Monday, November 22, 2004

Fevered Egos Tainting Our Fettered Collective Unconscious

Right now I’m “balls-deep” (as the kid’s say) in writing a new play while producing/staging another one (A Very Nosedive Christmas Carol), but I also wanted to come by and chat a bit in cyberspace (like I do).

My mood of late in with theatre has been vacillating of late, going from realizing how fun and imaginative the medium is to thinking that people should simply stop putting on hateful garbage that robs us of our imagination.

This, of course, is due to seeing a number of shows in the past week to talking to other theatre-makers.

* * *

A few nights ago I met up with a friend who is a former actor and OOB playwright. Over (of course) several drinks, we talked about our current state of affairs in the theatre world. One of the things that was brought up in our rantish dialogue was about the selfishness of talentless hacks in the OOB world that put on shitty theatre (or ruin good theatre), thereby making potential audience members either a.) have an even tougher time finding anything decent in the OOB world, or b.) avoid OOB theatre altogether.

We agreed that these people should stop. Just. Stop.

Of course, I now must wonder if I’m one of those people who should just stop. In fairness, I’d like to think that if it’s time to wrap it up and call it a day and stop inflicting my therapy on poor folks, I will be open-minded enough to accept this.

Now, I’m arrogant. I know this (and — more to the point — you know this). However, bear in mind that it’s fine to be arrogant; that’s not in-and-of-itself a bad thing. James Joyce was arrogant. John Cassavetes was VERY arrogant. But they earned their arrogance. Have I? I dunno; you guys have seen my stuff. You tell me.

* * *

Last night I saw a church group production of The Fantasticks in Forest Hills (my roommates and fellow Nosedivians were in it). This was ostensibly a community theatre production. Now admittedly, I had never seen a production of this show before, heard the soundtrack or read the script, so I really didn’t know what to expect.

Also, I had just come back from seeing my sister’s show at Vassar (also good, although my sister did entice me to see it by promising that one of her very hot friends would be naked in it, which did not happen [grumble grumble, grunt grunt]), did not get any sleep, and got back into the city just in time to see a community theatre production of a musical in a church when I really just wanted to shower and go the fuck to sleep.

In other words, I wasn’t in the best of moods to go see this.

I really enjoyed it.

It was a sweet and fun production (and hey, I got a kick out of the “Rape Ballet”) where the cast really seemed to be, y’know, enjoying themselves (as did the audiences).

I was reminded of the community theatre shows I went to back when I was a kid living in New Hampshire—really, really reminded (in that way a ton of long-forgotten memories come crashing down on your face all at once). Obviously, I was reminded of some of the nice things about community theatre that’s completely gone from OOB theatre (volunteers selling coffee and cookies; a packed room of locals of all ages having a lot of fun; the acoustics of a church-stage, etc.) and of course, some of the mildly annoying things (the chairs are about as uncomfortable as you can get, that post-show congratulatory speech by the artistic director that seems to go on forever, etc.).

What I hadn’t seen in a while was the genuine energy and enthusiasm that came from this show from both sides (cast & audience). The lack of pretense and cynicism was — let’s face it — very refreshing.

And did I mention the place was PACKED?

Okay, obviously, case-in-point, people do go see theatre. People enjoy theatre. We in the OOB theatre-world forget this, because people aren’t going to our shows.

Yyyyyyyyyeeeeaaaah…I really wonder why.

(That last statement was ironic, in case you couldn’t tell).

I’ve been railing against “political” theatre for a while, both on this site, in email exchanges and in conversation, and I often have to explain what I mean by “political.” It’s been tough, because I have had a tough time trying to explain to other theatre-makers who stage agit-prop leftist theatre what I mean.

So let me try again.

The problem with political theatre — or any sort of liberal intellectual theatre, for that matter — is that it’s not fun.

(“But, James. Theatre should be more fun. It should edu—”

—Yes, educate as well as entertain, I’ve heard the bullshit cliché, so just can it.

“You don’t think educational theatre is a—”

—Let me just throw something out there to stop this train of thought: agit-prop theatre is neither educational nor entertaining.)

I think it comes to no surprise to anyone who knows me or reads this is that my politics usually lean towards the left. With a few exceptions, I vote Democrat.


Am I the only one who’s more than a little annoyed at the onslaught of “limousine liberals” that are tainting the debate and sucking the fun out of independent theatre?

“If only smart people like your shit, it ain't that smart. If a guy drives a truck and he doesn't get your jokes, something's wrong there.”
—Chris Rock

“Oh, I get it. It’s very clever.”
—Tyler Durden

I always liken this pervasive mentality (leftist agit-prop theatre) to the more snooty cartoons in The New Yorker (you know which ones I’m talking about). They don’t genuinely make you laugh. You get the joke, sure, but you laugh in that “Oh, I’m so clever because I get it. DELECTABLE!”

(“But, James! We don’t do comedy! We’re dedicated to doing Serious Plays about Serious Issues and not all of us are interested in shows with monkey puppets and—”

Just because a play is funny doesn’t mean it’s serious any more than doing Serious Theatre [intentionally in Title Case] should be taken even remotely serious, morons. Comedy can make you cringe. Comedy can make you uncomfortable. Comedy can make you look at one of your precious Serious Issues in a new way, which is what Serious Theatre is all about, right?

“But we don’t want people to look at things in a new way, we want them to see the Issue our way and our way alone and…uh…I mean…uh…uh-oh…didn’t mean to admit…”

No, go on. I’m listening.

“Carry on.”


In truth, there were a number of shows that I saw this past week which didn’t have the elitist “Let’s educate our plebian audiences” vibe, that were simply nice and fun.

And funny.

Which made me remember that people still like plays, and like them for good cause.

Not knowing whether or not to end
on an up or down note this time,

James “I Said ‘Vacillating,’ Fuckers!” Comtois

November 22, 2004


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