Thursday, July 01, 2004

Fascism & Anarchy

First off, I would like to make a few cyberspace shout-outs before I get into this. If anyone hasn’t read Mac Rogers’s Slow Learner blog, you need to do so. He’s got some wonderful thoughts on theatre, and his candor and honesty is great. His thoughts on the writer versus the director are very much worth checking out. Plus, he’s much more eloquent and polite than I am.

And seriously, check out the Philucifer blog as well.

Also, thanks to the Off-Off-Broadway Review for giving an award to a bunch of scummy ruffians such as ourselves. It’s times like this I feel like Steve Martin in “The Jerk” when he finds his name in the phone book and erupts, “I’m SOMEbody!”

Now on with the show.


“To me, the two poles of politics are fascism, which...from the original Roman concept, the symbol for it was a bundle of bound twigs. The idea being, ‘In unity there is strength.’ … The roots of the word anarchy are an archos, no leaders, which is not really about the kind of chaos that most people imagine when the word anarchy is mentioned. I think that anarchy is, to the contrary, about taking personal responsibility for yourself. I believe that fascism is about abandoning your personal responsibility to the group or to society. You say, ‘In unity there is strength,’ which inevitably will become, ‘In uniformity there is strength.’ It's better if all those sticks are the same size and length, because then they'll make a tidier bundle.”

—Alan Moore

This little (essay? Blog? Rant?) ties in, I hope, with my previous “Pigs & Pussies” and “Feedback,” not to mention my “Never Stop Rocking” dealies. You may be noticing a certain motif in these Jamespeaks. With luck, I should be able to get most of this shit out of my system soon.

Regardless of what form of organizational control you choose to impose you’re your theatre company, democracy is not the answer. Democracy does not work with art.

My thoughts on fascism on a purely political (not ethical) level are that it is a misguided attempt at efficiency. Fascist organizations’ problem with democracy is that nothing ever gets done in a democratic society; you have too many people voting on too many things and committees and sub-committees and sub-sub-committees and nothing ever gets done. Fascism, on the other hand, has just one person (or small group of people) making all the decisions and executing them. No waiting. No debating. No debating on the debates. It’s efficient.

The problem with fascism on a State level, however, is that it’s very inefficient. You ultimately end up with the same person—usually a military expert—making decisions on the military as well as agriculture and housing development. Things actually don’t end up getting done because uninformed and overwhelmed parties are making decisions.

When it comes to governing a nation, fascism doesn’t work. Neither does anarchy. When it comes to governing a theatre company, fascism does work. So does anarchy.

Fascism and anarchy can work with art because the group is so small (and should always be, if true creativity can exist) and the number of hats that need to be worn is relatively low.

I have spoken with the heads of a number of Off-Off theatre companies who have decided to run their companies in a democratic, egalitarian fashion, and more often than not, they seem to be at a frustrated crossroads and finding that something is very wrong. Everyone has an equal say in everything. More time is spent debating over insignificant bits of minutiae and less on creating the project. Too much emphasis is put on Making Everyone Happy.* Projects become more and more unwieldy. It’s less about the work and more about giving everyone an equal chance, apologizing and refusing to admit that there’s some megalomania involved in doing theatre.

Because there is, let’s face it. You’re creating theatre because you have something to say. Something that no one else is saying. You want to be heard.

Why do we, as theatre companies, spend half our time creating a soapbox and the rest of the time avoiding using that soapbox? If you have that soapbox, why the fuck do you feel the need to share it?

There are very fascist elements in Nosedive Productions. Yeah, let’s face it. In some ways, it’s egalitarian, but in most, it’s not. We’re not a charity group dedicated to fostering and allowing different voices to develop. With some very rare, generally vague and theoretical exceptions,** the shows are written by me and directed by Pete. I do detect a slight twinge of incredulity and contempt when I’m asked by other Theatre People if we plan to bring in new playwrights and directors (i.e., “Isn’t that a little egocentric? Why aren’t you fostering creativity, James?”). The answer, of course, is no. If you’re a young and aspiring young playwright who wants their play read or produced, start your own damn company.

The times Pete & I have felt bad about our fascistic elements and tried to compromise for the sake of some actor/designer/manager, it ends up making things worse for everyone. The oppressed person in question resents us more, ends up getting more frustrated and often leaves.

Creativity gets stunted with democracy, with egalitarianism, with Mass Consensus. Art-by-committee is just a bad idea.

Artists are often fascists. You have some sort of vision, idea, concept, and you’re going to do everything in your power to get it made. You don’t ask for permission. You don’t debate. You don’t have fact-checking sub-committees to research the merits of this vision.

There are very anarchic elements in Nosedive Productions. We don’t breath down the designers’/actors’/managers’ necks. Very rarely does someone involved with Nosedive need permission (Pete’s motto has always been, “If you want to become involved with Nosedive, pick an aspect of the production that no one else wants and start doing it. If you do it well, you’re in.”). As the fascists, Pete & I tell everyone the project and deadline, and expect it to be done by then (the project is never up for debate). But we don’t micromanage. We’re very chaotic, and are very much into the idea that each person takes responsibility for himself or herself in getting this bumblebee to fly. I mean, let’s face it. If the actor doesn’t learn his lines, he will look stupid up on that stage, not I (I will be at a nearby bar getting blitzed). Pete doesn’t nag me each week for the latest script (with the exception of the horrific “Never Stop Rocking,” since he suspected something was up when I refused to hand in a draft). We have our responsibilities and we do them. If we fuck them up, we look stupid.

Artists are often anarchists (especially in the world of self-produced Off-off Broadway theatre). Nobody’s going to be forcing you or guiding you to get your play produced. You’re on your fucking own. To paraphrase Mac, nobody’s going to be losing any sleep if the next play by [pick your own company; Nosedive, Stages 5150, Subjective] doesn’t get made. The ground won’t shake and the city won’t fall apart. So how do you it? How do you write plays or form a theatre company when there’s no obligation or expectation to do so, when there’s virtually no intrinsic award and no inherent punishment? Through anarchy.

Sure, theatre is a joint and communal medium. But if everyone wants to paint their part of the rainbow and add their color, you often end up with brown.

Art is fascism. Art is anarchy. It is not about apologizing or asking for permission or for getting the majority vote.

It is not about accommodating other voices.

Step in line,

James “Der Commandant” Comtois

July 1, 2004

*This always boggles my mind. Since Off-off Broadway is a weird, voluntary non-paying ghetto, who gives a shit if people are happy or unhappy in a theatre company? If they’re unhappy, they can leave at any time. Or start their own company.

**Pete has been mulling over the idea of directing Stoppard’s “The Real Inspector Hound,” I wouldn’t be crippled with grief to direct Shawn’s “A Thought in Three Parts” or “Marie & Bruce” and Patrick’s directed two of the one acts in Evil Hellcat and Other Lurid Tales.


Post a Comment

<< Home

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.