Thursday, April 16, 2009
From the April 16 post by Don Hall, the great contemporary vulgarian theatre arts observer, in his erudite, aggressive and insightful blog An Angry White Guy in Chicago:
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Band Aids Don't Cure the Disease
. . . There is more American Theater patronized regularly by fewer people than ever in the short history of the country. In the desire to create permanence in the form of the Theatrical Institution we have slowly let the frog boil and in search of a sense of security in the form of profit and endowment we have created a theater for the masses. You can get it in any color you want, so long as it is beige.
The basic assumptions that seem to get in the way of progress in our shift of paradigm are obvious:
- More money will solve the ills of an under appreciated art form
- Long term sustainability is good for both the artist and the art
- Artistic success goes hand in hand with business success
- There is naturally supposed to be a tug-of-war between the artistic and the financial
These assumptions are the doctrine of a failing paradigm. Money rarely solves problems - it usually just band aids things up until the bills come due later. Long term sustainability is an illusion - institutions last for a while, and rarely to the benefit of the artist or the art. Success is defined by many things and often one definition has nothing to do with another. Finally, this self-imposed tug-of-war is only necessary when the money becomes as important as the art. . . .
The further into the corporate mentality of creating art for profit, the closer the art resembles a chicken dish at Applebees.
Go to an Applebees. Order the Buffalo Chicken Strips Appetizer and the Orange Chicken Entree. What you will get is five turd-shaped pieces of breaded chicken with some buffalo sauce and blue cheese followed by the same damn chicken turds smothered in orange sauce on rice. If the theater you create is nothing but a breaded chicken turd and you throw money at it to create the unique sauce, it's time to let the life cycle of your company pass on to the annals of history.
The symptom with theater is only a problem of perception. When enough of us (and with the economy dwindling in the shitter, the DIY aesthetic of the little gypsy theaters will grow) cease to perceive theater as a means to establish permanence and lifelong security and embrace the only aspect of it that matters - immediacy - the pendulum will swing. And like the life cycle that Thurman describes, it'll eventually grow bloated and self-involved and die. As soon as we have we shift gears to wanting keep what we have - its how liberals become conservatives.
The beautiful thing is that as organizations come and go, the art form continues. Theater institutions die - theater does not.
Don Hall's full meditation on the necessary impermanence of arts institutions