Big Ideas

I Don’t Trust Stories

Whenever anybody ever tells me a story, I know right away I’m being lied to, at least a little bit. It’s not that the person speaking to me is intentionally misrepresenting the truth or conveying a falsehood: it’s that all stories are lies. Stories want us to believe that human lives follow graceful character arcs; that new truths are slowly revealed, actions taken in response to those truths, conflicts encountered, and new insight either gained or not in response to those conflicts. That isn’t, I’m sure you’ll agree, what a lived life is like. Stories (mis)represent lives in idealized, smoothed-out forms. Most stories, anyway. Life is a great deal more impenetrable and rough than stories are. The one thing stories get right is that characters in stories have no free will. They have to do the same thing, over and over again, every time, or it’s not the same story. Characters have no free will, and as science is continually suggesting, neither d

NEA Funding: Re-Framing the Debate

We need to re-frame the debate about NEA funding. The culturally-conservative far right wing of the Republican party has been challenging the very notion that the United States government should in any way be funding the arts. As the estimable Travis Bedard tweeted the other day — I’m paraphrasing here — the right has outsourced the creation of culture to the left, and the unintended side effect of that choice has been that the art we’ve made hasn’t served them in the way they want to be served. Now they’re trying to stop paying for the stories we’ve been telling, because those stories are often upsetting or boring or somehow offensive. Actually, to be clear, it’s not that THEY don’t want to pay for the stories, it’s that they don’t want ANY American to pay for the stories. It’s similar to the way that we liberals don’t want American taxes to fund so many bombers and torturers and illegal wars. Naturally, we&

Theater vs. Theatre

Let it be known now and for all time that in the debate about whether to spell the word “theater” or “theatre,” I side with the former, for what are largely emotional and esoteric reasons. Let it be known that while I respect those who prefer “theatre,” and that I understand how they prefer to use “theater” for the building and “theatre” for the art form, I still believe “theatre” is potentially overly artsy and off-putting for the great masses of America, for whom we could stand to make more plays, lest our art form slide into further irrelevance. Let it be known furthermore that while I have heard from some of my colleagues that their patrons are comfortable with “theatre,” I nonetheless hold that it’s not only their patrons they should be worried about, but also those who are not yet their patrons, who (I fear) might find the “theatre” spelling alienating. Let it also be established

The Failures of the Diva Paradigm

Yesterday’s post about theater-as-service inspired quite a lively discussion on the 2AM Theatre Twitter stream. Some folks heard what I was saying about audience-centric theater and seemed to connect with the same impulse. In time, most of us settled into a comfortable middle ground, which I tried to summarize in 140 or fewer characters thusly: 1) Make a show FOR people—a show you love. 2) Find the people you made the show for and entice them to come. 3) Repeat. In other words, think of your audience AND think of your own passions.  They aren’t mutually exclusive. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to call this the Service-with-a-Smile Paradigm. There were others in the stream, however, who didn’t agree—people I respect—and their differing opinions have been nagging at me.  They seemed to be clinging quite firmly to a sense of their own autonomy as artists.  One person—whose Twitter handle, appropriately enough, includes the word “divaR

Serve Yourself? No.

For whom do you make theater? It has begun to seem to me as if there are four primary ways in which theaters orient themselves. There are theaters that are mission-centric… or perhaps the correct term would be issue-centric. These theaters have a set of core beliefs or ideals or a mission statement that inspires all of the decisions they make: season planning, community events, and so on. In this category are, for example, theaters concerned with social justice. There are theaters that are unabashedly profit-centric. They like having fun and telling stories and making art, of course, but their primary goal in doing all that is to make money. They consider the effects of their decisions in all areas against the bottom line. I’m thinking here of the big commercial theaters. Then there are theaters that are artist-centric in much of what they do. They think “Hey, I’ve always wanted to do that play or play that role,” or “Wouldn’t it be fun if we d