Saturday, March 31, 2012

Effort vs. Achievement

Bitter Lemons draws our attention to Samuel Bernstein's review of DOMA's production of The Who's Tommy.  The salient point for me, and the reason why when I first read this I wished I had written it:
Are we meant to applaud the attempt itself? Our culture’s psychological and human development strategy has become one of rewarding effort rather than achievement. I’m not a fan of the idea. Nor do I want to sit idly by and let it take the theater hostage.
As a hard and fast rule, I disagree.  Sometimes the effort is enough, but we would have to be talking about a pretty goddamned spectacular effort -- Amelia Earhart not quite making it across the Atlantic, Rocky not quite defeating Apollo Creed, etc.  When the effort itself is the point, the achievement doesn't really matter.  When the effort is the point, odds are you are doing it for yourself.

And yet theatre is not for us.  It's for them.  No one cares about the effort it took to produce the play.  Maybe your mother, but outside of her, no one. One of the take-aways from Counting New Beans: Intrinsic Impact and the Value of Art are the reasons why people go to the theatre.  As Larry Pontius at LA Stage Times summarizes:
For most, a primary motivation was to relax or escape, which goes up significantly with age, and then tapers off.  Second in popularity was the desire to be emotionally moved or inspired, which also went up with age, before leveling off.  The third motivation was to spend time with family members, which rises during the child rearing years, and then, “plunges” later.
Go read the whole thing.  I'm pretty sure "To go see how hard everyone worked" is not on the list.

We are not children.  We don't all get a ribbon at the end of the day, emblazoned with tacky gold letters that read "Participant."

That's not to say critics should be heartless.  If anything, a negative criticism, artfully relayed, may do  more to improve the work of a theatre company than all the smoke one could possibly blow up their asses.  It's tough, but necessary.

A fantastic article was posted at HowlRound earlier this week, "Criticism! Eeek! Run! Run!"Here is a brief excerpts:
When artistic colleagues are working together, we expect to exchange criticism of one another’s work. This is the job of collaborators, to engage in an ongoing, critical discussion of what is working and what is not. But when it comes to a colleague’s work that we ourselves did not participate in making, while it may be easy to comment either critically or superficially on our positive response, it’s understandably more difficult to speak to our negative response.

Yet we must. How else can we hope to make and see stronger work? Obviously it’s important that collaborators be critical with one another. Collaborators have the unique, up-close perspective that comes from creating the work. This is the vital, key perspective that no audience can have. Likewise, the audience is privy to a perspective that nobody who worked on the production can have. And this perspective is ultimately the vantage point from which a theater production is made to be experienced. Gathering the perspectives of our audience is essential. To that end, artistic colleagues in the audience can provide a particularly informed perspective, since they understand firsthand what goes into making work. Thus, we who make theater can be of great value to one another in the ongoing effort to determine how our work is working.
(Emphasis added.)

No more "A's for Effort."  Producing a play--any play--is damn near impossible.  That's a given.  Let's save the praise and ovations for those who actually achieve something.  We owe those who don't quite hit the target honesty, not a pat on the head.

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