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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.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Democracy: A Theater Festival Process: A response

My good buddies at the Brick Theater in Williamsburg have, since 2004, put on a summer theater festival with a catchy theme and hook. Festival titles have included the inaugural Hell Festival, The Moral Values Festival. The Antidepressant Festival, The Pretentious Festival, Film Festival: A Theater Festival, and The Comic Book Festival. At their best, they have a ready-to-print press hook, and they have just enough edge to inspire some interesting work. I participated in three of these festivals (Pretentious, Antidepressant and the Too Soon Festival) and each time I was able to use the theme to create something new and fun.

This year, the Brick's theme is called Democracy, which they're subtitling "an experiment in civic curation." As opposed to a catchy thematic title, they've gone with something topical. Of course, the Brick doesn't like to be obvious. The original process for festival submissions looked something like this:

Submit your play
Submit a youtube video (Campaign Film)
50 signatures
Send a representative to a live debate
Your play will be offered up for an online vote. Winners of the vote will be included in the festival
When involved in the festival, you will be running for "president of the Brick" which is essentially an award of free open theater space in January.

You can read a bit about the process in their FAQ here.

Clearly, this was intended to be a parody of the traditional political process of running for office. The process has been largely simplified since then, I think the accommodate the realities of life in the Off-Off Broadway theater scene. Let's face it: it's hard to put this much time and effort into a process that then puts your show at the mercy of an online vote.

The question posed, of course, is whether or not we want work curated this way. I think my answer would categorically be "No." I don't think of pure Democracy has very good artistic taste. And before I'm called a snob, I'd like to refuse to compare festival curation to a vote for a political representative. Artists don't represent us, they speak to us.

I think the best comparison I can think of is ... going to a restaurant, maybe. When I go out to eat at a restaurant, I don't want to sit down and have the waiter tell me what ingredients they have, and ask me what I'd like, and how I'd like it cooked, and do I think they should add sauce? I want to see a menu with options, and the chef to have figured out what tastes good, and sure, I'd like a few choices, but largely, I'm trusting in the expertise and taste and talent of an artist. Someone I am paying to provide me with things I cannot make for myself, cannot think of on my own, and whose role is to think of my aesthetic experience and provide for it.

I'd love to hear about what others think about this. Maybe the idea of a festival curated by online vote appeals to some. Or they think that having tastemakers and curators in a top-down way is old-fashioned or snobbish.

I don't say this to criticize the Brick (just to be clear) because they're an intrepid band and amazing folks. I just felt very strongly opposed to an online vote, I think, and thought I'd say why. Love to hear thoughts.


Also, yes, I did send a script to the festival. Vote for it?

1 comment:

joshcon80 said...

My Bushwick Starr musical is about this very issue, albeit through the lens of the fashion industry.

I'm inclined to agree with you, though it also makes me feel bad. It seems un American to suggest that some people have better taste than others but... well... there you are.