Wednesday, November 09, 2011

metaDRAMA: Going With My Gut (I)

The first in a series of unresearched, immediate responses to things I've read in American Theater and/or other arts-related magazines.

From the November '11 American Theater
"To director Michelle Rougier, the decision [for city officials in Carrollton, GA] to shut down [a community theater production] The Rocky Horror Show is tantamount to censorship. "The city approved this show, and all the publicity that was done said that it was R-rated." 

Edit: remove the word "tantamount." It's censorship, plain and simple. The only reason to pull city funding from a community show would be if the company had deceived the city about the content of the play. As for the choice to revoke the use of the venue given that it is "inappropriate for the center," I'm just confused. Time and again, Republicans insist that money has the right to speak, and government should not be involved, so in a red-head state like George, why, if the company can afford to rent the hall, can't they?

I'm reminded of my own experience doing a community show back at Stuyvesant High School in '00, in which our production of Israel Horovitz's Line had been approved by an inattentive faculty adviser who had apparently not read the script. Three days before opening -- when we started putting up fliers that clearly stated the content of the show -- we were told that the show was now being shut down. No apology was offered, no alternative venue was suggested, and our attempts to get waivers from parents signalling their approval for the show, or for their children to see it, was denied. For those of you unfamiliar with Line, the most risque thing that actually happens is dance-as-metaphor-for-fucking, and while the show certainly has some suggestive lines and actions, the idea that the community needs to be protected from something nobody is forcing them to see is literally disturbing to me. For the record, the show the school was producing? The Crucible, which as we all know has absolutely nothing to do with sex.

From the October '11 American Theater
"True criticism that is expansive and acknowledges work on its own terms, not a narrow idea of performance.... The reviewer was applying her idea of what theatre should be with no regard to the artist's intentions.... We have to stop surveying these works as if creating theatre is like making a good bar of soap, in which the value of the work is based on the number of audience members that like it." 

Powerful thoughts from Marissa Chibas, an actor and theatre instructor in California. With her latter point about the craft of theater, I don't disagree in the slightest: the value of the work belongs within the work itself, and those attached to it. But I do find it a little disingenuous to say that critics must engage the work on its own level: we each approach theater in our own way, and to say that there is a specific way that art is meant to be experienced is to imply that there is only one right way to view a Picasso, only one correct reading of a short story, one valid emotion to be provoked by a piece of music.

From my own critical perspective, I do attempt to understand the playwright's goals (or director's, in the case of a revival), and where I have biases against a certain type of theater, I try to acknowledge them. (There's a reason you rarely see me covering one-man shows, high camp, burlesque, or Greek dramas.) But once I've addressed what I believe is being attempted, I've every right to talk about how that worked (or didn't) on my terms, with the vocabulary and experience that I've got. If you trust the audience to take your performance on its own terms, you've got to be able to trust the audience to be able to read a review on their own terms, that they'll understand that my dislike of something is not necessarily going to be theirs.

This is why I argue for the consistency and longevity of critics: the more you read from a single voice, the more you understand what their view is -- and the easier it becomes for you to determine where your view diverges from theirs. That can be helpful, too, and I'd argue that it's more "true" than a criticism that never clashes with the artist's goals.

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