While searching through my e-mail archives I stumbled upon this item.
As someone who finds theatre in a state of artistic stagnation myself, the topics upsetting you often crosses my mind. While I appreciate the effort to form a meeting of the minds to attempt an address of the problem, I find it somewhat dismaying that the post-meeting is… to head down the street and have yet another bitch session at a bar.
I agree that a key to meaningful positive change lies not just in finding intellectual justification but in passion: You’ve got to want it personally and emotionally as well, the same sort of unyielding and almost desperate will that motivates someone to race into a burning building (they wouldn’t otherwise enter) to save a loved one. The thing with passion and why people in this community don’t express and follow it is that, if people in this community don’t agree with your direction, they turn away from you. Even in reform people find themselves toeing a line… artistic and philosophical freedom to a point.
Therein lies the challenge of unlocking the passion of a community: Can we collectively stop thinking of theatre in terms of concrete definitions or pecking orders and open our minds?
I want to believe a meeting of the minds will produce something momentous. But the Seattle theatre community’s had meetings of the minds before. Where did they get us? Right back here all over again.
Something different needs to happen, and something different need to come of it, or it’s going to lead nowhere yet again. If I thought more would come of the meeting or that my input would significantly matter to this group I’d consider going. But I’ve burned my hand on the stove enough to know what’s going to happen if I reach for the grill again.
I must also note that many in the community think, concerns aside about the state of theatre in this town, that nothing’s really broken at all. They’re still acting/directing/backstaging and companies still produce shows, so they don’t see a need for truly fundamental changes. I think we have an active community but also find it culturally exclusive and not too open minded, plus of course I take note the sea change with dwindling funding, resources and opportunities. I see a potential for continued growth, along with a strong resistance to change.
If my tone seems dispassionate it’s mainly because I’ve beaten my head against this brick wall before, and my head hurts. Honestly though, I really do care but I want to keep my mental/emotional energy positive moving forward, and only dwell on the subject if I know I can actively help make matters better.
I wrote the above two years ago in response to a friend’s impassioned mass message regarding his dismay with the state of theatre (I’ll keep my friend’s identity a secret out of respect, and have edited some details to redact his and other identities).
At the time I was studying and practicing intensively in theatrical movement, clown and improv with the Freehold Studio and Jet City Improv (which would lead to my co-founding improv group Wonderland), attending and occasionally performing improv/sketch comedy shows and drifting gradually from the main Seattle theatre scene. I was still largely new to exploring artistic self-discovery, but by this point was pretty sure I had no real interest in a conventional stage acting career.
It was clear to me at this point that my as yet undiscovered passion in performance art was somewhere uncharted and I felt for my colleague, still desperate to find an identity in a mainstream fringe theatre scene more interested in your adopting a form of their identity than forging your own. Like me, I felt he would find the most artistic satisfaction and joy in something outside of conventional theatre, but that was for the most part all that was really available to him.
Two years later, I’m dancing, experimenting, working on pieces not so easy to clearly label or classify, behind divergent personal philosophies.
Do I still feel the same way about theatre? In large part, sure, but to entertain the topic of the state of theatre diverges from my current point of view anyway. I’m more interested in looking forward than looking back, and only look back to inform how I elect to look forward going forward. And prepositioning paragraphs to death.
Of all the dance and experimental work and philosophical re-calibration and new people I gotten to know and work with… nothing in my life was more artistically liberating than the conscious effort to focus more on how I can positively effect the changes I would like to see in performance art, the disposal of limiting labels and obsolescent marginalization of limiting belief systems.
One lesson: Activist negativity is a belief system, one that leaves you standing in place while those making new and inspiring things happen are moving forward, constantly curious, constantly seeking new and expanded possibilities. They don’t change the game just to change the game, but as a byproduct of their inspiring discoveries.
I don’t worry about what the big old theatres and arts orgs are doing, because they’re artistically standing in place and if they don’t choose to grow and adapt, they will eventually fade from cultural relevance (whether or not they fill their houses, get giant endowments/grants and make their money). And those of us who follow our curiosity to new and different things… will not be left standing. We’ll be on our feet and running, moving forward like we always do. And our culture’s curiosity will be drawn by our curiosity, a flock following us into the perpetually dynamic present we call the future.