UPDATE: Apparently Scott Walters is a bigger fraud than I thought, and ended up being more proud of himself than I expected. He explains in his follow-up entry that he didn’t mean it, he just wanted to provoke for the sake of provoking (to prove that provocation doesn’t work[?!?!]). Well, Scott. You’ve decided to be the Ashton Kutcher of the theatre blogosphere. Good luck with that. I must say, this was bizarre, absolutely bizarre.
A number of people have written about this, and I guess I will, too. (The "Theatre-As-Junk-Food" entry will again have to wait.) Be forewarned: full-on invective rant ahead.
Blogger Scott Walters, it seems, has cracked, and publicly (well, publicly in terms of the theatre blogosphere).
With his latest 1,700-word screed entitled "Bah!" he makes two separate arguments. In a nutshell, the first one is that the state of theatre education is abominable. The second is that the state of theatre itself is abominable.
I don't have much to say on the former argument. It's an old one that I've heard before. I'm always wary of theatre education, but it seems to work best when students who engage in it at least take what they learn with a grain of salt (my main collaborators, Pete and Patrick, have theatre degrees, as does my sister, and I think they put on good work, based in part on their theatre education, in part on their innate desire to be creative and in part on their ability to treat their training with a modicum of skepticism [guys, correct me if I'm wrong here]). As Jim Jarmusch said about film school, "about 70 percent of the things I learned there I had to unlearn, but 30 percent was really valuable."
As Mark Twain said, "Don't let school get in the way of your education."
The latter is, well, I'll let him speak for himself:
"I return to the theatre, where our radicals are more than half a century old, and where we spend our time worshipping at the shrines of long dead artists. Where are our innovators? Where are our new ideas? Brecht was the last real innovative thinker the theatre had. Since he died...we've been in a reactionary phase that is abominable, all the while thinking we were being revolutionary.
"Since then, we created Off-Broadway and the regional theatre movement, both of which started with new ideas, bot [sic] of which have become bastions of boring ideas. Season subscriptions to a "balanced" season (thank you SO much, Danny Newman), constant revivals of old plays, new plays relegated to readings and second stages, the artistic ranks filled with MFAs who have been trained to think that new ideas are at least 50 years old -- this is creativity? Meanwhile, over in the NYC OOB movement that started 30 years ago, we have come to define radicalism as being the power to yell fuck (or just to fuck) in an empty theatre. Well, hell, the Greeks were doing the first 2500 years ago, and the Romans did the second 2000 years ago. I refuse to get all excited about ideas that are two millenia [sic] old."
Where, you may be asking, has he been getting his information for this assessment? You'd think from seeing plays and checking out the "NYC OOB movement," right? Well, no. "For much of the summer," Mr. Walters writes, "I have been reading books and attending conferences about innovation."
Well, there you go.
That a cynical know-it-all theatre professor has his nose out of joint about "The Sad State Of Modern Theatre" is nothing new. If I got a nickel for every time a C.K.I.A.T.P. rolled his eyes theatrically (pardon the pun) I could buy a studio apartment on the Upper East Side. That said C.K.I.A.T.P. is willfully ignorant of the New York Off-off/indie theatre scene, yet feels compelled to complain about it publicly (and rudely) is also nothing new. What is new (and, frankly, appalling) is that it seems some people, even reasonably intelligent and creative people, are taking him seriously.
At first I didn't know whether or not to respond or to let the other bloggers just do so (especially since Ian Hill spanks him pretty hard), but...no. I just need to get this out in the open. I have no time or patience for people who sit on the sidelines and roll their eyes theatrically and pontificate on matters they know nothing about (while being rewarded for their "bravery" by creating false controversy).
This is fraudulent posturing, plain and simple.
Scott Walters obviously fashions himself a provocateur, a rabble-rouser, and apparently some do, too. I don't. He's a sideline sulker who has the audacity to "take people to task" without participating in or observing said task. He forgets that, when trying to rile people up, he needs to back up his thoughts and participate in the process.
