Tuesday, August 23, 2011

We're Different



I had the pleasure this past weekend of taking in two really good plays for Stage Happenings.  Those reviews will be up shortly, but in the meantime -- something occurred to me.

"What we lack in production values we'll make up for in a commitment to acting."  Sound familiar?  It's a sentiment I've heard batted around at certain unnamed theatre companies.  I've done the batting myself in the past.  It made perfect sense at the time.  Now? Not so much.

Both of the plays I saw this past weekend had TREMENDOUS production values.  Naturalistic sets and costumes, thoughtful lights and sound.  These were rich-looking plays.  But you know what else?  Both plays had some of the best acting I've ever seen -- including film and television. (Ooooooooo ... oh no he didn't!)

So guess what?  Telling yourself, "We're different, we focus on the acting!" that's cheap.  Those are empty words that exist to mask either an ignorance of stagecraft, or an unwillingness to put as much effort as one should into building an onstage world.  Hey -- I'm guilty of this, too, and it's an attitude I've seen in many places, not just at any one company.  To be perfectly fair, it's an attitude that comes and goes with access to designers and resources.  But nevertheless it's a "sour grapes" attitude; a defeatist attitude.

It's a microcosmosis attitude.

The term comes from Hugh MacLeod:
"Microcosmosis": when you confuse your little microcosm with the entire universe.
The implication is that production values don't matter because the play's the thing, and we're the shit.  But when you lift your head out of your own ass and bother to look around at the entire universe, you discover just what small potatoes you really are. There are basically three possible reactions to breaking the illusion of microcosmosis:  1) Quit, 2) Work harder, or 3) Stick your head back up your ass and pretend you didn't see anything.  The truly afflicted manage to do 3) while convincing themselves they are doing 2).

There's no end to what an artist can convince himself of.  Unfortunately, our job is to convince the audience, and that takes good performance and good stagecraft.

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