Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Theatre That Matters - What does that mean?

posted by brad at 5:49 PM
Aly Mawji and Ammar Mahmood in the 9/11-themed Back of the Throat by Yussef El Guindi

Click here to read a really great article in the theater section of the New York Times (Sunday, Sept. 3rd Print Edition) by Charles Isherwood regarding the questions of:

"Can art save the day? More specifically, can theater rouse the populace from a sense of numbed anxiety? Can a stage play change minds, or help channel passive beliefs into active commitment?"

The article surrounds the new “citywide arts festival focusing on human rights, social justice and political action,” being hosted by Culture Project, titled IMPACT.

Mr. Isherwood has some great insight into the pro's and cons of politically and socially charged theatre and how it affects us as audience members. He references everthing from Shakespeare, to Odets, to Kushner, Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues and David Hare's Stuff Happens. It was a thought provoking read (especially in regards to theatre being considered first and foremost: entertainment) as a member of a company that often gets thrown into the "political theatre" bucket.

For good reason I guess. Our first four years have been packed with "politically and socially charged theatre." Mostly because those plays were the stories we felt compelled to tell at the time. Plays we felt "were about something" (and were entertaining as well). When asked if we have a political or social agenda... we usually say "no." Which is true. We don't. Unless you consider trying to change the world one theatre production at a time an agenda.

The article goes on to site a quote from veteran theatre critic Eric Bentley that we really liked. Maybe it will end up on the rehearsal room wall:

“Any dent that any theater can make in the world is no doubt small, but theater people who on that account give up the effort as hopeless are generally agreeing to make no dent at all.”

Isherwood closes with this thought:

"I would add that theatergoers who neglect to support those efforts are generally agreeing to let the art form degenerate into the pervasive vacuousness of the cultural atmosphere, the fog of uncaring and unmeaning that cuts us off from a sometimes painful but necessary knowledge of the world as it is, right now."

Good Stuff. Give the article a read. Let's all make some dents.

Be Furious.

UPDATE (Monday, Sept. 11): Tip of the hat to "The Playgoer" for publishing part of Tim Robbins' response letter to this article, referencing his play Embedded and the true desire of audiences to see socially relevant theatre. Good points by both and worth seeing/talking about.


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