Tuesday, October 19, 2004

"Kids These Days..."

Part II: The Passing of the Torch

“Kay, my father's way of doing things is over, it's finished. Even he knows that.”
—The Godfather

As an armchair philosopher and columnist, two examples of the old generation of American theatre dying out have recently stood out to me, both pointed out by fellow blogger Mac Rogers. The first one, as I’ve mentioned before, is the closing of Larry Kramer’s play The Normal Heart. The second is the canceling of a production of a play by Edward Albee.

Many bloggers, theatre administrators and other armchair philosophers see these two examples as proof that American theatre is rotting and dying and becoming obsolete. I mean if two heavyweights such as Kramer and Albee can’t get produced, what hope does the next generation have?

Well…isn’t the more obvious lesson to draw from these two examples is not that theatre is dying, but that the previous generation of American theatre is on its way out?

The established types of plays aren’t garnering contemporary audiences, and it’s time for the next generation to step in. (This concept is so self-evident it just screams, “Well, DUH!” to me.)

"Literature has always more resembled a torch race than a furious dispute among heirs."
—Thornton Wilder

When I brought this up to Patrick (Philucifer to you bloggers) after the symposium, he agreed with reservation, saying: “Well, yes, but…there’s nobody to pick up the torch, and nobody around to watch the race anymore.”

It really is sad that there’s no market for an Albee play now. It’s really sad that there’s no reason to invest in theatre (financially).

It’s also really sad that nobody’s paying attention anymore. The older generation of playwrights, directors and actors doesn’t really have any interest in what is happening in the Off-Off-Broadway world, and neither do audiences.

But again, we’re talking about evolution here, folks; the evolution of culture, ideas, trends and institutions. This is STILL the time where the older generation’s work is becoming irrelevant to current audiences, meaning the newer generation (we) have to step the fuck up and find a new way to present theatre.

Now this does not mean just offering watered-down versions of works from the past. I see many playwrights, directors and producers being Albee-lite, Schneider-lite, Cino-lite. And that simply isn’t working; audiences don’t want it and audiences don’t buy it.

What we need to do is learn the lessons from the past without parroting them.

“[T]he reason the world is so fucked up is because we're undergoing evolution, and the reason our institutions, our traditional religions are all crumbling is because they're no longer relevant.”
—Bill Hicks

Right now, we’re seeing and experiencing some—let’s face it—very fucked up things; borderline nightmarish things, politically, socially, philosophically. However, as young, relatively spoiled twentysomethings, there’s something very fraudulent about producing plays about oppression, and about breaking the rules. I’m seeing very little in OOB theatre that truly wants to go against the status quo (but they want to appear to be doing so).

And as a result, audiences are dwindling.

Now there is some hope (that’s a relief, eh?) in that those truly original and groundbreaking artists are out there and producing work, but are being ignored because they can’t be pigeonholed. Their work doesn’t resemble the works of the past in any conventional way, so they’re not immediately recognized as taking the torch.

The real problem is that many of us younguns want it both ways, and we’re slowly realizing that we can’t have it. You can produce theatre as an underground, subversive bohemian shtick or you can produce it as a means to get a professional paying job in theatre, film or television, but you can’t do both.

Let me put it another way: what’s more important, having an audience see your work that you have complete creative control over, or being written about in American Theatre Magazine?

(Pete and I went to a party at a bar in Alphabet City, with many liberal Dish members in attendance [those people who “Want to change the WORLD!!”]. We were seated in the courtyard area, but were then told by a very officious and snooty waiter that We Had to Keep it Down, because there was an old lady who lived upstairs. Now, let’s forget for the moment that

a.) it’s Friday night,
b.) we’re in Alphabet City, and
c.) many of us never plan to return to this bar again.

Everyone in attendance, like cattle, just fell lock-and-step with the order of Keeping It Down. When the voice volume rose, everyone went [with urgency]: “Shhhhhhh! Shhhhhh! Shhhhhh!”

I pointed out to Pete that these people, who wanted to be the edgy, subversive heirs to OOB theatre were THRILLED to follow orders, and probably none of them got the irony.

Pete’s response was to sing in very hushed tones the Beatles song: “You say you want a revolution…[Shhhh! Shhhh! Shhh!]…well, you know…[Shhhh! Shhhh! Shhhh!] we all want to change the world!”


As fucked up as things are, we have to admit how lucky, pampered and coddled we are; all of us. If I lived outside of America I would have starved to death years ago.

Many of you may believe that I’m suggesting we make OOB theatre more underground, less accessible. I’m really not. But when things are changing so rapidly (and not necessarily for the better for the theatre world) it’s time to just do some on-the-spot trouble-shooting.

When Nosedive first started producing plays five years ago (not that long ago, really), things were a bit different. There were a number of small theatres in the Lower East Side that charged reasonable rates (about $100 a night). You rehearsed in one studio: Buzz Shetler (there were others, sure, but Shetler was the one you went to). Each theatre provided its own insurance.

Now there are virtually no spaces in the Lower East Side, and if they are, they’re either quite expensive (more than $100 a night, let’s just say), on the verge of closing, or both. Most theatres require the renter to pay for the insurance. Shetler Studios charge obscene prices (up to $20 an hour) for use of what are ostensibly closets.


There has been a recent boom in rehearsal spaces with competitive prices (Nosedive found a space in Williamsburg that charges $10 an hour for cavernous rooms, and we were just told of another in Manhattan that charges $5 an hour). There’s more online coverage of OOB theatre (NYTheater.com and TheaterMania.com increasing their number of reviews, the creation of newer sites such as offoffoff.com and theater2k.com, all of which generate respectable traffic).

But it seems I’ve gotten off track a little bit.

Big surprise.

Things are changing. They always have, always will. But we should interpret these changes as just that: changes, not The End of Theatre As We Know It.

Not only have the racers changed, but so has the track.

It’s time for us to pick up the torch and continue the crunkin’ race, even if there aren’t as many people watching.

We didn’t go into this for the glamour, did we?

Rounding the fifth lap,

James “Young Pup” Comtois

October 19, 2004

Part III: Concerning this new generation — Community — Isolation — More yelling from your intrepid cybergrump


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