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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.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

What makes effective political theater?

Ian Gould sent me this conversation starter.

Take a gander.

Well...watcha think?


Anonymous said...

I read this quote from the link posted on PLAYGOER's site. I think this is pretty good insight.

"Peter Morris believes that the American playwriting tradition has yet to pull itself out of that narrow focus. "It's a crude generalisation," he says, "but European theatre asks, 'What's wrong with society? What's wrong with the world?' And American theatre asks, 'What's wrong with my family?'" Even Arthur Miller had to hide his excoriating political messages inside domestic dramas such as Death of a Salesman and A View from the Bridge. American audiences, it seems, aren't ready to engage with the external forces that shape their lives."

Buddha Cowboy - NYC


Freeman said...

Guess you didn't see my last play, huh?

And it's true...it is a crude generalisation. I'm pretty sure Tony Kushner isn't writing in this way. I know Kirk Bromley isn't writing family dramas. David Mamet isn't writing about family politics. Also, this conveniently leaves out Arthur Miller's most obviously political play, The Crucible, which is about Society with a big "S." I'm sure there are more examples.

This also makes a large, provocative leap. Peter Morris here says that the Theatre have different focuses (true or not) and then blames the American audience for being not "ready to engage with the external forces that shape their lives."

Is it fair to blame the audience for what the artists produce?

Anonymous said...

Is it fair...?

Well, who is actually responsible for supporting the play?

Is it the Theatre Administration that initally rejects the piece and forces the playwright overseas.

Is it the audience that based on similar type plays, don't buy the tickets.

Maybe we can't just hold the audience responsible. There are others involved too. Perhaps the playwright does need to take the temperature of America, before they write?(shrug)

Buddha Cowboy -NYC

Jamespeak said...

This line pretty much hits the nail on the head:

"Remember, no Lysistrata ever stopped a war. No play or work of art ever changed the world. They change the way we perceive the world."

I was reminded of the glut of agit-prop theatre going on in the Off-off world two, three years ago while reading this. Excellent article.

devore said...

Artists can't help but be political. I define politics as the art of convincing others that they share your self-interest. Everything is political; family dramas are political. As for theater, whether a playwright knows it or not, he or she can't help but be political.

Now what I think we're talking about here is activist theater, which I don't have a taste for. Activist political theater has a political agenda, for good or ill. I find this kind of theater a form of preaching to the converted though -- it serves to affirm an opinion, and doesn't really challenge their audience. Years of writing political satire has taught me one thing: the extremes that exist at either end of the political spectrum have no sense of humor, because they need their sacred cows, and they don't take kindly to anyone questioning their beliefs. Not to go soapbox, but I've written here before that if your beliefs can't stand up to scrutiny, or vicious ribbing by a satirist, you best reconsider them.

And while American audiences aren't ready to engage the external forces that shape their lives, I'd ask what the flip side is. Audiences who aren't ready to engage the internal forces that shape all of humanity?

Lucas Krech said...

I spoke a bit on this here. The issue is not so much political theatre as it is a didactic attitude, or as Devore puts it, activist theatre. If all the work is doing is telling me your point of view, write an essay. If you what you are doing is exploring an issue and asking serious questions, then I want to read your play.

Jamespeak said...

You're right, Lucas. Didacticism is rarely interesting, which is usually what you get with activist/agitprop theatre. And it rarely (if ever; Vaclav Havel notwithstanding) causes audiences to change their voting habits (which is usually the main goal of such theatre).

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's Activist Theatre at all. Kushner paints a picture the same way Brecht does.I think it's still storytelling with a political message, but doesn't make me say "Shut up I got it already." As for every playwright being political? I disagree. I see too much "clever talk and avoidance" in plays.

Look at the definition of "political" and then tell me what plays relate to this definition.


As I recall in the press after 9/11, a few playwrights said they weren't sure what to write anymore. Well, was what they were writing before that important, or just clever storytelling ? My guess is if it was political, they could continue to write.

I agree there are plays out there that are Thumping You with Soap Box monologues, but maybe we should look at the lack of people who can write a good political play ?

Great topic Mr. Freeman and Great responses from James, Devore, and Lucas ! I look ofrward to further exploration.

Buddha Cowboy - NYC

devore said...

Let me say one thing about Kushner: Angels is a very human play, first and foremost. And for all of his alienation theories and whatnot, Brecht wrote very human plays as well. They both have the sense of injustice, rage, idealism, and optimism that I think is important to an artist. That they both wanted revolution in the streets, and wrote political screeds, etc, is not that important to me.

Anonymous said...

Did they say they wanted revolution in the streets ? I don't think they went that far.

Anonymous said...

Sorry that was me.

Buddha Cowboy - NYC

Lucas Krech said...

They both have the sense of injustice, rage, idealism, and optimism that I think is important to an artist.

Exactly. That is what makese them brilliant. Further, it is what seperates them from the mind numbing effects of a lot of "political theatre." I received my undergraduate degree in 'Art as political expression.' I think it is importnat for artists to be forthright about their politics and to incorporate them into their work. But I would rather smash my head into a brick wall than watch a slow painful essay of the horrors of capitalism or why GWB is a pig fucker.

It is the humanity, that makes both Angels in America and Threepenny Opera brilliant works of art. Telling a true human story, with a strong personal sense of ethics and justice cannot help but be political. That does not mean one need set out and make "Political Art."

Anonymous said...

GWB is a pig fucker - LOL

I completely agree. It's a balance.
Too me if you don't have the story you got nothin'.

Buddha Cowboy - NYC

I think this is what I have to constantly remind myself in my writing. Is it story or is it soapbox.