacent Middle Class
A culture that doesn't strive towards beauty
Bourgeois subscriber theaters that seem to prop up the ennui of white rich suburbanites
Of course, you can try to fix Undergraduate Education, but then you'll have differing views on what is being taken out and what is being added. Those who say "Theater should not be taught in school," might suggest it is a trade or craft. If so, schools will come into being that are not in the colleges, if a moratorium were placed on Theater Training in Universities.
We can expose the idiocy of the right wing, but until the culture as a whole feels personally affected by what is happening, they will not be moved. Perhaps we should reinstitute the draft. If we did, I promise you, the Iraq War would be over in two months.
We can speak down to the Low-Brow or Middle-Brow (a term I'm not entirely sure of) and they can write off the High Brow just as easily.
We can create impressively witty terms like Biltmore Syndrome and have fun with subscriber theater. But doing so seems to ignore the economics and realities of who is coming to see these shows and why the decision makers are so insular.
So what I think is this... none of these steps are healthy. I'm as guilty as the next guy for railing against Broadway, cursing about the abortions like Mamma Mia that plague our stages, but in the end, it's just chatter. It's funny, but there's only one way for us to solve our problems.
That is, dare I say, go positive. A supportive community is a healthy community. I expressly do not mean supportive of existing genius (I like Albee, I like the Greeks) but supportive of small theater as a whole, from the smallest vanity showcase to the most acrobatic new verse script that comes down the pike.
We're in a spiral of self-hatred here, crew. We say we love theatre, but I'd love to see more love.
The point of Steinbeck's passage is about a sense of impotence. I shoot this guy, and they'll send another guy. I shoot the guy who sends those guys, and the office in the city replaces him. I go to that office and shoot it up, they have another one elsewhere.
It's the whole thing that needs shaking up, and the little issues will never go away. There will always be a mainstream, and there will always be the outside of that mainstream. There will always be someone saying "Live and make art" and someone else saying "Study your art." There will always be upper class fuckwads who think we're supposed to care about their problems, and there will always be brilliant high brow genius that couldn't have come from someone who just walked out of working in the mines.
So let's stop trying to knock down a big brick wall with mosquito bites. If there is a problem that can be solved, I think we should talk about how to solve it. If not, I'd like to suggest that we talk a bit more about what it is about theatre, theatre that is happening right now, that we love so much.
A good model for this...is 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.