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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.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Avant Populi

Because my friend John Devore does not maintain a blog of his own, I'd like 
to draw attention to a phrase he's recently coined. 

The term is "Avant Populi," which he applied to both "The Most Wonderful 
Love"and Ian Hill's latest work.

I'd like to, if I can coax him publicly, invite John to define the term. I
think it's about  as clever as it is apt. Also, I like to get his
big lying mouth out in public so he can shake it around for my amusement.

John? Are you awake? Somebody wake up Hicks.


devore said...

There's a new restaurant that opened near my work. It's called "Burgers and Cupcakes." It sounds...perfect.

Thanks for the shout out: Avant Populi was actually inspired by Brick pooba Jeff Lewonczyk, who's show "Sexadelic Cemetery" is one of the extensions from this summer's excellent "$ellout Festival." I've known Jeff for a long time, and he came out of the school of experimental New York theater—Foreman, radiohole, NTUSA, etc. However, over the past few years, he's been successfully melding high and low, using the stage bombing techniques and subtle spectacles unique to ontological-hysteric-style theater but folding in references to popular culture, as well as his own special mojo. I love his work dearly. Now that I think about, Ian does fall into that category, for Ian is He Who Conducts Vast Art Riots.

That said, Avant Populi is partly sincere, mostly sarcastic. I don't see the point in naming your own artistic movement, it feels vain, distracting -- leave that to the academics. Theory is meaningless; the work is all that matters. I have craft up the wazoo; I know the importance of craft, of tradition, discipline and history. But the work comes from a voice inside, and either you are able to hear it or not. The work kicks up dust, and years from now when it settles, you can define what it was. All modern theater artists have to do is adhere to one single dictum: persist in their folly, for it will make them, at the very least, wise. Someone else will sort out what the hell the folly meant. If anything.

I dread a theater that is wholly exclusive, an indie theater populated by art school graduates showing off their erudition, and looking down their noses at the masses -- that lowly rabble that must be without heart or mind, clearly, because they didn't buy tickets to my last show. When did we become so precious about the theater: our art was always pop culture. We're whores begging for an audience, always have been, always will be. Love. It. Truly, it's a holy mental illness.

Artists must reflect the world they live in, and they must see that world with an open heart. In order to celebrate, deride, or mercilessly mock the world you live in, one must understand it. To understand it is to embrace it. All of it.

That said, A) I can't believe I'm blabbering on your blog Matt. Rereading, I understand why I did so poorly in theater school. Maybe it was the LSD. More likely, I'm just stupid. B) I have no idea what Avant Populi means. None. But it looks real pretty.

Freeman said...

John -

"You may continue with your folly." I believe if I ever have occasion to teach, I will steal that from you liberally.

Essentially, what I love about the term, besides the ring to it, is that it embraces the popular. The popular culture is a combination of personal taste, industry, fetish-wear and money poorly spent. In effect: It's the closest thing we'll find to a uniquely American idiom. It's our biggest export: Digestible Toxics.

If we can't use it and play with it, what good is it?


devore said...

Don't you think that hundreds of years from now, our advertising will be what's studied?

Advertising basely reflects our dreams and our fears, and on a base level, isn't that what art is supposed to do? Flash freeze the emotions, politics, fear, and dreams of the moment and hold them static so that a hundred years from now, someone can behold it and say "That's what it was like to be alive at that point."

This "theater blogosphere," makes me want to be more populist. And I feel like an idiot to say so, seeing as the "theater blogosphere" is a place to throw around one's erudition. But the Bible is populist, and so was Shakespeare, and Beckett's Godot survives for a reason and will survive, and one reason is because you don't need to understand theater history or theory to feel (or laugh or cry) at his despair.

Anyway, I'm not particularly good at writing posts like this. I'm a superstitious bastard, and have always felt that talking too much about my writing wastes my creative breath. But to answer your question: I don't think art has to be functional per se, or at least, theater.

But I think you're failing as an artist your artistic vocabulary is so limited, you can only speak to an exclusive little club.

There is work out there (and I've seen alot of it over the past ten years or so) that is so vibrant and alive and messy and exciting. It's a damn shame that most people like of theater as an overpriced, two to three hour nap.

Freeman said...

I agree that sometimes too much chatter is just that. I do think, though, that it's important to keep the bullshit in check and say "We are making lots of plays." Sometimes, too much theory makes the baby go blind. (SUBTLE PLUG!)

I like the term "Avant Populi" because it embraces the populist. If nothing else, I think we should be in dialogue with our audience, not be giving them a lecture.

devore said...

That's a valid point.

I'm not adverse to an artist making his or her art independantly of fashion. If the audience who shows up isn't into what you're saying or staging -- that's art, right? It's about faith, and bold leaps, and spectacular failure. A good artist puts his or her ass on the line, exposes himself to the public, and that act is the end, not the means.

I have no idea how to have a dialogue with potential audience. Trust games? Off-site meeting?

I do know that if you want to be popular, if you want audience, then do what our ilk has always done: put on a show. Make them laugh, cry, think. Scare them, comfort them, rile them up.

If you don't care about the audience, or if your vision is so compelling and personal that no one can make heads or tails of it, then proceed in obscurity and hope that one day the fickle, shallow gods of fashion catch up with you.

Kyle said...

Holy crap.

So what is avant populi supposed to mean, after all that? "In front of people?"

(Incidentally, I think future generations will study our t-shirts.)

devore said...

avant garde meant "the advance guard" the artistic soldiers exploring the farthest reaches of expression.

i suppose there should be people out there, especially in theater, trying to create art that has it both ways -- something that is smart, that fills the space in challenging and exciting ways, yet that is still tapped into the vocabulary of the age.


it means poop. it's an empty phrase. like so much artistic theory. it's meaningless.

Kyle said...

I like, "in front of people". That's how we should try to do all of our work. A good rule of thumb. Don't you agree, blog-dwellers?

Freeman said...

Kyle -

You'd be shocked how many blog-dwellers think that it's low-art to think too much about the people for whom you are performing.

Avant Populi also could be a simply broadened version of Avant Garde. Essentially, there is no distinct group in "Avant Populi." No Guard. It's a populist movement.

Or it means "Using experimental tools to make popular art."

devore said...

I prefer simplicity too, Kyle.

Theater in front of people! That's all I've ever wanted.

Avant Populi can also be that thing you muse about when you're trapped in a conversation about theater meta-physics.