(And, contrary to what Mr. Walters believes, just thumping your chest whining, "WE NEED NEW IDEAS! WE NEED NEW IDEEEEAAAAAAS!" is not a new idea, nor is it a gateway to creating new ideas. Also, what on earth does he mean when he writes that the system of staging work "ought to be razed completely?" Uh...no, we don't. Trying to re-invent the wheel solely for the purpose of re-inventing the wheel goes nowhere. You end up getting incoherent pseudo- avant-garde work solely for the sake of incoherent pseudo-avant-garde work. Personally, I always thought writers should "write what they know," but hey, what do I know? I'm just a guy who's written and staged 11 plays in New York in the past six years. I'm not a cynical know-it-all theatre professor fashioning himself as a provocateur.)
What's telling about Mr. Walters' attitude is that not only does he really cite any contemporary works or plays being staged in the New York Off-off scene (probably because he hasn't seen any in a long time), but he doesn't give the slightest hint of how the broken system should be fixed.
How many plays in a given year in the Off-off scene are useless pieces of shit? A lot. How many are inspired works of art? A lot.
How many has Mr. Walters seen this year? Well, considering he doesn't cite a single play in any of his previous blog entries, I'm going to assume none. (But then again, he doesn't have to. He's a cynical know-it-all theatre professor fashioning himself as a provocateur who's been "doing theatre for over 30 years" [whatever that means], so he's above, y'know, seeing plays.)
(So far, I've seen more plays than I can count on both hands that have been wonderful and completely disparate of one another in terms of style, content and tone, "radical" or not: Dead City, Trial By Water, Living Dead in Denmark and Food For Fish, to name a few.)
Mr. Walters, I am not a radical. I am a playwright. My job is to write plays, and to get them staged. Period. It is insulting to have you tell me I'm doing everything wrong. It is more insulting to have you do so when you have not seen or read a single play I have staged or written. It is even more insulting to have you do so after not familiarizing yourself to my work or the work of my peers and colleagues and yet assume that I should give you a modicum of attention when you don't extend me (or anyone in my field) the same courtesy.
What's truly a shame is that he's probably very proud of himself right now for creating such "controversy" with his blog entry. Well, Mr. Walters, let me remind you that you have done nothing impressive. You have just insulted a group of people whose work you're unfamiliar with and inciting us to "change our ways." Bully for you.
Mr. Walters, what do you think will happen from this? Do you honestly believe for a second that we writers/directors/designers are going to be taking long, hard looks at our past and future works and figure out how to make them appeal to you (despite that you don't see our work)? Do you honestly believe (say) I'm quietly fretting about my upcoming play because you said modern theatre is no good, and that I'm wondering how I can fix it to please you?
Who do you think you are?
Ian summed this up his thoughts on the subject quite nicely:
"Are you a theatre artist, or just an educator? And I do mean 'just.'
"If only the latter, don't you fucking dare call yourself 'we' with me. I outrank you. I work on revolutions almost every day. You write blog-manifestos to no point other then 'tear it all down,' with no idea as to how to do so or what to replace it with. And without bothering to go out and attend the cell meetings, it seems. You will just bitch and kibitz from the side while we pass you by. ... I'm sorry -- I'm out here being Kirk Douglas in Paths of Glory, in the trenches and trying to storm the Ant Hill, and you are George Macready or Adolphe Menjou back at HQ complaining that we aren't really trying hard enough and deciding to shell me and my troops from behind to 'goose us on.'"
In short, Mr. Walters, you are way out of line with this, and I am unimpressed. If you're going to be blatantly insulting, at least get your facts straight. See some theatre, don't just read books and attend conferences.
And to those theatre artists who read this, I implore you: don't buy into Mr. Walters' Sour Old Maid posturing or his garbage.
Next time, I'll go back to writing things of importance. Like how much beer I plan to drink at this Saturday's Slow Children at Play show.
Yelling fuck in an empty theatre,
James "FUCK!" Comtois
Ps. To read what other bloggers thought/felt about Mr. Walters' blog entry, click on their names below to read their assessments.
Matt Freeman (very even-handed as always, God bless 'im)
Ian Hill (enraged, God bless 'im)