Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Statement of Facts

Not so recently, a colleague sent me The Theater of Good Intentions , by Mac Wellman. I agreed with the arguments and the essay made me question my own passive appreciation of certain media outputs. Encouraged to appeal to our own consumptive emotions and expectations we coddle ourselves into the heated blanket of ho-hum "realistic" story-lines, chain stores, office jobs, marriage, and the list goes on. Anything that comforts us from the lawless hullabaloo of events. Thus, anything that disrupts these routines disrupts our reality, or perception of the world (think: break up, mugging, shortage of scones at the local beanery). So, in my own way of thinking, Mac Wellman encourages a heartbreak be imposed upon the theater. That there is no way to portray "reality" in the theater and that Our Town should probably be put to rest. Along with some of Albee's work, in my opinion.

But, my problems are (1) this essay feels awfully close to an artist's statement (and I get a bit uneasy when anyone plans to say what art is/should be) and (2) how do we even begin to guess at the expectations of theater goers, since they are a rather varied lot.

I think there are people who are shocked at things. I taught high schoolers poetry last weekend and they were pretty blown away by Robert Grenier's poem "B BOOM". I am sure the usual patrons of something like Our Town would be shocked as well. But, as a guy in a study group brought up, how do we challenge the group of artists who have already read Samuel Beckett, Mina Loy, James Joyce? I do think those people still have expectations and try to avoid chaos just like everyone one of us does. Many of them probably own apartments, stop at Starbucks when tired, have committed relationships. We can't live entirely in chaos, unless we want to not have the pleasures of this world and enter another. Which might make more sense anyway. But that seems like a different argument, anyway.

Back to the question. How do we challenge those who can already sit through a play with a stage filled with sand? They aren't shocked. What are the expectations of these people? and has the surreal now become cliched in some circles? (I think so. I've seen so many plays where something like a black-hole speaks in a German accent about chaos) What do these people need to wake up from? and why? and what will do that, if it's not speaking black holes, because I don't think it is.

And, as I said in number 1, I don't like artists statements. If I had one, it would be don't make one. How can we say what art needs (invariably, the statement usually just says what art needs is that particular artist)? So I won't answer these questions, and maybe I'm just being a commitaphobe, but I don't like to pretend I have facts. But it is something to think about. Mostly because I don't want a passive society and I want to see plays I like, instead of yet another whimsical misadventure of a singing troupe of bats. But, I guess if done "well", that could be pretty good.

Raving to be continued...?