Monday, September 06, 2004

L.A. Breast and Penis

Laura Axelrod opened a huge can of worms with her blog entry, “Why the hell don’t these people care about theater?” and every theatre blogger has come out of the woodwork to respond. I’ve been writing and rewriting a response and have decided to cut to the chase and print the last page of my response.

But first: thanks for the shout-out in your very balls-on “George Bush” blog entry, Mac!


Theatre has been on a relentless and deliberate path towards irrelevancy. It’s been almost hellbent on this goal. We’ve somehow gotten it into our heads that audiences are stupid, and therefore “connecting with audiences” means the same as “pandering.” We make condescending and didactic theatre (we call it “avante-garde”) that audiences—rather than be confused—immediately see through. I still find it interesting that the only people who have been genuinely lost or confused with a Nosedive play have been theatre people (i.e., people who went to school for theatre and/or theatre-makers).

It’s also very clear that many shows are made for other theatre-makers. With very few exceptions, a vocalized desire for expanding audience bases has been made, but with no real effort to have this happen.

Often, theatre’s goal has been to be humorless, self-referential, self-important and self-righteous. Hmm. I wonder why it’s so tough to get people outside our support group to go see plays.

Again, I find it vaguely amusing that Larry Kramer was surprised that yet another somber and Serious (with a capital “S”) play about AIDS didn’t bring in the people by the boatload. Did he really think that people outside the Public Theatre’s mailing list would go, “Honey? Cancel dinner reservations. I know what we’re doing tonight?” And did he believe that the reason why that didn’t happen was because people are stupid?

I’ve written this before and I’ll write it again, because it bears repeating: if an art form isn't garnering audiences it’s because it’s not connecting with people.

I was in a bar recently with a few actors and directors, and the Outkast song “Hey Ya” played on the overhead speakers. Virtually everyone in the bar responded in some way (some started dancing, some started mouthing the words, and some simply smiled and bobbed their heads to the beat).

Everyone, that is, except us theatre people.

We’ve gotten it into our heads that we’re above it all. We pretend not to be affected by an infectious pop song. We pretend that we’ve never heard of Burger King. We act like we’d never be caught dead watching an episode of “Punk’d.” And we know it’s not true. This acting above unenlightened day-to-day living just alienates us from any potential audience member outside our self-made coterie. We look like out-of-touch idiots rather than elitist snobs. And, it often comes across in our work.

There have been a number of plays I’ve been to see where I’ve just thought, “Did these people think that this would be intriguing or appealing to ANYONE outside of their mailing list? More to the point, did they think this would be interesting to their peers who are obligated to support them?”

Maybe, rather than wonder whether the theatre scene should be centered in New York or Austin, we just need to ask ourselves this question before helming a project.

To be continued (I’m sure),

James “Talkin’ Out His Ass” Comtois

September 6, 2004


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