Monday, March 30, 2009

We Are Not Consummers

I just signd up for a blog email list called Theatre Ideas. Here is my response to the latest posting.

I worked with a theatre owner on a project just recently in LA and he said be believed LA people were too self absorbed to be interested in what other people are doing. That is probably very much a factor in that transient, goal oriented town. And remember being responsive to one's community means having to actually pay attention and care about what is going on in it - it means getting off your ass and into the community and talking to people!

I recently went on a brief websearch for funding for a tour for a play I am involved in. If one were a visual artist, painter, sculptor, mixed-media whathaveyou, it could become a full time job applying for grant after opportunity after design our logo request. And it got me to thinking, what about visual art is so much more compelling than theatre or other performing arts? And the answer lies, I believe, in the systemic problems of our country and culture as a whole. We have bitten the apple as it were. We are a nation of consummers, which means we are far more comfortable with art we might be able to own (read: stuff) than experience which is what performing arts offers. We currently like our experience impersonal, detached. We like our TV and our movies and our Internet - because they involve relatively little actual human interaction (theoretical human interaction sure). But we are all hungry for human experience, for interaction. Why else would we have gotten ourselves into such a consumming frenzy over the last few decades? We have been involved in addictive behavior, trying to fill a whole. This is evidenced in any mall in America - watch the 'shoppers' wander around aimless, looking side to side, alone amongst many, searching for something to fill up the hole, something to feed themselves with. Why go to a mall? Why facebook? Because we want something we have gotten so far away from to understand any longer.

We have lost for a time - because I don't believe it will be forever - the ability to entertain ourselves and what's more, to be entertained. Entertain locally. This should be right on the heels of Shop Locally, Eat Locally movements. But we have to keep waving our hands in the air, jumping up and down shouting "over here, over here!" - and more theatre artists need to start doing it too - until we get our people back.

Regards,Daniela Ryan---

On Sun, 3/29/09, Theatre Ideas wrote:
From: Theatre Ideas
Subject: Theatre Ideas

Theatre Ideas
Mick Montgomery on Mike Daisey
Posted: 28 Mar 2009 12:59 PM PDT
(Big h/t to Dennis Baker)In a blog post nearly entitled "My Disillusionment," Mick Montgomery of Art of Function writes about the "Post Show Roundtable" that followed a performance of How
Theatre Failed America in Los Angeles. Montgomery writes:

I listened to someone from the Odyssey say the words that spell the down fall of all theaters in this country... "I don't want to do Children's Theater, I want to do the Art I want to do."My message to those folks running theater in this town is... "Guess what? That's not your job." The job of the theater is to support it's audience and community, not exist soley for the purpose of indulging the creative proclivities of the artists entrusted with running the stage. Artistcally, I may want to do a season filled with "True West" and "End Game" and the like, where I could star in or direct them all, but that's not my job as the steward of the theater. My job is to embrace my community for who they are, and then go from there. I'm not saying this is soley doing Children's Theater, but it's about engaging your audience where they are at, not asking the audience to engage you where you are at. Theater is about people, audiences and artists sharing things together. Theater is not about a building or a 'great space' or subscriptions. The theater is the product of the people coming to it, not the other way around. We don't understand that here in Los Angeles........................

I found it ironic that Mike Daisey railed against theaters trying to 'get more money' to solve all their problems with paying artists in his piece, and then comedically, 10 minutes after the show when he asked his panel, what would you need to make big changes to the theater culture in L.A. the first answer out of someone's mouth was... "We need more money."I sat in my chair and hung my head. Did they not listen to the show?It's not the money that is the issue. It's our model. Maybe theater needs to be less capitalized and more socialized. Maybe the City should figure out how to support the Theater Arts in L.A. like they support the visual arts. Maybe we do need $5 dollar theater Wednesdays. Maybe we need A Theater Alliance that truly correlates resources and marketing stragies. We have a city with a School District crying out for subsidized arts education, yet no one is there to help that process along. And here I sit asking myself, "What the Fuck is everyone doing? Why doesn't anyone understand how to make this work?" How come people in Portland or San Diego get it, but the place I live, where some of the most talented people in the world are living, can't figure it out?Los Angeles Theater is the great disconnect. The Theater Community fails to understand the audience, and thus it fails to understand itself. Everyone is just scrambling for crumbs, no one is building relationships with each other through the art. The solutions are so simple. That's probably why I'm so frustrated. [ital mine]As has been the case for the past two years, Mike Daisey continues to provoke long-overdue reflection and questioning on the part of artists. Theatre artists have a single kneejerk response to every problem: give us more money. Or, in lieu of that, the other knee jerks "we need better marketing." When i reality, we need to do a Cartesian rethinking of the whole thing from the ground up. Peter Brook gave us a good starting point with the first lines of The Empty Space: "I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whilst someone is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged." Three elements: a place, an actor, and an audience. What Brook fails to mention is the relationship between the three, which is what we need to be doing right now.I would argue that the connection needs to be ongoing, committed, and interactive. As Wendell Berry says in an interview in Conversations with Wendell Berry, ""I think art comes about in answer to a need. At least, mine does. The community needs to talk about itself, needs to remember itself. It needs to recall significant things that have happened, and to mull them over and figure out what the significance is." In this case, "itself" embraces the three points of Brook's triangle: place, artist, audience. It is a three-way conversation that takes place over time. Berry sees the artist not as "an isolated, preeminent genius who materializes ideas from thin air, but as a person who has been in a community a long time, has been attentive to its voices...and who is prepared to pass on what has been heard. There are two things the artist must do: pass on all this is involved -- the art, the memory, the knowledge. And take responsibility for his or her own work -- that is the reason the work is signed, and that should be the only reason." Responsibility, not credit; humility, not self-aggrandizement.Mick Montgomery made this realization, and it made him hang his head. That is the first step. The next step is to raise your head, look around, and start listening to the people around you.