J. Holtham basically fires a big flare gun into the sky when he writes this over on Parabasis.
Read the whole thing, of course. To sum up, inadequately, he notes that most of what he sees of theatre is either what he reads about or shows he sees with his friends in them. And, then, he says: "The other part is...what would I write about? Seriously. What's going on that requires comment, discussion, dissection?" and "So the question that comes to me is: what if this is it? A lot of us
invest a lot of time in being semi-professionally upset about things. We
want change! We want it now! What if, though, there won't be any
significant changes? What if the new movement in theatre is here, it's
now established and this is it?"and finally, "Oh, we have our little flare-ups, dust-ups, scandals, donnybrooks, but
pretty quickly, order is restored. The natural order of things
re-asserts itself and the whole system spins on."
Now, I have a lot of respect for Holtham. He's been discussing these things, as we all have, for a few years now. (His initial blog 99seats, was dedicated to a change that he's apparently moved past.) But yes, there are some good plays, and bad plays, and Broadway is a tourist attraction and what else is there to talk about? I get it.
I've gotten a bit quieter on the blog about my thoughts on theatre. I've been busy making it as hard as I can, and trying to interest other people in seeing my own plays. I got married, I have a job, I visit my friends, my friends have kids that I love, I visit my family: I'm basically a happy guy with a lot of artistic, as-yet-unfulfilled ambitions. I don't feel the urge to rehash and rework my arguments over and over. I've sort of hoped other people would take up the cause, so I could promote my shows and have a career.
But I wouldn't be a good blogger if I didn't have a bone or two to pick with his statement.
One thing I object to is the phrase "the natural order of things." Frankly, there is no natural order to these things. The American system has been chosen and reinforced, not grown organically out the ground. Our lack of government subsidies, the size of the system, etc, etc. None of this is is immutable. It can feel permanent. Just ask the music business, the cable companies if their models are permanent, untouchable, and perfect. In fact, ask them in 1992 and ask them today. If we don't have the energy or desire to challenge that system...or the means frankly...that's fine. Let just not pretend it's because it can't be changed.
I still believe, for example, that the Showcase Code in New York City reinforces a class system for new plays and playwrights. It absolutely must be changed. I've said so over and over. We've all agreed. It has not been changed. Why hasn't it? How have we failed?
I think, though, that one of the truly unfortunate things going on that hobbles good conversation about theatre, for me, is an unwillingness to criticize one's peers. We simply don't have discussions about the work we see around us. Not substantive ones, anyway. Sure, at the bar after seeing a play, we might say "Oh that was good" or "Oh that was bad." But where do we have the discussions about the form and substance of the work of the writers, actors and directors around us? Not to review shows, but to pick them apart and engage with them? To discuss the themes. To challenge a premise.
I'd love to see more of that. Read more of that. I didn't get involved in theater because I had a passion for the business of theatre. I got involved because I love plays and love to make plays and think about plays and discuss plays.
I know I fear, at times, risking hurt feelings. I remember writing a post a while ago about my experience submitting to a large theater, and got some actually angry responses for literary managers at the places I wanted to work. It chastened me, for sure, but I also get it. We're in a new world, new ecosystem, and it's got social limits and we're all discovering them.
Still, I think that lessens the discourse. This is not a group of pals hanging out and trying to have fun. We're artists engaged in a rocky, wicked process. We can be successful or we can fail and we should talk about both of those things. If we can't, then the online discourse becomes increasingly insubstantial.
- 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.