Tag: political theatre

Are You Not Entertained?

Inspiration has been hard to come by in these late November days. The greyness is thick, endless, unrelenting and unmoving, smug in its stifling tofu blandness. New tires spin aimlessly on a car that’s been flipped upside down and left to rot. Nothing goes forwards fast enough, if at all. To borrow from Beckett, “Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes… it’s awful.” No kidding.

The bright spot -and it’s a weird bright spot -has been politics, specifically American politics. The race to the 2012 Presidential elections has been spectacularly theatrical, the personalities and behaviors ribald and riveting. Meltdowns! Mistresses! Racist rocks! Rocking racists! Bumps! Stumps! Ooops! Loop-de-loops! Since living in the United States, I just can’t get enough of its mad, bad, dangerous-to-know, good/bad/ugly aesthetic. An American-born, Canadian-living friend told me she thinks of America as bacon: it’s greasy, delicious, bad for you and good for your tastebuds. It’s addictive, unhealthy, and even the smell of it is enough to convince you that you need it. Without it, so many other things would just be boring, grey… depressingly bland. November forever. Ugh.
Yet it’s anything but bland in the world of Twitter. At every GOP debate, the microblogging site has resembled a hummingbird on meth: observations, opinions, fact checks, exchanges and retweets come at breakneck speed, with nary a moment to think twice. I’ve partaken and tried to keep up, @ing one person, RTing another, the new linguistics of a modern communication long and comfortably entrenched into my 21st century vernacular. More than an education, my enthusiasm for the spectacle of American politics has opened a door to connecting with some smart, witty, talented people, using a technology I couldn’t have guessed at ten years ago. Perhaps that’s the magic.
The sense of event-with-a-capital-E combined with all the elements of theater implies a shared love of real-life drama that in no way diminishes the seriousness of what’s being discussed. Online users are like critics’ unions, decimating, disassembling, disabusing and discarding, while offering credit where it’s due. But unlike theater-theater, political theater is a forum where the off-stage antics of its players are every bit as vital -in a theatrical sense -as their onstage performance. While some larger networks utilize the commentary of silly tweeters in far to serious a manner, it’s worth remembering that there are many credible, smart tweeters whose 140-character commentary blasts open new neural pathways, not to mention super-bright highways, along the freeway of 21st century American political life.
As if to match the velocity on that road, I find myself zooming by old interests. Trips to the art gallery replace the theater; the lecture hall goes before the symphony hall; the arena sits in lieu the club. Much as a reflection of my age, it’s a reflection of shifting routes in those neural pathways (though I should add, I still love the theater and the symphony).
But the combination of politics and tweeting has brought out a childlike sense of play, something long missing amidst the grey November days.
During a recent GOP debate that I began exchanging theatrical-esque theories on roles for candidates, especially within a (not altogether unsuitable) high school setting. My talented companion and I decided Rick Perry would be the boisterous gym coach who urges you to run faster even though your lungs are ready to explode, Jon Hunstman, the possibly-swoon-worthy English teacher who, by tossing off an insulting comment about your favorite poet, turns you off for life. Herman Cain would be the ever-frustrated business teacher who puts his hands on his head when the class gets too loud, while Newt Gingrich is the perpetually sour-faced math teacher who gives you a yelling-at whenever you ask too many seemingly-dumb questions. Michelle Bachmann would be the history teacher who’d assign you an essay and write you another one back if she didn’t like what you wrote. Rick Santorum would be the science teacher who’d argue with his own students, Ron Paul the classics teacher who’d go off on hour-long tangents and entertain student ideas about smoking in the caf.
Theater. Imagination. Possibility. Politics.
More, please. I love my bacon, and I’m not prepared to live without it.
Not now, or ever.

Talking, Past

Spending this Sunday prepping for a busy week, I received an email from a Toronto artist and photographer who shared a recent experience shooting a visiting celebrity. It lead to a series of exchanges around the nature of fame, the demands of blogging, and the ways some artistic disciplines translate visually. Expressing his frustration with photographing theatre, he wrote, in effect, “they were just talking. How is that interesting?” Good question -not just for photographers, but for audiences, theatre directors, and companies. He continued:

Maybe I’ve just seen too much theatre recently, but the monologuing of character interaction – where two characters talk past each other rather than to each other – and the lack of passion, emotion, or even dramatic moments seems to be areas where someone could be writing something different.

Don’t you sometimes come out of a play thinking it wasn’t really any different than many others you’ve seen?

Surprisingly, I found myself agreeing with him -though I reminded him that the Robert Lepage work Lipsynch is coming in June. But still, yes, on a personal level, I am sick of talk, or talk-and-shock. I’ve seen some great works, unquestionably, but they’ve been very text-centric, and indeed, after a while, they do begin blurring into one another. To me, theatre is more than talk, and good directors will understand the myriad of possibilities at their disposal. Regardless (or sometimes because) of budgetary limitations, creativity and inventiveness are always the hallmarks of great theatre.

So it was with some interest that I came across this recent post about Operation First Casualty. Visceral, immediate, timely, and unabashedly milking the idea of spectacle, IVAW gave San Francisco residents something to talk about. I have a feeling this kind of theatre affected those who experienced it on a far deeper level than words could ever reach.

