Thursday, May 27, 2010

What About Them, Indeed?

Steven Leigh Morris offers an addendum of sorts to his April, 2010 LA Weekly cover story, "Why Theatre Matters" (see my response to that original article here) and all I can say is, "Good on you, Steven."

I forgot to acknowledge Morris properly in my initial response, but the man is to be commended for getting people talking.  It's not easy, putting yourself and your opinions out there and Morris certainly has a much bigger soapbox than li'l ol' me.  So I hope my criticism of his opinions and ideas aren't construed as a criticism of his fortitude.  Call it ass-kissing if you want, but we are very fortunate to have a guy like Morris covering the LA Theatre Scene, such as it is.  He obviously cares, and he brings a unique viewpoint to the table.

And you know what else?  He's right on the money in this latest article:
American behemoths of commercial theater, from Neil Simon to Christopher Durang, have openly expressed the influence that the decidedly noncommercial but fiercely respected Samuel Beckett had on their work, and the works of generations that followed. If our experimental wing is clipped, and we grow to depend only on what is popular in order to define what is relevant, we are actually consigning the art form to inevitable, eventual irrelevance. (Read: abject boredom.) Because it's risk that moves the art form forward; popular theater, and the economic imperatives that create it, have by definition an aversion to such risk.
We need to cultivate an upwardly-mobile meritocracy in Los Angele Theatre.  I believe we know this, and I believe we are working on this.  I know playwrights who have taken their successful Under-99 to Off-Off-Broadway and Off-Broadway.  The Ford has their partnership productions, giving a leg-up to Under-99 companies who do good work.  And who knows what other programs exist that I just haven't come across in our jumbled, disjointed, industry-obsessed community?

I believe in the importance of the audience, but I don't believe that working for The People In The Dark is necessarily the same as chasing popularity at the expense of relevence.  Au contraire, it would be a sad world indeed if Nunsense was the only show going.  There is a need for innovators and early adopters in ANY industry.  Those are the entrepreneurs, the experimenters who seek out unexplored or under-explored territory.  More and more it becomes apparant to me that the Under-99 world MUST serve this purpose in Los Angeles, just as the Off-Off-Broadway world serves the same purpose in New York.

Morris goes on to write about LA Stage Alliance. Thank you!  I came out of my chair back in April when Morris decried the lack of an LA Theater Chamber of Commerce, having just attended a meeting with LASA regarding their work on PatronManager.

Finally, Morris ends by saying "How can the arts be part of the quality of our life? This is a question that's far more profound than filling theater seats or arguing that if it's good enough for the Pantages, it's good enough."  I believe that the Profound Question is intimately related to the problem of filling seats.  I believe if you answer one, you'll have the other well in hand. 

If it is a fool's errand to pursue popularity at the expense of relevency, then surely it is just as foolish to pursue relevency at the expense of popularity.  And here I rely on a far more archaic definition of "popular," "of or relating to the general public."  Theatre without an audience is no theatre at all.  We ignore this basic, fundamental fact at our peril.

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