Drama Is…

There’s certainly plenty of great drama out there lately.

If you’re in London, there’s the Tony Award-winningAugust: Osage County. New York has the recently extended one-man show Taking Over, while Chicago has Lynn Nottage’s Ruined. If you’re in Toronto, there’s no shortage of goodness either, with the disturbingly brilliant Festen running into next week, and Frank McGuinness’ timely (timeless?) Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me opening this Saturday.

But oh, the best drama for us Canucks right now is in our own Parliament. The drama! The speeches! The fist-shaking fury! It would all be very entertaining, if it weren’t also real. Ouch. The best part is the level of engagement it’s provoked among average Canadians; considering our last election saw some of the worst voter turnout rates in electoral history, being a part of something so starkly different in terms of mood and passion is… refreshing. The downside is the deep cracks in unity the Ottawa drama is revealing to all of us. Forget the “one” part; we’re just simply “not the same.” Or so we’re being told.

Objectively interesting as it all may be, the cause of national unity isn’t helped by our politicians giving deeply dramatic, occasionally hysterical Bernhard-meets-Kean performances. Makes the fuss over the use of a real skull in an RSC version of Hamlet seem tame by comparison. Then again, I can think of a few people who feel as if their own skulls have been bashed around, watching the frantic arm-flapping of Canadian politicians over the last week. I can only hope there’s a great playwright (or two) watching, listening, and writing. We’re going to need someone to make sense of this for us, and I can’t think of any other way to see it, other than a dramatic presentation in the theatre. If Frost/Nixon taught me anything, it’s that human behaviour is often at its most desperate and revealing when put through the fire of politics. Stay tuned for it: Harper Hears A Hoard, on tour soon.

Link Love

A few gorgeous tidbits of theatre-rama from around the web today:

Gerald Schoenfeld, Chairman of the American Shubert Organization, has died. He was responsible for bringing many of the big shows (like Cats, Phantom, and A Chorus Line to Broadway. His obituary from the New York Times is here (you’ll have to register, but I guarantee you, it’s worth it). Schoenfeld was an interesting figure; while he had a lot of detractors, no one in the industry would deny his importance within the theatre world. Rocco Landesman, President of rival Jujamcyn Theatres, credits Schoenfeld with saving commercial theatre. He may not have been popular in not-for-profit circles -“There’s no profit like not-for-profit,” he used to say -but reading his obit, I can’t help but think that his approach is such a good model for theatre, all theatre, anywhere. From the big things to the small things, Schoenfeld never left any detail to chance, and he fought for his productions. He also gave a lot of people jobs and consistent work. And, to quote the article, “Mr. Schoenfeld argued tirelessly that the theater was an economic engine for the city and deserved greater help from City Hall.” Now there’s something we can get behind.

CBC Arts Online reports that British Columbia arts groups are buckling down in light of this week’s B.C. Ballet layoffs. They’re also thinking more about marketing -which probably makes sense for all arts groups right now, really. For example:

Ballet Victoria, a smaller ballet company than Ballet BC with just 10 dancers, is very aware of the need to attract new audiences.

Artistic director Paul Destrooper said he always programs unusual works that might attract audiences that don’t normally come to the ballet.

“We draw in the audience with a bit of a surprise. I always build my season with one big ballet that will draw a crowd that might not necessarily see classical ballet, and then when they see the level of the dancers and the choreography they’re drawn to other works,” he said.

That’s just how it’s done.

Over at the Guardian, Christine Bacon, the Director of Actors For Human Rights with UK-based theatre company iceandfire, rebuts the notion that theatre can’t respond with appropriate swiftness to current events. Not only is theatre able to do this with the required fast action, but, she argues, it should. And it doesn’t depend on funding, either:

Because we use a rolling cast of actors who donate their time and have no technical requirements, we can provide a “rapid response” event for whichever organisation asks us to turn up. We normally perform in churches, village halls, pubs and lecture rooms – anywhere we’re invited, really – eliminating the usually prohibitive cost of hiring a theatre space. This method allows us to act as messengers; rushing the urgent news to audiences who need to hear it now – not, in two year’s time, when the Arts Council funding has come through. It’s the economy and portability of the concept that really allows us to deal directly with some of the most pertinent issues of the day…

It reminded me of Kelly Nestruck’s columns from earlier this year about the lack of current events being portrayed on Canadian stages lately (if anyone can find that link, post it please). Theatre is Territory has opened up the discussion about politics and theatre because of the article. Hopefully it generates a good discussion. Theatre can be, and is, many things to many people, and I believe there’s room for all of us -to learn, to grow, and to expand.

Off to see Soulpepper’s A Christmas Carol tonight; I’ve not seen their production, or indeed, any production of Dickens’ classic tale, onstage, ever. Friday’s booked for Canstage’s It’s A Wonderful Life, the staging of which I find greatly intriguing; it’s set as a radio play, which hits a personal/professional interest-button. But thematically, both are more than just jovial feel-good tales. As Richard Ouzounian wrote, no two works could be more relevant in this economically harsh festive season.

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